THE MCBRIDE DIARIES (VOL.31)
Posted on 1/28/2009at 2:47 AM
2008 was a great, great year. It was, by far, one of my most prolific years as far as composing, recording, producing and traveling were concerned.

If memory serves, the last time I wrote a real thorough diary entry was back in April just as I completed my big band concert in New York, as well as a quick midwest tour with Benny Green and Greg Hutchinson. As you saw at the conclusion of that entry (Vol. 30), I was about to dive head-first into the Los Angeles premiere of, “The Movement Revisited”.

I must say, that was SO tremendously stressful to put together. For starters, the LA Philharmonic and I had the worst time trying to find actors who could do the gig. We were making calls for MONTHS before the performance trying to find actors. As close as four weeks before the performance, we still had only one actor confirned, Wendell Pierce, who read the part of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After some very intense back and forth with my dear friend, Laura (from the LA Phil), we went into emergency mode and went through a casting agency. All of this coincided with my New York big band concert. So here I was trying to complete my new music for the big band show and complete the final touches for “The Movement…” at the exact same time. I almost had a heart attack! Understandably, the LA Phil was very concerned with the fact that we had no actors to adverstise for the performance. With just over two weeks left, Laura called and said, “We got James Avery, Carl Lumbly and Loretta Devine.” “We got WHO???”, I said.

I didn’t realize this casting agency would hit me with the A troops!

James Avery read the part of Muhammad Ali, Carl Lumbly read the part of Malcolm X, and Loretta Devine (my new best friend) read the part of Rosa Parks. It was magnificent. This piece came off exactly how I wanted it to. All of the musicians were so supportive and played so great. Considering none of the actors other than Wendell really knew what the gig was – or who I was – they really soaked up everything quickly and we all became very fast friends. I must say, James Avery is such a towering, enigmatic, larger-than-life figure, I had a hard time bringing myself to get close to him. It was as if I should have addressed him as “Sire”. A very dignified, honorable man. He’s cut from the Sidney Poitier mold.

The people who came to the performance enjoyed it, the musicians enjoyed it, the actors enjoyed it, and I enjoyed it. I look forward to performing this piece again real soon.

After “The Movement”, I really wanted to go on a vacation to the moon for an undetermined amount of time, but I had to get ready for a trip way up north with the CMB.

I took the fellas up to Winnipeg, Manitoba to play two nights at the Berney Theater. My old bass-playing buddy, Steve Kirby, recently took over the jazz department at the University of Manitoba, so this performance was in conjunction with the University. Steve kept saying, “Say, uh, look, man….I know what the CMB does, but, uh…these people up here….um….they, uh, haven’t been, uh, baptized, shall we say?” My response was a calm and purposely sarcastic, “Mmm Hmm..” Steve continued, “Yeah, see, they might not be down with, like, ‘Technicolor Nightmare’ and ‘Boogie Woogie Waltz’ and all the hard stuff, you know?” Again, I said, “Mmm Hmm…” Steve continued, “So, like, maybe, if you don’t mind, you guys can keep the volume dowm just a little from where you guys would usually play….”

I had absolutely no intention of doing any such thing!! (LOL!)

The result?

An absolutely astonishing audience over two days and nights….at least according to me! Ha-ha!

Honestly, since Steve just got the job at the school, I didn’t want to get the brother completely in trouble, so I guess we held back JUUUUST a little! But really, we had a great time. CMB rocked the house again.

After the Winnipeg show, I headed down to San Juan, Puerto Rico with Pat and Antonio for the Heineken Jazz Festival. Melissa came with us. This festival always falls on my birthday, so once again, I had a birthday hang in San Juan. Joey Sala, the artistic director of the festival, just like he did back in 1996, made the audience sing “Happy Birthday” to me onstage. It was so flattering, but embarrassing! I loved it.

Next, Terreon and I headed out to San Diego to play a couple of gigs with Mr. Keezer, who composed, yet again, another masterpiece. We played a new piece of his called “The Family Suite”, which was commissioned by a grant from Chamber Music America – a group which is doing magnificent work. I believe at least one of those gigs was recorded. I’d love to hear it again.

After the two west coast gigs with Keezer, we all headed down to Mexico City where we met Ron, and the CMB tore down Antonio Sanchez’s hometown! We played two shows there, and the audiences were just incredible. They showed us so much love. And much to my surprise, Antonio was in town visiting his mother, whom I just adore. She reminds me a lot of my mom. Unfortunately, it was only a quick two-day trip, so we didn’t get to see or do too much, but we certainly got enough to get a good vibe of the town. Antonio hung with us on both nights. I look forward to going back real, real soon.

