Christian McBride: Getting the Inside Straight
AAJ: And if you had to choose between electric and acoustic, which one would you pick, if you really had to choose between the two of them?
Onstage with Herbie Hancock and Jack DeJohnette
CMB: Oh, I am sure I would choose acoustic. The acoustic bass is Mother Earth. That is the instrument that gives birth to all music, I believe. Somebody once said in an interview that, it resonated with me and it seems very, very true. He said that "drums are the father of all music and bass is the mother." Somehow, a lot of times, you feel a song with the rhythm first, you just kinda feel some kind of rhythmic pattern in your head, your feet start moving, your hands start moving, you're like "what is that?" That's the drums. It's the rhythm you're feeling; then you start feeling this harmony, you start feeling what's going to go with it, and it usually starts with the bass. So I'm going to have to agree with that. I would pick the acoustic bass, because it's wood, it's big, it's natural, it's organic, it's of the Earth, and it's Mother Nature.
AAJ: The influence of your father and great-uncle.
CMB: They are both bass players. My dad is the reason why I play the bass. When I was six or seven years old, I saw my dad play for the first time, and it was so incredible to sit in the audience and watch my dad play with this Latin jazz legend named Mongo Santamaria. I had so much fun. And I think that after that concert I just got curious, so I told my mother that I wanted a bass, and I didn't play for a couple of years, but I was nine years old, and I fell in love with the instrument.
As soon as I touched an electric bass I knew that's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was so natural. I was fortunate enough that I discovered my love early in life. But then my mother saw that I was becoming really, really serious about it, and was empathetic about it, and she decided she would send me to a school that had a good music program. And that is when I started playing the double-bass, the acoustic bass. And I started studying privately with a woman from the Philadelphia Pops Orchestra, and that was my introduction to classical music and classical bass, and I fell in love with that, too. At first I didn't like it as much as the electric bass.
Of course you wouldn't, when you're 11-years-old, you just want to play pop music, or rock 'n roll or funk music, or whatever all of your peers are listening to. But eventually I learned to love the acoustic bass as well, and that's when my great uncle came into the picture. He turned me on to Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Charles Mingus, Buster Williams, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland...He's the one that really, really was responsible for turning me on to the great, great bass legends.
And I want to think that I had some sort of small influence on my dad too, because he didn't start playing the acoustic bass seriously until four or five years after I started playing it. He played the electric bass exclusively his whole career, and when I started playing the acoustic bass he started to show some interest in it, and now he is playing the acoustic bass.
AAJ: Do you think you would have been a different kind of person if your father would have been a postman, or a lawyer, that still loved jazz, but didn't play?
CMB: I don't know! That's a tough one because there's always been music in the family in some way; my great uncle also being a musician; my uncle, my mother's brother, worked for a very popular radio station growing up, so I was always going to live concerts for as long I can remember. From the time that I was like four years old, I was very lucky to see people like Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett, Gladys Knight, The Whispers, The O'Jays, James Brown, of course, so I think I would have been in the show business in some kind of way.
AAJ: You said "James Brown, of course," what is it with James Brown?
CMB: [Sigh] Anybody who's ever seen him knows the answer to that. [Laughs] Anybody who's ever experienced his music deeply knows the answer to that. James Brown had a line to what makes people move more than anybody, I think, of his generation, and of many generations.
I think we, as human beings, I don't want to sound too deep or silly, I should say, but I think as human beings, there is a natural dance tempo. There is a tempo that all human beings might agree it is a good dance tempo; James Brown figured out what that was. There's not one song of his that doesn't make you dance. You can make the argument that a lot of his music is repetitious, it sounds the same, too derivative of itself. But I mean, you got to admit, when you want some music that's gonna give you some power, and really is going to get you going, James Brown will never, ever, let you down.
The first time I saw James Brown perform live I was seven years old. It was on an old TV show called The Midnight Special, and it ruined me forever because I had never seen anybody perform before with that type of intensity, and I'd seen a bunch of great R&B performers by that time, a whole lot of the great Motown artists. But seeing James Brown in front of his band, screaming, and dancing like that... I mean it was just...I just sat in front of the television with my mouth hanging on the ground going "oh my God, what is this?!" So I was literally ruined for life. So the first time I saw him live I think I was 10-years-old, at a place in Philly called The Academy of Music, and I remember being in the audience, scared, before he came on stage. I just had never felt that kind of excitement for a concert before. For a sporting event, like a basketball game or a baseball game, yeah, you get excited, you scream for your team, but for a concert, I was nervous. I remember thinking "I don't know if I really want to be here." It was just too intense. Even before James Brown came out on stage, you could cut the tension with a knife in the audience. I just sat in my seat like...petrified. But it certainly was one of the most memorable nights ever of my entire life, just being that close and watching this mad man perform on stage. And of course by that time I think he was in his fifties already. Everybody was so much into Michael Jackson, God rest his soul...Michael was great, too, but seeing James Brown then it became obvious where Michael got it from, so Michael didn't seem quite as impressive as everyone else thought he was. Yeah, he was great at what he did, but James Brown was such an original.
Shop for jazz:
Even before James Brown came out on stage, you could cut the tension with a knife in the audience. I just sat in my seat like...petrified. But it certainly was one of the most memorable nights ever of my entire life, just being that close and watching this mad man perform on stage. And of course by that time I think he was in his fifties already. Everybody was so much into Michael Jackson, God rest his soul...Michael was great, too, but seeing James Brown then it became obvious where Michael got it from, so Michael didn't seem quite as impressive as everyone else thought he was. Yeah, he was great at what he did, but James Brown was such an original.