Posted on 1/28/2009at 2:59 AM
It’s Monday, November 17, 2008, and I’m on a plane somewhere in the air between Rome and Malaga sitting next to my gemini buddy, Chick Corea. He’s listening to Art Tatum on his ipod completely unaware of anything going on around him. I can dig it.

This “Five Peace Band” has been everything I thought it would be – amazing! The first time I ever toured with Chick back in 1996, he mentioned back then that he’d like to do something with John McLaughlin and I at some point. I was a bit surprised because not many musicians at that time knew how much of a fusion head I’d become. He wasn’t sure who would play drums. A number of different names came up.

A couple more years went by, and I would run into Chick, and he would say, “I still want to do that thing with you and McLaughlin one day, man.” I somehow knew that Chick wasn’t jiving. Sooner or later, this would happen. He’d mentioned it too many times. However, after eight or nine years and Origin, the new trio, Touchstone, various incarnations of the Elektric Band, the duets with Bela Fleck, the much-anticipated Return to Forever reuinon tour, and a bunch of other great groups, I began to think that maybe Chick forgot about the “McLaughlin thing”. How wrong was I??

Last year, Chick finally said, “I’m going to put the band with John together next year. You in?” Ha! Was I ever! “I’m thinking the rest of the band will be Kenny Garrett and Vinnie Colaiuta.” I couldn’t do much but laugh. I thought, “This band is literally going to tear walls and ceilings down!” However powerful I thought the CMB was, I knew that I was going to find out something about power alright! Not to mention, I’ve never gotten to spend any time whatsoever with the great John McLaughlin. Before this tour, I’d only met him once. I’ve always thought of John McLaughlin as fusion’s Art Blakey. Although John’s never called any of his bands “The Fusion Messengers”, cats like Narada Michael Walden, Jean Luc-Ponty, Ralphe Armstrong, Bill Evans, Dominick Di Piazza, Jim Beard, Dennis Chambers, Matt Garrison, Mark Mondesir, Gary Husband, Hadrien Feraud, my homeboy Joey DeFrancesco, and many, many other super bad cats have come through his bands. So, this particular group that Chick and he were putting together I knew would be super special.

We are beginning the final week of our five-week European tour, and it’s been a stone gas. One thing that’s very nice is the fact that we’re a real band. This is certainly not a “Mahavishnu Orchestra/Return to Forever” retrospective. This band has its OWN material.

Chick – ever the prolific one – wrote brand new music for the band. No surprise there. John wrote some new music as well, but the bulk of his music came from his two most recent CD’s, “Industrial Zen” and “Floating Point”.

It would be absolutely criminal if this band didn’t get to do some type of official document. I say “official” because we’ve been getting “YouTubed” like crazy. Almost half the gigs we’ve played on this tour have wound up on YouTube. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, if this band doesn’t get to make a CD or a DVD, at least people can get a taste on YouTube, but by the same token, that would probably be the very reason we WOULDN’T make a CD or DVD!! As a wise man once told me, “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” I mean, anyone can just go watch clips of about seven different concerts of ours and be just as happy, right? I really don’t know, man…..

Once we started rehearsing, it was obvious that this band would be exactly as we thought – powerful, big, strong, brawny, solid. You know, the kind of band that only men would go see! ☺ Of course, EVERY song isn’t head-banging. Chick wrote a very hip arrangement of Jackie McLean’s “Dr. Jackle”, and another one of his new originals, the epic “Hymn to Andromeda” definitely take many different types of twists and turns.

Our tour got started in Monaco. It was a fund-raising event for “Camp Afrika” – a wonderful group of orthopedic surgeons who go all around Africa giving surgeries to people who can’t afford care. As for the gig, you know how first gigs are – working out the kinks. But the energy was palpable.

After Monaco, we headed way up north to Ireland and the Cork Jazz Festival. (This was the first gig that got YouTubed. You know, just in case you want to see it…) The audience in Ireland was fired up, man! We loved it. Opening for us that night was the great drummer, and my old pal, Cindy Blackman. Cindy’s band tore it up. She’s looking and sounding better than ever.

After Ireland, we jumped over to Bucharest, Romania. It was my first visit there. It was very fascinating to see all the rebuilding going on since the 1989 revolution. In Romania, we hung out with Dianne Reeves and her band. We missed her performance, as we arrived into town too late, but we all did the late-night bar hang, of course! The gig was great. Once again, the audience was real fired up. So fired up, we all needed police escorts to get to the cars waiting to take us back to the hotel. Very cool! ☺

After Romania, we headed off to Vienna. What was extra special about this gig was that Chick and John had been opening every show with a duet version of Joe Zawinul’s “In A Silent Way”, and since we were in Zawinul’s hometown, they each gave a heartfelt verbal tribute to Joe. The audience loved it.

