THE MCBRIDE DIARIES (VOL.42)
Posted on 2/21/2011at 6:18 PM
This has been one of the more difficult blogs for me to write. I’ve started and stopped on this blog at least eight times or so since mid-December. I realized that I’ve been somewhat scared to write, as I know that many events that occurred in 2010 would probably be too emotional to write about.
Most people who read these blogs of mine primarily want to hear the war stories of traveling, gigs and the studio, but I have to admit, these experiences traveling, performing and recording with great musicians are only worth how it relates to life in a much bigger picture. Deep down, I was aware of this, even in my teens and 20’s, but it’s hard to relate to the “big picture” when your “frame” isn’t that big yet. What makes it bigger?
Between losing my dear grandmother in November, my grandfather fighting a very serious illness, losing a great man and teacher in Dr. Billy Taylor, losing my very best friend from childhood to murder, losing three very important musicians in Philadelphia who were a part of my early development as a musician – Trudy Pitts, Sid Simmons and Charles Fambrough, being paid a very nasty visit by Uncle Sam for an old issue, getting blatantly robbed by a former business associate, it made for a year of balance and recognition of what’s really important in life.
In the middle of these reflective moments, I was able to enjoy my life on the bass, behind the mic and behind the sports desk.
Yeah, well, see, my passion for sports has come to a head. In 2010, I began writing articles for BleacherReport.com. I only wrote two articles, both on the Philadelphia Eagles. The second of my two articles, “We’ve Had It – Why The Eagles Must Win The Super Bowl This Year, “ (some good that did…) earned “hot read” status from Bleacher Report. A “hot read” means that I had over 1,000 readers in the first week. Kind of cool, huh? I really enjoyed being the “other” Christian McBride – the sports writer. I got some very nice feedback from gristly, beer-farting football fans who had no idea I make my life as a musician.
I also struck up a friendship with sports broadcaster Jeff DeForrest. I first “met” Jeff (we still haven’t met in person yet) two years ago on the air when I was interviewed via telephone on a show that he and my dear pal, Lesley Visser, co-hosted on WFTL 640 Sports in Miami. I’ve been a guest on his show many times since.
All of a sudden, I find myself rubbing elbows with all these great sports writers: Lesley Visser (my friend for almost 10 years now), William Rhoden, Mitch Albom, Kevin Blackistone and Jeff “Defo” DeForrest. Amazingly, all of them are big jazz fans.
My Sirius/XM radio show “The Lowdown: Conversations With Christian” also kicked off in 2010. Chick Corea (twice), Roy Hargrove, Angelique Kidjo, Bill Charlap and Lou Donaldson were guests on the show. I believe it turned out to be everything I hoped it would be – artistically integritous, entertaining, diverse and fun. Hearing Lou Donaldson do his hilarious ribbing of jazz legends, Bill Charlap imitating Grandmaster Flash, Angelique telling stories about living in New York, reminiscing with Roy Hargrove about our early days on the road together, and Chick Corea….well, it doesn’t matter what he does, turned out to be a dream come true for me as a radio host. I’m currently working on season two. I already have the first show recorded as I was honored to interview none other than Quincy Jones in the summer as he received a lifetime achievement award from the Northsea Jazz Festival. Stay tuned for season two of “The Lowdown…”
I played a gig with Sting at the end of January in Philadelphia. We played with the Philadelphia Orchestra. I can’t begin to tell you how it felt playing with Sting in front of my old bass teacher, Neil Courtney! Sting gave him a special acknowledgement over the mic that night. It was so sweet of him to do that.
February and March saw a hyper-flood of recording projects. First, I headed up to Ann Arbor and Detroit to perform and record “The Movement, Revisited” with Bishop Edgar Vann and the Second Ebenezer Majestic Voices. It was absolute magic. Bishop Vann also read the words of Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. Willis Patterson read the words of Malcolm X, the wonderful actor Dion Graham read the words of Muhammad Ali, and the great Sonia Sanchez read the words of Rosa Parks. As always, JD Steele was the featured vocal soloist and choir conductor. I have to start officially putting his name in all the press releases. This piece cannot be performed without him. I had my brothers from the CMB – Ron Blake, Terreon Gully, Geoffrey Keezer, plus an “Inside Straighter” in Warren Wolf inside of a Detroit-based 18-piece orchestra. I wish the whole world could have been there with us when we performed. As I said before, it was absolute magic.
