The McBride Diaries (Vol.19)
Posted on 1/8/2007at 9:22 AM
I didn’t have much time to exhale after the James Brown concert as the CMB took our show on the road to Japan. It’s been so long since I’ve played in Japan with my band. Not quite sure why it took so long, but we finally got back there. We played at the new Cotton Club. The Cotton Club is the Tokyo Blue Note’s “little sister” club. It’s very similar to the Tokyo Blue Note, but a bit smaller and cozier. We played there for four nights, and we had an absolutely wonderful time. As usual, the Japanese fans were loyal and enthusiastic. It turns out, the week we were there, Tokyo was jumpin’! Brad Mehldau’s trio was there, Makoto Ozone’s trio was there, Soulive was there, and Pat Metheny was there to do a press tour. Because of the scheduling, none of us got to see each other, but Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard from Brad’s trio came to see us on our last night in town.

Since it had been six years since I’d been in Japan with my own group, it felt so good to play for the Japanese audiences with a well-stocked repertoire. We played music from “Vertical Vision”, “Live at Tonic”, as well as some new material that hasn’t been recorded. I sincerely hope it doesn’t take us another six years to get back to Japan.

After Japan, I took a “Situation” up to Boston and played the Beantown Jazz Festival. It was a good gig with Oliver Lake, Patrice Rushen, and my man, DJ Logic. It’s a bit nerve racking with that particular group, because it’s totally improvisational. My only worry is if the audience will dig it. You know, when you play a completely improvised gig, the chances are about 50/50 that it will be exciting. It will definitely be good, but we also want it to be exciting, you know? But, of course, with Patrice, Oliver, and Logic, how in the world could it be anything less than exciting? It was a fun gig.

I did two gigs with Melissa’s group in Sedona, AZ and in New York at Sweet Rhythm. Playing with Melissa and her two longtime cohorts, Clarence Penn and Makoto Ozone felt nice. Melissa sounded real good. Plus, her and those guys have a real nice “thang” happening. I was just glad to not get in the way.

Boy, Arizona is a beautiful place. I can remember when my high school buddy, Joey DeFrancesco, moved to Arizona after we graduated. It was a unanimous, “ARIZONA???? Why there????” Now, I know. George Benson also lives there now. But, frankly, I love New York way too much to ever get too far away from it.

After that, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Benny Green, Greg Hutchinson and I did an awesome gig at the Blue Note in New York saluting our musical father, Ray Brown. This gig was one of the highlights of the year for me. To play all of that Ray Brown trio music is just a very humbling experience. Not that it’s difficult music, but it has that unmistakable Ray Brown sheen. And being in the Ray Brown “seat”, I really did my best to do justice to what “pops” left behind. As for Dee Dee, well, let’s just say that we “cut up” badly on the gig! We clowned and “acted a fool”, as they say. That was the first time we’d ever done a real gig together, and it was just so much fun, I’m not sure if it’s wise for us to work together too often!! Ha!! Have you ever seen Dee Dee live? Then you know what I’m talking about!!

The Monday after we concluded the Blue Note engagement, I played a gig at Joe’s Pub with the man the CMB affectionately calls “The Fifth Beatle”, David Gilmore. One of the best sessions I’ve played on in YEARS, (yes, years!) was his new CD, “Unified Presence”. The band on that CD played the CD release party/gig – David, myself, Ravi Coltrane, and Jeff “Tain” Watts. Can you say, “High Octane”? That gig was supremely smokin’. Check that CD out. You’ll love it.

After that, I played a few tracks on the upcoming CD of vocalist, Kurt Elling. Kurt is one heck of a musician. He’s got some big, big ears, and he’s got quite an imagination. He had me write an arrangement for him of Betty Carter’s “Tight”. He did a fantastic job. Look for that CD release sometime in March.

In November, the CMB embarked on a three week European tour. To be perfectly honest, the only reason I was NOT looking forward to the tour was because of the travel. As you know from one of my previous entries, flying with instruments and equipment is such a terrible task these days, it’s almost not even worth the trouble (or the money) to even bother. But, who can resist performing for knowledgeable, appreciative European audiences? Not me.

The first week of the tour took us through Spain. Due to Ron’s Saturday Night Live schedule, we took David Gilmore with us for the Spain run. The CMB with guitar and no sax is just plain loud and nasty. It was GREAT! ☺ Hard hittin’ all the time! We were ready to give RTF a run for their money! (Did I just say that?) We had a great time in Spain, and the best part is, I only had to pay $400 for the entire week in excess airline fees. The bad part is, we only took one flight all week!

The following week, Ron rejoined us in Istanbul. It was nice to play something soft again. ☺ We got back to playing our current repertoire, as we just kind of jammed with Gilmore the previous week. Instead of describing each gig which took us to London (our first ever gig at Ronnie Scott’s), Paris, Prague, Vienna, and Berlin, I just have to make special mention of one gig in particular.