After Vienna, we headed over to Baku, Azerbaijan. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. There were parts of the city that looked like Beverly Hills!! A beautiful city, and the venue was an absolutely gorgeous theater. You know what was extra special? After the gig, I came back to my room to start my ritual of taking a quick three-hour nap so I could get up at 3AM and watch game five of the World Series on MLB.TV. I’m telling you, MLB.TV hooked me all the way up on this tour! The only thing is, staying up so late watching the World Series really cost me some much-needed sleep. So, you can’t imagine just how happy I really was when my Phillies closed the show! Not only did they win the Championship for the first time since 1980, but I was so happy that now I was going to be able to SLEEP!!

After Baku, we headed off to Istanbul. Istanbul’s getting to be a regular stop for me, seems like. I always love it there. The crowd seemed to be a bit reserved, though. Don’t know what was up with that, but hey, they showed up. Can’t ask for more than that.

The next day, we jumped over to the financial capital of Turkey, Ankara. We played in this very large tent. It was FREEZING in there, man! Fortunately, it warmed up a bit by the time we hit the stage. The crowd was awesome. They liked it a lot.

It was around this time that I started to notice something about the band’s fan base. It almost seemed like Vinnie Colaiuta had more fans than Chick and John combined!! It was a sight tto see. Every night when we would take our bows, there’d be an entire section of the crowd shouting, “VINNIE! VINNIE! VINNIE!” This happened almost every night on the tour! I’l tell you what, he sure earned it.

After Ankara, we headed off to Athens. I hadn’t been to Athens since 1992. What a jumpin’ town! I felt like I was in New York a bit. I loved it. I went up to see the Acropolis again after 16 years. It’s just staggering to see that structure. We played an absolutely gorgeous theater. (By the way, this is another gig that got YouTubed) As we’re taking our bows at the end of the night, Kenny Garrett whispers in my ear, “McBride, you see Anthony Jackson down there?” I almost stayed down in my bow! I’m so, so glad that I didn’t see him before the concert. I know I wouldn’t have been able to play having one of my heroes in the audience. He came backstage, and I just kissed his hands. It was so great seeing him.

After Athens, we headed off to Den Haag, Holland. It was very bizarre playing there for something other than the Northsea Jazz Festival. For 26 years, Den Haag was the host city for the festival before it moved to Rotterdam four years ago. I’d never been there for anything else. I didn’t know the city was so quiet. The audience was a bit like the audience in Istanbul. I know they appreciated it, though. (This gig is also in YouTube)

After Den Haag, we headed off to Antwerp, Belgium. That night was so special, please see “McBride Diaries, vol. 33” which describes that night in detail. Yes, it was THAT special…..

After Antwerp, we hopped on our bus to Leverkusen, Germany. We got to town in time to see both David Sanborn’s band and Maceo Parker with the WDR Big Band doing his Ray Charles tribute. I wasn’t prepared for Maceo’s DEAD ON impersonation of Ray Charles! That really messed me up. If you closed your eyes, you’d be stumped, I’m sure. After the gig, I got to hang with all my buddies from Sanborn’s gang. Richard Patterson, Gene Lake and I found some late night restaurant called “Uncle Sam’s”. It was a bit tricky. The following night, we played a very good gig. It was one of those fired up crowds. We love that!

After Leverkusen, we jumped over to Ingolstadt, Germany. The hotel was very similar to the old Northsea Jazz Festival - meaning that there were hundereds of musicians and fans jammed all up in the bar and the lobby, which had been turned into one of the festival venues, all night long. It was loud and not very peaceful. Folks drinking until 6am and staggering through the hallways. Thank goodness the gig was fun, and we again ran into Herbie Hancock and his gang at breakfast the following morning.

After Ingolstadt, we went to one of the loveliest cities in the world, Salzburg, Austria. Such a peaceful city with the Salzach River running through the middle of town. The one thing I’ll always remember about this gig is our hotel. Talk about highway robbery – they charged 23 Euros (roughly 21 dollars) for three hours of internet!! You couldn’t even buy a 24-hour package! It was either a one-hour package or a three-hour package. Shame. Shame. Shame.