For this performance and recording, I was commissioned by the Detroit International Jazz Festival to compose a new, fifth movement. This new movement, called “Apotheosis: November 4th, 2008,” is dedicated to the election of President Barack Obama. What we witnessed during that entire election process was something we hadn’t seen in this country in a very long time. It was a moment I was glad to be a part of.
As you can imagine, it’s going to be more than a job mixing and editing the recording, so look for it after “Conversations: The Duets” and the new big band recording.
What new big band recording???
The week after “The Movement, Revisited” performances, I took my big band into Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in NYC for a week to prepare for a new recording. As of this writing, the big band recording is just about finished post-production. We’re shooting for a September release.
It was one hell of a session. Nicholas Payton was our special guest. He played in the trumpet section as well as took a lion’s share of the solo features. I can’t name the whole band here (well, I guess I could, but I want to save some) because I want you to buy the CD (or a legal download) and see for yourself who all the guys are. I must say, I’m very proud of the big band recording. It came out better than I already knew it would. Some guests stopped by the studio to hang out with us – Jack DeJohnette, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Don Cheadle, who was in town to promote “Brooklyn’s Finest.” That brought some extra inspiration to the cats.
In March, I took “Inside Straight” on a tour of Southeast Asia – Jakarta, Bangkok and Singapore. I’d never been to Jakarta before. The festival was great. I also got to play with George Duke’s band as well. As for Bangkok, we didn’t get to hang there very long, so I hope we go back there soon. Although the night we performed, we had to battle two bands that played simultaneously. It was extremely noisy and distracting. Singapore, of course, is one of the greatest places on earth. It’s always a pleasure to visit.
Unfortunately, upon completion of this tour, I was confronted with one of the more unpleasant episodes of 2010 that I referred to in the third paragraph. (I’ll let you guess which one. It wasn’t the IRS.) Fortunately, it (sort of) resolved itself. It took a long time, but it resolved itself.
Between April and September, there were a number of recordings and gigs I was pleased to be a part of. I got to perform Schubert’s “Trout” quintet with the Shanghai Quartet at Montclair State University. Got to dust off my classical chops. I really need to do that more often.
I became a national pitchman for the Davidoff Puro D’Oro cigar along with chef Wayne Nish and wine maker Chris Carpenter. That’s been a trip to go into cigar stores around the country and see a poster with my mug on it. (Haters, don’t sweat it. I didn’t get paid for it….)
Inside Straight turned out to be somewhat of my own personal “American Idol” for piano players. Peter Martin, Cyrus Chestnut, Andy Langham, Brandon Coleman, Gerald Clayton and Christian Sands all played with us at some point in 2010. In fact, when the big band played at Dizzy’s in February, both Xavier Davis and Brandon McCune split the week.
What is it with me and piano players?
My summer and fall were spent with the great Chick Corea. First, we toured throughout Europe with a quartet called the “Freedom Band” which featured Kenny Garrett and none other than my other near and dear friend and teacher, Roy Haynes. There are so many YouTube clips of the band, I don’t need to tell you how it was. You can see and hear for yourself.
In the fall, that quartet turned into a trio with Brian Blade. Because of Brian’s sensitivity and musicianship, it turned out to be a trio with great depth. I believe there are a couple of YouTube clips of the trio, also.
In May, I hosted Jazz House Kids’ annual event, “Inside The Jazz Note.” Last year, our guest was the woman who went on to cause quite a stir at this year’s Grammy awards, Esperanza Spalding. How can anyone not love her to pieces? She’s such a lovely soul, and her talent speaks for itself. All of the young musicians who were there that day were touched deeply by her.
That same night, a young high school band from Camden, NJ performed. That knocked me out beyond anything I can imagine. They played a tribute to Freddie Hubbard that almost brought me to tears. Keep an eye out for Creative Arts High in Camden. There are some serious raw diamonds there.
