Christian McBride's big, fat sound

Christian McBride

Bassist Christian McBride has been a versatile force in jazz, R&B and rock music for the past 20 years. McBride's impressive career includes winning three Grammy Awards, appearing on over 300 albums and performing with legends Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, Sting, The Roots, Bruce Hornsby and dozens of others.

McBride and his virtuosic bass lines currently lead four ensembles: an 18-piece big band, an experimental group with two DJs called A Christian McBride Situation, a quintet with vibes and saxophone named Inside Straight and the Christian McBride Trio, featuring pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens. It's that last one that will venture to the Jazz Kitchen tonight to play two sets. We chatted with McBride before the show while he was on the road.

NUVO: What musicians — bass players and non-bass players alike — helped mold and shape your sound and concept of music?

christian McBride: Because of my instrument, the frequency is so low that it is hard to attain clarity, so when you try to play eighth notes — no matter what the tempo — you run the risk of getting lost. So it was always my goal to try to emulate the clarity that Freddie Hubbard had, that Joe Henderson had, that McCoy Tyner had, that Jaco Pastorius had. If I could somehow capture their execution and clarity of tone then I would be satisfied. Ray Brown, Paul Chambers and Oscar Pettiford were probably the only three acoustic bass players that I felt were able to still have a lot of dexterity but still keep their big, fat, full sound. Those are my favorite bass players.

NUVO: Growing up, what albums did you keep coming back to? Which albums helped push you to the next level?

McBride: I've always been a big fan of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers — albums like Moanin', Free for All, Indestructible, Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Four and More, My Funny Valentine and Cannonball Adderley's Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.

NUVO: As you were first getting into the jazz scene, what were some of the biggest performance moments for you?

McBride: I played with Freddie Hubbard for the first time when I was 18. I played with Joe Henderson for the first time maybe two to three months after I joined Freddie's band, and I played with McCoy Tyner a month after that. Bobby Watson gave me my very first gig ever in New York, so I'm always indebted to him for getting me out there on the scene. People like Mulgrew Miller — rest his soul — and James Williams, they really looked out for me when I first came to New York. The man who's playing drums with me on Wednesday night, Carl Allen [filling in for Ulysses Owens] was always like a big brother figure to me and was someone I knew I always could lean on for advice. If I ever got out of line or did something wrong, I knew he would sound me on it. Same thing with Lewis Nash, Betty Green and so many other people who were just very helpful to me when I first got to New York.

NUVO: What artists are on your playlist right now?

McBride: Because I have a lot of projects going on, I usually have to do very specific listening, but if I just put my phone on and let it run, you might hear anything from James Brown, to Willy Nelson, to The Meters, to Andrew Hill, to Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. It could be anybody.

NUVO: Do you have any pre-show rituals?

McBride: I usually like dead silence before a performance, but I usually never get it. If I'm playing at a concert hall, then I can sit in my dressing room and completely take my mind off everything and meditate for five minutes.

NUVO: What are your earliest musical memories?

McBride: Going to see the Isley Brothers when I was seven years old. My uncle was a promotions man at a local radio station, so we were always going to every rhythm and blues or gospel show that came through town, so I saw a lot of people at a young age. I got to see Gladys Knight and the Pips, Wilson Pickett, Smokey Robinson and of course once I saw James Brown my life was ruined in the best possible way! [Laughs]

NUVO: What upcoming projects are you excited about?

McBride: I'm just about to finish my next album, which is called Movement Revisited and features my big band with the Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir, led by J.D. Steele. There are four narrators on the album: Sonia Sanchez reads the words of Rosa Parks, Vondie Curtis Hall reads the words of Malcolm X, Dion Graham reads the words of Muhammad Ali, and Wendell Pierce reads the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That will be out January of 2015. I can't wait!

Special thanks to Bethany Robinson for her assistance with this piece.