Christian McBride: A Veteran Before 40
Since the late '80s Philly-bred bassist Christian McBride has been a low end powerhouse for artists including Milt Jackson, Diana Krall and Questlove. He spent the most time in our fair city between 2006 and 2010 when he was the "Creative Chair for Jazz" with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and this Saturday he'll bring his straight ahead trio -- including pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens -- to share a bill with Ravi Coltrane's quartet at UCLA's Royce Hall.
It's fair to say that, like Randy Newman, he loves L.A. "L.A. has always got a bad rap," he says, calling from his New Jersey home. "It's so spread out. It's hard to get a sense of the jazz community. I always felt Los Angeles has one of the tightest jazz communities in the sense that people who really love the music are going to go out and find it. Wherever it may be they are going to go find it."
Socially, however, McBride has more than enough on his plate. "When I come to L.A., I go into managing mode. I have so many friends in L.A. that it becomes a matter of trying to not make people mad if I don't call them. I'm only gonna be there for one day!"
For a man as busy as McBride it's no wonder he's got to screen his phone calls. Last year he released his first big band album The Good Feeling. His dynamic charts and unstoppable band (Nicholas Payton, Ron Blake, Xavier Davis) earned him a Grammy nomination. If that wasn't enough he released a second album last year entitled Conversations with Christian that found him paired with legends, including the late Dr. Billy Taylor, and Chick Corea, not to mention friends including Dee Dee Bridgewater and Gina Gershon, of all people.
Diversity has been a hallmark of McBride's career. He has worked for jazz heroes like Freddie Hubbard and Bobby Watson but is just as comfortable with an electric bass, having held it down behind R&B masters like Isaac Hayes and James Brown. "I feel lucky that everyone I've had on my bucket list I've gotten to play with," says McBride.
Only 39, McBride has been playing the bass professionally since Ronald Reagan was in office. "I never thought of it like trying to make a living," he says looking back on his career. "For me, playing bass was just something I really wanted to do. As long as I had that focus I never thought I'd make a living. I always knew it would come to me."
"But am I veteran?" he asks, somewhat surprised. "I've always admired Roy Haynes and Sonny Rollins. Roy Haynes still plays with the same vigor of his 20's and 30's. As we progress in life you still have to play hard. I can only hope that I get to my 80's. If I do, I still want to sweat. I still want to come off the bandstand puffing."
Correction: The original version of this post said that McBride was 40.