Speaking of Jazz House Kids, the first annual JHK Summer Camp started in August. It was wonderful to work with so many talented young musicians. Between Jazz House Kids and Jazz Aspen, I get a head start at hearing these up-and-comers before everyone else gets the scoop. That's how I met Warren Wolf.
In June, I was honored to produce the Mack Avenue Records debut recording of one Mr. Warren Wolf. Tim Green, Peter Martin and my man Greg Hutchinson played. Be on the lookout for that soon.
The week after Warren’s recording, I went to Aspen, CO to perform my usual duties as Artistic Director of the Summer Jazz Academy. Last year was Jazz Aspen’s 20th anniversary. On top of working with the Academy, I was the musical director, bassist and arranger for a big band that was the core of a magnificent gala concert that featured Dianne Reeves, Terence Blanchard, Russell Malone, Patti Austin, John Clayton, Loren Schoenberg, DeWitt Fleming, Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker. What a night. That should have been recorded for a DVD.
In September, I made another visit to Detroit for the Jazz Festival. I’m really enjoying getting to know Detroit so well. This year, the festival started a web-tv show called “Jazz Planet.” It’s a brilliant show. It’s the jazz version of “Entertainment Tonight.” That’s what jazz needs – some entertainment, some personality, some FUN! I was one of the hosts for the show, along with the festival’s director, Terri “T-Pain” Pontremoli.
In September, I experienced a moment that was unquestionably a historic moment in jazz. Here’s what I wrote as an exclusive for Jazz House Kids’ website:
“A Night with Three Giants by Christian McBride”
I realize that in jazz, there are few musicians who represent true royalty. Sonny Rollins and Roy Haynes are unquestionably at the very top of that list. Both Sonny and Roy have separately been employing musicians across generations for many, many years. But between 1957 and 2007 (that's 50 years!!), they hadn't joined forces. How deeply honored was I when Sonny asked me to be his bassist for his big Carnegie Hall anniversary concert with my dear buddy, Roy Haynes in 2007. It was certainly a night to remember. No jazz concert during my professional career had been so eagerly anticipated. That is, until Sonny called again earlier this year asking if I'd play with him again for his 80th birthday celebration at the Beacon Theater in New York City. He told me that we'd do the trio again with Roy. Was this a dream, or what!
On the day of the concert during our soundcheck/rehearsal, Sonny gave us the shock of all shocks - possibly Ornette Coleman would sit in with the trio!! As I mentioned before, there are very few artists who represent true royalty. Ornette Coleman is also at the top of that list. As Sonny, Roy and I began to play our final song, I could see a shadow with an alto saxophone lurking in the wings. "Oh, my gosh....he's here!!", I thought. Ornette slowly walked out onstage, and all I could think of was, "Sonny, Ornette and Roy......Wow!!" That's like sharing the court with Michael Jordan, Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or collaborating with Van Gogh, Picasso and Michelangelo. I couldn't believe I was a part of history. Sonny and Ornette had never played together before. Watching them trade phrases was, frankly, mind boggling.
This was a special moment in time, and those who were there knew it. Frankly, I'm still speechless. I can only hope it happens again, but moments like that usually happen only once. I'm fortunate to have been a part of it.”
Can’t explain it any better than that.
Funny thing about life, though. It has a way of balancing itself.
After my grandmother’s passing on November 10th, a staggering wave of deaths followed that after a while, didn’t even make me sad, they almost made me suspicious. The people that I mentioned in the second paragraph all passed away between November 10th and the end of the year. Not to mention the passing of both Hank Jones and Abbey Lincoln earlier in the year.
Who would have thought that when I started recording my “Conversations” CD in 2009 that neither Hank Jones or Dr. Billy Taylor would be alive for the release.
We carry with us the lessons from our foremothers and forefathers as life moves on.
On that note….
Here’s to life. All of it - the good, the sad, the comical, the painful, the mysterious.
Have a drink and a cigar on me. (If you're a kid reading this, go practice!)
Rap to you later.