Christian McBride: Getting the Inside Straight
AAJ: And why did you like this one and not another one?
CMB: It was catchy, you know? Inside Straight. It's a little...I don't know, it has that little element of hooliganism in it, Inside Straight being a poker hand, for people who play poker. And also musically it describes the band. It's inside, and it's straight ahead, it's a totally acoustic quintet, much different from the band I had been playing with for so many years. I think that's why everybody liked it so much. Everybody was joking; people were so excited to hear me play straight ahead acoustic jazz again. So I thought "wait a minute, my band was not exactly a rock band, you know?"
Yeah, but people like the real straight ahead stuff, so Inside Straight seemed to make a lot of sense all along.
AAJ: So why did it take you so long to play at the Village Vanguard? Was it only because of the kind of music you were playing with the Christian McBride Band, or...?
CMB: Yes, that's exactly why. But what's funny is that I didn't even play at the Vanguard with anyone else! I mean, inside that 10 year span, I've done gigs with Benny Green, I've done a few gigs here and there with Joshua Redman, I've played with other different bands that could have played the Village Vanguard, they just didn't. I don't know why. But I think that the main reason was, like you said, because of the music that I've been playing with the Christian McBride Band. But that's all been rectified now, our band was born at the Vanguard.
AAJ: Is there any club, I don't know if the best, but maybe where you have felt the best, more comfortable? I don't know, maybe the vibe with the people, or the club itself, maybe something to do with the history of the club...
CMB: Yeah, there's a couple of clubs that I think are rally hip. In Detroit there's a place called Baker's Keyboard Lounge, which is a really old club. I believe it's the third or the fourth oldest jazz club in the country. It opened in the '30s or '40s, and that's a really, really great club. It's obvious they haven't remodeled much since then, so it definitely has this old time feel in there, and people who come to that club are like the old school, serious jazz fans. They know what's happened. It's in a black neighborhood, and a lot of hip people come to this club. So that's one of my favorite places to play, Baker's.
Jazz at the Bistro in St. Louis is another one of my favorites. I like audiences that react to the music, I like audiences that participate, I like audiences that holler and scream. Most jazz clubs now are not really jazz clubs, they are restaurants that happen to have jazz, you know? The music is secondary to people eating their food, and it's hard to really get a good vibe in a place like that, because people are there to eat and not necessarily to hear music, so St. Louis, Jazz at the Bistro, is one of those places where people come to listen to the music first. They don't let the food distract them from what's happening on that stage, and that Yoshi's in Oakland is one I like too, always had a good relationship with the audiences at the Bay area.
Then many places here in New York: Village Vanguard, the Iridium, Dizzy's, Birdland, The Jazz Standard...all the joints! I don't think there's any argument that the New York audience is super hip!
AAJ: Have you ever had that feeling of "man, I wish I would have been born fifty years ago," musically speaking?
CMB: Not really. I think that...(silence).. I was very fortunate to play with a lot of older cats. I had a chance to spend a lot of time around people like Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Roy Haynes, Dr. Billy Taylor, the real founding fathers of bebop, and when I was around them, when they would start telling stories, they really did take me back to that time; I felt like I got into a time capsule when they would sit around and tell stories. But they were always very careful, and I find that this is the case with a lot of older musicians; we today always romanticize their time, and they all say "those good old days that you all talk about weren't that great most of the time." Yeah, the music was great, but there was a whole lot surrounding that music that wasn't so great, like the segregation, racism, the poor traveling conditions for musicians in those days, so they all said that it was a big drag a lot of the time.
So they would always say "you wouldn't want to go back in those days, and re-live all the BS part that went along with the music, so you guys should be happy where you are now." So I tend to agree, I'm happy with the time I was born in.
CMB: [Laughs] That is a little bit more confusing, I don't know why "Kind of Brown." I just thought it sounded cool. [Laughs] I was hanging out in a bar one night with Billy Childs and Jeff "Tain" Watts, and we were just hanging, talking, having fun, and the phrase "kind of brown" came up. I don't know what we were talking about exactly but I said to myself "I kinda like that...kind of brown...I'm gonna put that away." That's how it happened. I knew that at some point somebody was going to have some bright idea that I was trying to compare this to Miles Davis, which is absolutely ridiculous, but fortunately I haven't had too many of those complaints. I think I've only had one, since the recording's been out. Maybe one or two people have said "how could you do such thing to insult Miles Davis?!." It's just a name, I think people just need to chill out.