Posted on 10/28/2007at 2:29 AM
I sincerely hope that you all don’t get used to the novel-length blogs I’ve been posting lately. Heck, I hope I don’t get used to it! LOL! But, then again, it only reflects all of the great happenings of the last few months. I’m now going to get back to the “short and sweet” method. At least, I’ll try to.

In early September, I had one of my “Situations” at the CD101/Liberty Park Jazz Festival. CD101.9 is New York City’s “Smooth Jazz” radio station. I was very shocked that they would even ask me to be on the festival. Branford Marsalis’s quartet and Joshua Redman’s trio were also on the festival. None of us are anywhere NEAR “Smooth Jazz”, so big ups to CD101 for stretching out. Unfortunately, I did not have a very good gig. I don’t think I played very well. I’m not quite sure what was wrong. My chops felt stiff, the sound was awful onstage, and I just couldn’t find the groove. Maybe it was the “wham-bam-hurry-up-and-play-your-set-and-get-off” festival mentality. You know, when you play festivals like that, you absolutely never get time for a proper soundcheck. Unless you have your own crew, you have to be onstage soundchecking while everyone’s watching you. That’s so country! Ok, so now the entire audience has already seen you soundcheck, and NOW the emcee comes out and says, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome such-and-such”? What good is an intro now? Everyone’s seen you already! That’s what I mean about the jazz world’s lack of drama and showmanship. At least put a curtain up so the audience can’t see you soundchecking!

Then there’s the equipment. If there’s an amp buzzing, or a keyboard not working properly, chances are, you’ll just have to play it that way. Most festivals are much more concerned with keeping the flow going and starting and stopping on time more than an artist actually having a good performance. I’ve played many shoddy performances with many people because of that mentality that persists at festivals. Not to mention, most people (depending on the festival) only come to eat, drink, and party. They could care less about what’s actually happening onstage. Like I said, it really depends on the festival.

Now that I’ve innocently set up such a bleak picture of jazz festivals, let me continue….

Ron Blake, David Gilmore, Justin Brown, and one of my main running buddies, Clark Gayton, played the gig with me. They sounded fine, but like I said, I wasn’t clicking. After we finished our set, we kind of hung out and watched the next few bands. After us was “Euge Groove”. You know, it was what it was. I guess it was good. Real smooth jazz ain’t my bag. After “Euge” was Chuck Mangione. The sound guys didn’t take good care of him. I could hear Chuck, but we couldn’t hear the rest of the band. It sounded like a solo flueglehorn recital! (Boy, I’m scoring mega-points here with the CD101 festival people, huh?) After Chuck Mangione, came the “man” – George Benson. We couldn’t wait to hear him. He always plays, sings and performs at a very high level. As I go back to my trailer (dressing room), there’s a bunch of musicians congregating in the backstage area like my main man, Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright, and all the cats from George Benson’s and Chuck Mangione’s band. As we’re all standing there talking, some punk-a** security dude tells us that we all have to move. We sort of collectively say, “but we’re the performers!” This guy says, “Well, I’m sorry. Mr. Benson needs to get to the stage as fast as possible. We’re very behind.” You see what I mean? These festival security people would much rather alienate the other musicians on the festival to keep schedule than to keep peace. So, then the security guy says, “Well we can’t have any of you guys trying to talk to Mr. Benson or ask for autographs.” We all collectively laugh. So, I start to walk to my trailer (which was next to George’s), and this guy actually puts his hand on my chest. Bad, bad move. As I started to transform (I call it my “David Banner/Incredible Hulk” transition), I calmly (and robotically) say, “That-is-my-trailer-right-there.” The punk says with a very nasty tone, “Well, why don’t you go to it and stay there until Mr. Benson’s onstage.” Folks, you have absolutely NO idea how much discipline it took for me not to just jack this fool right up against the wall and give him a good 55th and Locust Street “session”. I took a deep breath and walked to my trailer and calmly packed up all my stuff and went back to my seat. After all of that, I was glad that I was able to enjoy George. He washed all that mess away. However, after he finished, I was more than happy to get outta there. The following day, I heard that everyone in the crowd left by the time Joshua Redman got on. What a great festival.