I hauled butt back to New York to play a one-night gig at the Iridium with one of my Philly heroes, Odean Pope. Odean led a week-long Max Roach Tribute at the club that week, and I was thrilled he asked me to join him for one night. The band was on fire - Charles Tolliver, James Carter, George Burton and Craig McIver. It was so nice to play with Odean again. He taught so much when I was a kid in Philly.

Next, I headed off to Aspen for my annual summer duties. Again, I heard some fantastic young musicians, but the cornerstone of this summer was a gig I did with my first expanded version of a “Situation”. Usually, my “Situations” have always been four pieces, but this one was a six piece. I had both DJ Logic AND Jahi Sundance spinning, my indispensable “Situation” partner, Patrice Rushen, Walter Smith III on tenor, and my new vocal “Situation” partner, Maysa Leak. It was a 100% fun, improvisational journey. As long as the crowd had some booze, they loved us! This was sort of a warm-up gig for our debut at the Hollywood Bowl. More on this later….

In the middle of my week in Aspen, I flew to Boise, Idaho for a gig with my main man, Roy Haynes. What can I say? Nicholas Payton, Donald Harrison and Dave Kikoski made the gig. Anytime Roy calls, I’m always there, no matter what. That’s my main man. Love him.

I went back to Aspen to finish up, then prepared to go to Europe for a quick tour with Pat and Antonio. We played Darmstadt, Germany; Warsaw, Gardone Riviera, Italy; Budapest, Madrid, Gent and Rotterdam. One particularly interesting gig we played was in Barcelona. We played the stunningly gorgeous Palau de la Musica Catalana. It is one of the most jaw-dropping theatres in the world. We collaborated with the great flamenco singer, Enrique Morente. It was my first introduction to playing Flamenco music. Let me tell you something brother, I thought it was hard playing with the Gnawans in Morocco a few years ago, but this was a whole different thing. Man….Antonio, Pat and I were looking at each other saying, “Where is one???” At least with the Gnawans, when they gave us the one, we could say, “Oh, ok!” With flamenco, after they gave us the one, we said, “Really? You’re kidding, right? Where’s the two??” All the clappers and the cajon player…..oh, man.That one gig in Barcelona with Enrique was worth the whole tour! I learned so much.

After Europe, I got to come home for a couple weeks before I headed out to LA to emcee and perform at the Gerald Wilson/Hank Jones 90th birthday bash at the Hollywood Bowl. What a party it was. We should all be so lucky to just GET to 90, let alone healthy and still playing at top notch form. Those men are incredible.

Sometime in mid-August the CMB (with Marcus Strickland sitting in for Ron) played two gigs in Huntington, Long Island and Bethlehem, PA. The gig in Huntington was a gig I’d played many times before in the past with not only my band, but also with Joshua Redman. The gig in Bethlehem was very memorable. Dig this….

We’re playing at Moravian College and we’re having a great, great show. The audience was into it, and the vibes were strong. During the end vamp of our final song, “The Ballad of Little Girl Dancer”, my manager, Andre, starts giving me the “cut” signal. He looked a bit worried. I know we didn’t play past 90 minutes, so why are they rushing us off? I look over again, and there’s someone from the school giving us the “cut” signal, too. Just as I was about to take it out, the band started to look at each other and say, “You smell that?” We started to smell smoke. There were candles on the side of the stage, but we could see that they were still burning, so it wasn’t that. Instead of trying to figure it out, we ended the song and took our bows….quickly! The audience was apparently oblivious to the smell. When we got offstage, there was the Bethlehem FIRE DEPARTMENT waiting to rush everybody out! An argument ensued between the fire marshal and a school representative. The school rep didn’t want the crowd to get upset, so he didn’t want the fire marshal to make the announcement and make everyone panic and get trampled. Of course, the fire marshal is the one qualified to evacuate the place, so he demanded that he do it. The guy from the school says, “No, I should do it. I won’t upset them.” So, then they look at me and say, “Mr. McBride, why don’t you do it?” I said, “I ain’t no fire marshal!!” So, before we all burned to death, the fire marshal went out and evacuated the theater. How’s THAT for an encore?

Tunrs out, a short occurred in the air conditioning system, so it wasn’t major, but that smoke was serious there for a minute. I went outside and greeted all the fans. What a way to bond, huh?

After that, I went back to the Hollywood Bowl to play a gig with my expanded “Situation”, and what a situation it was. More on this in another post….

I made a quick trip to Park City, UT to play the jazz festival there with a student ensemble led by a fine saxophonist, Caleb Chapman. They played “Technicolor Nightmare” and “Sonic Tonic”. They made me feel real good.

After a quick week off, I headed off to Detroit. More on that later, too….