The gig itself was a bit funny. We could see that the audience had a subscription “look” about them. Meaning, there were a number of seniors sitting dead in the front, and we knew that when we cut loose with the loud stuff, we’d see fingers going in the ears……and that’s just what we saw!!! Hilarious!!! ☺

After Salzburg, we headed off to Milan. Unfortunately, we were only there for a day, so we didn’t get to see much. We had a wondeful gig. The Italian audiences are always great.

We then jumped way up to Vilnius, Lithuania. Vilnius showed the CMB some serious love when we played that festival back in 2004, and it was great to be back with Chick and John. We played a Hockey Arena! It was great! How often does jazz get played in arenas? We had a great night. (YouTubed)

Our plane’s landing. Gotta shut down the computer. Later….

Ok, now it’s November 30th and I’m Back HOME! Hooray!

We then headed off to Wroclaw, Poland. That’s pronounced “Rosh-lav”, which became humorously corrupted to “Washcloth”.

Wroclaw was a great gig. We played another humongous arena. It looked like it was about 7,500 or 8,000 seats. There was a gigantic scoreboard hanging over the audience. It was very cool, I thought. I’m pretty sure this one got YouTubed, too. It was this gig where I experience a serious moment of euphoria. At some point during soundcheck, John, Vinnie and I broke into “Birds of Fire”!! I couldn’t believe I was playing that with John McLaughlin. Wow!

After the gig, Kenny, Vinnie and I had to hit the local KFC. (Yes, global westernization is becoming an issue!) Anyhow, this was one of those times we had to get some “emergency” food. When we walked in, half the people there recognized us from the gig. It was very cool.

After Wroclaw, we headed off to Rome. We had our first day off in over a week, so none of us really did or saw anything. The gig was another good one. We played the beautiful Auditorium Parco della Musica.

Next, we go into the home stretch with four gigs in Spain – Malaga, A Coruna, Barcelona and Bilbao.

Malaga is such a GORGEOUS place! Home of the Picasso Museum. I was reminded that I’d been there 15 years earlier with Pat Metheny, Joshua Redman and Billy Higgins. Another beautiful theater. (YouTubed) I had the pleasure of meeting John’s son, daughter-in-law, grandson (who live in Malaga) and other members of his wonderful, tightly-knit family. Ultimately, however, this turned out to be a devastating night. Just about 30 minutes before showtime, Kenny Garrett and I were hit with the shocking news that we had suddenly lost our dear brother, Tony Reedus. You can see my tribute to both Tony and Freddie Hubbard in “The McBride Diaries, (Vol. 30)”

After Malaga, we went to A Coruna at the Palacio de la Opera. This was another great gig. (YouTubed, of course) Customarily, after we would play our encore, we would take our bows and split. On this night, after our encore, the audience was so cool, Chick says, “Come on guys, let’s sign some autographs!” So, instead of leaving the stage, we all just sat on the foot of the stage and signed autographs. Vinnie opted out, as he knew that all the “drum whores” (I’m not talking about girls, either) would get on his nerves. Boy, Vinnie is one funny character, man!

After A Coruna, we headed off to what seems to be quickly becoming the new European jazz capital, Barcelona. We performed at the incredible Palau de la Musica Catalana. That was my second performance there this year. Another legendary bassist was in attendance and scared me to death. The great Carles Benavent came backstage to greet us, and just like with Anthony Jackson in Greece, I just kissed his hands. A very beautiful soul. I met him, along with his vocalist daughter, Angela.

Next came Bilbao. Home of the “other” Guggenheim Museum. This Frank Gehry building, as most of you know, is one of the wildest structures in the world. Fortunately, our hotel was only a couple of blocks away, so it was in plain view. We didn’t have any time, however, to visit. Once again, we played a great gig. We then headed off to London for our final gig of the tour.

This had to be one of the top ten gigs I’ve ever played in my life. For starters, we had two full days off before the final gig, which was sorely needed as the travel through Spain was pretty challenging. We took roughly two flights every day throughout Spain, and as you know, flying is never easy these days. So after two full days of eating and sleeping, we were ready to hit hard. We played the legendary Royal Albert Hall. It was my first time playing there. What a great sounding room. This also had to be one of the greatest audiences I’ve ever felt in my life. They responded to absolutely every note that each musician played. With John being on his home turf, so to speak, I got to meet more of his family and friends. His sister was particularly affable. I had a ball talking with her. And, of course, collectively, we all have plenty of musician friends in London, so the after party was filled with a bunch of friends (including Jeff Beck, no less!) and nothing but love. A good time was had by all.

This was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had on the road playing music. I look forward to part 2 of the “Five Peace Band” coming up next month.

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