The following morning, my fingers were so sore. I don’t know why my chops got so beat up. Like I said, maybe because I couldn’t hear onstage, I overcompensated and started playing too hard. I was worried because I had three days to recover as I started a six-night engagement at the Blue Note in New York. I wanted to be in top condition as I was doing a double-bill with the legendary Ron Carter and his trio. This particular “Situation” I had featured a trio with George Colligan on piano, and the great Jabali Billy Hart on drums. After the first night with those guys, I felt like a brand new man! My chops instantly felt better, and the overall vibe was just great. What a fantastic week of music. Playing with Billy Hart is so exciting. He plays so strong and intense without ever, EVER being loud. That’s very rare to come across. He never slows down, either. That’s extra great! I’ve always said that drummers who know how to play on top of the beat without rushing feels like the equivalent of having a dog chasing you down the street! As a bass player, if you drop a beat, that’s your butt!! ☺ Same with George. He sounded so, so good. Definitely a power trio with finesse. I loved it. I hope to play with that trio again soon. I was smiling from ear to ear every night, every set. Just burning hot, man. Ron Carter had his trio with Mulgrew Miller and Russell Malone. Talk about classy. THAT was classy.

After that great, great week of music at the Blue Note, I had a pretty memorable evening at Carnegie Hall. (See The McBride Diaries Vol. 25)

I then went into the studio with David Sanborn, who’s just completed his new project - a tribute to the great Hank Crawford. Anyone who’s ever followed David Sanborn knows that Hank Crawford is his main man. This was a fun, fun session. Steve Gadd, Russell Malone, Gil Goldstein, Howard Johnson, and Lou Marini are just a handful of guys who played on the session. David played his butt off. I know you’ll dig it.

I then played a very special concert at my alma mater, The Juilliard School. My longtime pal and close musical cohort, Carl Allen, the new director of jazz studies at Juilliard, along with another longtime cohort of mine, Laurie Carter, the administrative director of jazz studies, designed a concert called “A McBride Thang – The Music of Christian McBride”. I was so, so flattered. I thought they were scraping the bottom of the barrel coming up with THAT concept ☺, but I was very flattered nonetheless. I wrote 10 arrangements for the two large ensemble groups. Much to my surprise, when I arrived at the first rehearsal, they had MEMORIZED all of the arrangements!! Exactly how they memorized all the parts and the changes so quickly, I’ll never know. That’s old school, alright! I know that came from Carl Allen. Right on, brother. Here I am, after playing with Pat Metheny’s Trio for four years, and I still need a music stand onstage for “insurance purposes”. Shame on me. ☺

Those students were so awesome, they had me in tears. I look forward to those guys exploding onto the international scene soon. I’ll be the first one to tell the world how “I remembered them when…..” ☺


A few weeks ago, Gille (that’s pronounced “Jill”) Amaral, my manager’s assistant, calls me up and says, “Don Henley’s looking for you.” I said, “Why?” She started laughing. Surely, he wouldn’t be looking for me to play with him, would he? Don Henley?? Wow. As it turns out, Don’s foundation, The Walden Woods Project, was having their big fundraising event in New York at the Allen Room, which is part of the Jazz at Linclon Center complex. After I accepted the gig, I was terribly curious as to how Henley tracked me down. “Of course! Bruce Hornsby!”, I thought. He’s about the only guy I know who would know Don Henley. So, I called Bruce and said, “Thanks for the gig, man. Henley called me.” Bruce said, “What are you talking about? Henley? You mean Don Henley?” I said, “Yeah. Didn’t you give Don Henley my info?” He said, “No.” Now, I’m really confused. I said, “Henley wants me to play with him at the Walden Woods fundraiser, and I just assumed you gave him my info.” Bruce said, “Not at all. I’m just as surprised as you are. He’s not the type of guy who’s really up on what’s happening in the jazz world, you know? How’d he track you down?” I said, “Well, I REALLY don’t know now!”

I got a call from Don’s musical director, Wil Hollis, the next day. He told me that it would be an easy gig. Just three tunes, “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green,” and “Georgia On My Mind.” He said, “Oh, by the way, Billy Joel’s going to play with us on ‘Georgia’.” Heh, Heh! Not a bad month’s work, huh? Sonny Rollins at Carnegie Hall to a night of my music at Juilliard to Don Henley and Billy Joel at the Allen Room. Cool. I’ll take it!

When I finally met Don Henley at the rehearsal, he was very cool. A man of few words. Very focused and poised with a jazz musician’s seriousness. He thanked me for coming, and I thanked him for calling. We ran through the first two songs before Billy Joel showed up. Billy Joel is definitely my kind of guy. Truly a man’s man. The sort of guy I’d love to take to Club Macanudo and smoke a few stogeys with. Great energy he has.

As Wil said, it was an easy gig. I hardly got to spend anytime with Henley, Joel, or any of the guys in the band, really. But it was a fun night. Henley promised me that it wouldn’t be the last time we’d work together. Interesting thought, eh?

By the way, I never did find out how he tracked me down!! ☺

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