Christian McBride: Getting the Inside Straight
AAJ: You as an educator.
l:r: Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Christian McBride, Brian Blade, Kenny Garrett
CMB: When I was in high school...well, maybe because of growing up in Philly, that is not that far away from New York, there were a lot of musicians that were always coming to Philly. Musicians like Bobby Watson, Kenny Barron, Walter Davis Jr., Red Rodney, Ron Carter, Branford Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Max Roach, Donald Harrison, Dr. Billy Taylor, Grover Washington Jr....So I was very lucky to spend a lot of time with this musicians, because they came to Philly and they were doing a lot of workshops and master classes and things like that at this music school I was going to. We had access to all of these great musicians that were coming to spend their free time with us, and we knew they had no free time, so we were always really appreciative that they took time to do these workshops and master classes with us. I now know how important that was, so I always promised myself that if I ever was in the same position, where I could give some of my time to some younger musicians and inspire them in the same way that those guys inspired me, I would do it, without any question. My first opportunity to get involved with jazz education happened in the mid nineties, when the Berklee College of Music asked me to come up there and do a series of master classes.
I did six master classes throughout the school year. And they said: come up with your own theme, design it however you want to; and that was my first time. And that freaked me out, because half the class was older than me! So I thought, man, I don't have any business being here, but a few people seemed to enjoy what I was teaching, and they had me come back a number of times to do different things at the school, workshops and master classes, and things like that. And not too long after that, I was asked to come to Jazz Aspen and be a visiting clinician for the summer, just for a couple of days, and I guess the staff at Jazz Aspen liked what they saw, and they asked me if I was interested in being their permanent artistic director. So I was like wow...sure! I've been doing that for the last 10 years now.
And I mentioned earlier that when Dave Brubeck opened the Brubeck Institute, he asked me to be his Artistic Director, and to help him format the educational program, and I've been involved with so many different educational things, I am just honored so many people have asked me, because I love doing that. And I don't think, particularly in jazz education, I don't need to stand in front of a black board and go, "Louis Armstrong was born in this year and blah blah blah..."
Education, you have to teach young musicians, you have to give them inspiration, inspiration to work harder, you just can't stick your finger in their face and say "Practice!"they already know that! You have to give them some type of inspiration, and you give them inspiration through stories. You show them chords you know they've never heard before, you play them records they probably don't know, you watch their faces light up. And you answer their questions; that's how you get them. Somebody else that they see everyday can do the traditional text book route, but I don't think that's my method. I like to teach students through my experiences, and they seem to get a lot out of that.
AAJ: You wear many different hats in your career. Which one is the one that suits you the most, as a human being, or as a musician?
CMB: It's all one and the same. I heard this interview that Herbie Hancock gave not too long ago, and he was talking about his Buddhist philosophy. I don't practice Buddhism myself, but I do believe in a lot of the theories that it teaches, as in you are one with the Universe, because the point that Herbie was trying to make is that he always thought of himself as a musician first. And at some point he realized that he is not a musician first, he is a person first. Herbie said he realized that he is a lot of things, and musician is just one of the things on that list. He says, "I'm a friend, I'm a son, I'm a neighbor, I'm a father, I'm a mentor, I'm a musician."
So being a musician is one and the same with all of that. So out of the different hats I wear this is just one big, you know, fedora.
AAJ: Do you think the bass is underrated? CMB: No, I actually think that's a myth. There's been many great bass playing band leaders, from John Kirby in the 1930s, to Charles Mingus, of course, Ray Brown, Jaco Pastorius, I am switching genres here, but, you know Marcus Miller, Esperanza Spalding, Dave Holland, Bootsy Collins. I think there are quite a number of bass playing band leaders, who get just as much work, and have a significant contribution to the idiom as much as horn players or piano players. John Patitucci has some fantastic projects of his own. Yeah, I think there are some real good, serious bass playing band leaders out there.
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CMB: No, I actually think that's a myth. There's been many great bass playing band leaders, from John Kirby in the 1930s, to Charles Mingus, of course, Ray Brown, Jaco Pastorius, I am switching genres here, but, you know Marcus Miller, Esperanza Spalding, Dave Holland, Bootsy Collins.
I think there are quite a number of bass playing band leaders, who get just as much work, and have a significant contribution to the idiom as much as horn players or piano players. John Patitucci has some fantastic projects of his own. Yeah, I think there are some real good, serious bass playing band leaders out there.