Paris has never made me feel too confident as a bandleader. The first time I ever took a band to Paris was in 1995 after the release of “Gettin’ To It.” We played for three nights at the now-defunct “La Villa” club. It was a great gig. We even did a Europe 1 radio broadcast. In contrast, the following year, I played to a damn near empty New Morning club. This was after the release of “Number Two Express.” To compound the embarassment, it was recorded on video, which from time to time, still airs on the BET-J channel. From 1997 to 2003, I did not play any gigs in Paris as a leader. I was beginning to think that Paris just didn’t dig me. Boo-hoo. Upon the release of “Vertical Vision,” the first gig we played on that tour was in Paris at the New Morning. I was scared to death. What if we didn’t sell any tickets? What if the publicity wasn’t that great? Well, considering that I was on a major label (Warner Brothers), things should have been ok. It was more than ok. We sold maybe 3/4ths of the house. Whew! What a relief. To show my appreciation, I even tried to introduce the band in French. That was a DISASTER! But, the audience gave me big props for just trying.

On this tour, when we finished our final night at Ronnie Scott’s in London, we were dead tired. We played two full 90 minutes shows each night for three nights. We left the club every night around 2:30 or 3am. Our lobby call that morning was at 7am. I don’t think any of us slept that night. If we did, it wasn’t for very long. Our flight to Paris wound up being delayed for a couple of hours due to weather. So, instead of getting to Paris at 12 noon and having a few hours to chill and take a nap before soundcheck, we got to Paris at 3pm, and pretty much had to go straight to soundcheck. We were all tired and crabby. Especially since we were only to be in Paris for one night, which meant we’d have to go through the cycle all over again. When we finally finished our soundcheck around 6:30, we were on our way back to the hotel when we could see a pretty hefty line already starting to form outside the club. “Hmmm…”, I thought. Was there an opening band? I didn’t think so. When we returned to the club around 8PM, the club was absolutely PACKED!! I haven’t seen a club that packed for any show of CMB’s anywhere! Certainly not a club of that size (it seats about 300). As it turns out, Rykodisc, the European distributors for Ropeadope, did an awesome job of promoting “Live at Tonic” in Paris. These people were ready for some music. When we walked on stage, people went wild! It was easily the best attended concert we’ve had….maybe ever! The only other pleasant surprise I can remember on this level was the Green Dolphin in Chicago in 2003. Throughout the evening on this night in Paris, the fans just shouted and gave us so much encouragement, they made us forget we were tired. Consequently, we also played one of the longest shows we’ve ever played. We played just over 2 hours straight. I wish I could say something in French to all of the beautiful fans who came out and made the ENTIRE European tour worthwhile. That night in Paris is one I won’t ever forget. Merci!

Of course, we had some other fun, well-attended shows on the tour. Our first gig in Spain (Zaragoza) was wonderful. Our gig in Barcelona was great. Istanbul was great. London was cool. Vienna (Joe Zawinul’s Birdland) was cool. Prague was very nice, and had Paris not been on the schedule, Berlin would have easily been the best show. As I mentioned earlier about having a rough go of it in Paris for a long time, Berlin has always been on the money. I don’t know what it is about the Berliners, but they have a real New York type of grit. If they like it, they’ll let you know. If they don’t, they’ll not only boo, they might try to beat you up! Yeah, Berlin. Keep it real! ☺

Once the tour was over, I got to spend just over a week of relaxing at home. I then took a very, very special band to the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. I “reached back” and called two of my oldest friends and cohorts for an evening of straight ahead – Carl Allen and Cyrus Chestnut. Add Ron to the mix, and it was so, so smokin. This gig was originally planned for the CMB, but as schedules conflicted, I decided to go with something extra special. The gig itself was just as you would imagine – swinging hard! We also got to play with the school’s big band. They sounded great! We also met the young band from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts who just recently won the “Essentially Ellington” competition. I haven’t heard them, but just from looking at them and feeling their vibe, I know they can hit!

After Jacksonville, I went to Norfolk, VA to participate in an all-star tribute to the great saxophonist, arranger, bandleader and composer, Frank Foster. So many people were there – Frank Wess, Dr. Donald Byrd, Nnenna Freelon, Branford Marsalis (he didn’t play, but he was there), Nicholas Payton, George Cables, Danny Mixon, and members of Mr. Foster’s “Loud Minority Big Band.” For the concert, I got to play in a trio with Winard Harper, and the great Dr. Billy Taylor. Great fun.

Once I got back from Norfolk, I could finally stay home and prepare for the Christmas holiday and get ready for six nights at Yoshi’s with McCoy Tyner.

Unfortunately, this particular Christmas Day would be one of the saddest, shocking, most heart wrenching days of my life….

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