Posted on 7/11/2006at 11:33 PM
The Man Behind The Music

June 2006 -

An artist who needs no introduction, Christian McBride, who is clearly en route to becoming a household name, is busy as ever. Not only is Christian a consummate musician, but he also makes the time to give back to the young musicians of the United States in the hope of affecting a positive change; to provide opportunities for young jazz musicians to build upon the tradition set forth by the forefathers of the jazz world.

Christian’s latest release entitled "Live At Tonic", is nothing short of spectacular. I was able to converse with Christian regarding this new release and his various artistic endeavors despite his hectic schedule.

Jazz Review: You began playing the Electric Bass at the age of nine, followed by the Acoustic Bass two years later. Were you ever interested in playing any other instruments or were you always naturally drawn to the bass?

Christian McBride: Well actually, you know when I went to junior high school to study music officially, my first instrument of choice was actually the trombone. However, no one ever told me that playing a brass instrument required that you press your lips in order to produce a sound. I thought that you just blew in it like you blow up a balloon or just like, you know, you just blow. I didn’t know that there was some special type of technique. So I’m blowing my lungs out and there is nothing coming out. I remember the brass instructor saying, “Christian there is a rumor that you play the electric bass” and I said, “Yeah,” and he said, “Well, why don’t you just play the acoustic bass?” At eleven years old there is a certain kid logic that is kind of sweet to a certain extent, and I just remember thinking, “Well why would I want to play two basses if I were to play the electric bass? I don’t need to play the big bass as well.” But he coaxed me into doing it and it was the best thing anyone has ever done for me (laughs).

Jazz Review: That is wonderful. We all thank him for that (laughs). Growing up in Philadelphia was there many opportunities for young people to get involved in the arts or was it something that was forcefully sought out?

Christian McBride: Not really. Fortunately, there were a whole lot of programs going on in Philadelphia for young musicians. As a matter of fact, I felt like I was a part of almost all of them. Settlement Music School had a great jazz program where I learned a whole lot, because they always used to bring in a lot of traveling international artists to come through and give clinics and workshops. It was a very worldly experience. It was something that someone at the age of twelve or thirteen could really benefit from. The Settlement music program was also a classical program.

The community college in Philadelphia had a great summer music program. Temple University had many different youth ensembles. There was the Philadelphia youth orchestra, of course. There was the All-City Jazz Band and Orchestra and concert band. There were all kinds of things going on in Philly that I took part in.

Jazz Review: You are very fortunate because I know that it deeply saddens me to see that in today’s society, there are such limited opportunities for children and young people in general to participate in the arts programs because of all the government cut backs.

Christian McBride: It just bothers me that somehow the funding for these programs, which, of course, mostly comes from the federal government, it has been decided that the arts are considered to be under the umbrella of hobbies, you know. It is not really something that they see is worth funding, which is very very sad.

Jazz Review: Yes, it is sad. That really shows the condition of our present government. Unfortunately, it serves as a constant reminder for us all that America does have problems that need to be rectified.

Christian McBride: I hope that the people who are kind of in denial will wake up and see what is really going on.

Jazz Review: Exactly. We can hope.

The fact that you came from a musical family and you had that all important support system that enabled you to stay your course without getting sidetracked along the way, was that the major contributing factor to your present day success?

Christian McBride: Oh, very much so! I always like to put it in these terms: My father kind of set up the bowling pins and my mother knocked them down. She was the navigator of the ship. I got my initial inspiration from my dad to play the bass, but it was certainly my mother who had the follow through to make sure that I took that little spark and turned it into an inferno.

Jazz Review: That is so important for a child because at a young age, you really do come to the point where you have to decide whether you are going to stay the course, or if your attention is focusing in on something else.

Christian McBride: Right. Well, you know that is really more than half the battle. Once you figure out in life what your passion is, what you really love, I think you are more than halfway there to really having a successful life.

Jazz Review: That is very true. Other than your father and uncle who were very influential figures for you as a child, who were some of the other musical influences who had the greatest impact on your then-future career?

Christian McBride: Oh, goodness! I would have to say Wynton Marsalis. Other than a whole lot of great local musicians who influenced me greatly, Wynton was probably the first world renown person who kind of came around and, you know, took me under his wing. . .really just mentored me to make sure that my focus was on the instrument and on learning the tradition--really learning the basics on how to be a really good jazz musician. I owe a lot to Wynton.


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