I ran into yet another “Big-Band/Movement Revisited” situation where I had way too many intense projects running into each other simutaneously. Immediately after Detroit, where I had worked every single minute of every single day, I had only one day off before I went right into the Jazz Standard to play a super hip five nights with Nicholas Payton and Mark Whitfield. We hadn’t played together in ten years, when we were still known as the “Fingerpainting” trio. This time, we were just three cats coming together to make some good music. It was loads of fun. It was so great to hear Mark just stretch out and do his thing, and the amount of trumpet Nicholas plays is frankly, unfair!

I had two days off before I spent a day at the Apollo Theater to tape two segments of Elvis Costello’s new Sundance show, “Spectacle”. One taping was with Diana Krall (co-hosted by special guest, Elton John) and the second taping was with none other than the king, Herbie Hancock. My buddy, Karriem Riggins played drums on both tapings.

The next day, I flew to Ouro Preto, Brazil with my new quintet. It was deep. At this point, I’m sure I’ve exhausted all of you with my aviation horror stories. Well, let’s just say that this trip awarded me another chapter. Overall, we spent way more time traveling than we did being on the ground in Brazil. The gig was smokin’, though. A small bit of it got YouTubed. Reed (Eric Reed), Carl (Carl Allen), Wolfman (Warren Wolf) and Wilsonian (Steve Wilson) tore the place up.

After Brazil, I headed off to Monterey where I was bestowed with the Artist in Residence title. First of all, let me say that Tim Jackson, the executive director of the festival, is one of the good guys. I love Tim, and I love everything he does at Monterey and also at Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz. Besides being a good businessman and a lover of the music, he really is a nice, nice man. That’s rare in this business. Throughout the year, just like Detroit, my artist-in-residence duties had me make a couple of trips in and out of Monterey throughout the year. During the month of July, I taught at the summer camp for a few days, and I enjoyed the students very much. For the main festival, I performed twice with my new quintet, the CMB, and wrote a big-band chart for the Monterey Next Generation Big Band. It was great to spend so much time in Monterey. I love it there. I got to hang out with all my pals like Joshua Redman, Maria Schneider, Herbie Hancock, Maceo Parker and Clint Eastwood. Hanging with Maceo was particularly fun as I hadn’t really talked with him in almost 10 years. He’s so crazy.

All the gigs were great. Walter Smith subbed for Ron on the CMB gig, but the quintet was intact and on fire for both gigs. We had a really good gig on the main stage on Saturday night. As you all know by now, we had a “name the band” contest which was won by Doug and Deborah Moody of Fort Bragg, CA. They officially named the band “inside Straight”.

After we left Monterey, “Inside Straight” headed up to Berkeley to record our new CD at Fantasy Studios. Considering most of the music was written a day or two before the date, it surprisingly went down stress-free! Joshua Redman and Orrin Keepnews stopped by the studio during the sessions and brought us some good vibes.

I then went to LA to do a rather interesting gig. The LA Phil had a series of farewell performances for Esa-Pekka Salonen, the departing musical director of the Phil. Under his direction, Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” became the LA Phil’s signature piece. So, they asked me to have a “Situation” play a Rite of Spring-inspired improvisational set. What a cool idea, huh? So I had Patrice, Walter and Jahi come in and we used various themes from the “Rite of Spring” to improvise over some funky house beats. What a cool gig that was. There was also a young composers contest, where the winners got their piece played by the Sonus Quartet. I played with them as well. A lot of hard, fulfilling work in just one day.

At this point, I was acutely aware of the fact that I only had just over two weeks to take a glance at the music that Chick Corea and John McLaughlin sent to me for the “Five Peace Band” tour. Also, I somehow had to cram in a couple of duets for my “conversations” CD, and not only that, I had three CMB gigs to get in, too. Sigh….

The CMB went to Malvern, PA in a rather poorly attended gig, but as testament to my guys, they played their hearts out. My dear old pal, Jen Zielenbach, the bassist from the band “Antigone Rising”, came to the gig with her husband and interviewd me about James Brown. It’s on YouTube. Punch in “Christian McBride on James Brown”.

We drove down to DC the next morning to play the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival. I played with Herman Burney’s bass choir with Michael Bowie and James King, as well as the CMB. Although, you know how it is with those outdoor festivals – no soundcheck, no real preparation, but we had a good gig anyhow. I love DC.

A few days later, we played at SUNY Purchase. A very good gig, although I was starting to get paranoid because I wanted some time to really shed on this “Five Peace” music and spend some time with my family before I left for Europe. Fortunately, I managd to do it…..barely.

Next, the much-anticipated “Five Peace Band” European tour. See you at the next diary entry.

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