Posted on 1/28/2009at 3:04 AM
Are you assuming that my two most memorable gigs of 2008 were both good? Well, let me break them both down….

In August, my new and expanded “Situation” with Patrice Rushen, DJ Logic, Jahi Sundance, Walter Smith III and Maysa Leak played the Hollywood Bowl for the summer series of which I’m the Creative Chair. We opened up for Jamie Cullum with the Count Basie Orchestra.

In planning the summer series, it was collectively agreed upon by all that I should have at least one appearance with some group of my own. Everyone loved the possibilities of the “Situation”. I certainly did. However, I knew that no matter what, keeping the audience interested with a 100% improvisational band playing at the huge, cavernous Hollywood Bowl would be a challenge. This type of band is much better suited for a club. But with that much firepower in the band, it shouldn’t be TOO hard to keep ‘em happy at the Bowl… we hoped.

Now the challenge was to make a compatible double bill. Hmmm….

Who in the world could this band possibly fit with? Definitely a Soul/Funk/Pop/Contemporary or Hip-Hop group, but there weren’t any who were available for that particular date. Now what do we do? Well, for certain, coupling us with a “straight-ahead” or classic jazz group would be a colossal disaster. Imagine NWA and the Benny Goodman Orchestra on the same bill. Wouldn’t work, would it? (all you so-called jazz intellectuals don’t play. It really wouldn’t work!) After further deliberation, Jamie Cullum got the nod. Maybe a little bit of a stretch, but since Jamie’s such a talented and dynamic hybrid performer bridging the gap between jazz and rock, younger crowds and veteran crowds, we figured it just might work. He’s got a very good band, too.

Somewhere along the way, I missed the part about him performing with the Count Basie Orchestra. Maybe I heard it, and tried to not think about it, but I’ll tell you what, when I saw the official schedule that said “Jamie Cullum with the Count Basie Orchestra and A Christian McBride Situation….”, all I could think to myself was, “I’m so screwed!!”

Maybe I could get sick that night. Yeah, that’s it! Maybe everyone in the band would have other gigs they forgot about and I’d have to call the acoustic quintet. Help, Lord. Anything! Just don’t let me get onstage at the Hollywood Bowl with this particular band in front of a bunch of Basie fans!! I’m doomed.

Gig night......

Unfortunately, the attendance was very good. ☺ The opening act that night was a very good vocalist named Elizabeth Shepherd. She played maybe 30 minutes before we went on. As we took the stage after our huge introduction, we certainly looked good. I thought we looked like gladiators. Maysa and Patrice looked so regal, Logic and Jahi looked like superheroes back there on their risers overlooking the band with their turntables. Walter balanced it out with his classic jazzy coolness, and I was in the front with my amp stacks surrounding me and my electric basses on stands with Minnie so proudly up in front. I almost felt like, gulp……Pat!! Anyhow, we struck into our first groove and everything seemed cool. We only played for 45 minutes, but I gotta tell you, after 15 minutes, I started to get a sinking feeling. I could tell that this experimental band was just not happening for this huge, roman-like ampitheater. The audience gave us no energy. After probing, searching and navigating our way to the final groove, the audience was almost dead. Or maybe it was me that felt almost dead! As we walked offstage, the crowd gave us an all-too-polite applause. Patrice came up to me as we walked offstage and whispered in my ear, “Well? What do you think?” I said, “I don’t know. I’ll let you know in the morning.” She got a hearty laugh from that.

Now let me explain something, the band was SMOKIN’!! I felt like everybody played and sang their butts off. Had we played the House of Blues, the Key Club, or even the Roxy, I’m sure people would have tripped beyond belief. (yes, pun intended!) But at the Bowl with a subscription crowd anticipating Jamie with the Basie band….it just wasn’t the right vibe.

After we finished, Jamie went on and did an awesome job. It was interesting how it went down - the Basie band went out first and played about two numbers on their own, then Jamie came out with his trio and played a few numbers, then Jamie played a few numbers with the Basie band. It was like seeing three separate bands in a 60-minute frame. In the middle of all of that, Jamie asked me to come out and join him for a duet. You can imagine, I was seriously gun-shy about going back out on that stage after the luke warm response a “Situation” got. Jamie wouldn’t hear about it, though. He was determined to get me out on that stage no matter what I said. After a very sweet introduction, we performed “Nature Boy”.

At the end of the night, I figured I could take a big sigh and chalk that one up.

Not so fast….

The following morning, I got a flood of hate mail at my website from subscribers of the LA Phil!! I must admit, most of it was non-threatening, but there were a few in there that I’m saving for evidence in case something happens to me! ☺ There were e-mails that ranged from, “Why couldn’t we just have an evening of all Basie? Why did we need Jamie Cullum?” to “Why couldn’t we just have an evening of all Jamie Cullum? Why did we need the Basie band?” to “Why didn’t Mr. Cullum play more songs with the Basie band?” to “Why didn’t Mr. Cullum play less songs with the Basie band” to “Why was their set so short? It was YOUR fault, Mr. McBride”….I mean, it was deep. But there was one thing all the e-mails were unanimous on – the next time a “Situation” plays in LA, they ain’t coming!!! Words and phrases that ranged from “poor”, “meandering”, “self-absorbed”, “boring”, “aimless”. Oh, man….

The more I think about it, I hope we do get to open for Jamie and the Basie band again at the Bowl. I’ll make sure to hire a dancer, and it’ll be Laura doing her Martha Graham thing.

Well, actually, a “Situation” did play in LA just over a month later at Walt Disney Concert Hall for the Grand Avenue Festival, and some of them DID come, and they enjoyed it. Are you surprised? I’m not.

That Bowl gig was certainly one of the most memorable of 2008!

<< back