[JPL] What Is Jazz

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Sat Apr 15 09:28:37 EDT 2006

What is jazz?

Funny thing you should ask – Christian McBride's 'miniature Lollapalooza' 
at House of Blues should have the answer

By George Varga

April 13, 2006

It's unusual to hear a Grammy Award-wining jazz artist talk about wanting 
to emulate Lollapalooza in any way. But Christian McBride isn't your usual 
jazz artist, as befits a virtuoso bassist who counts Roots drummer Ahmir 
“?uestlove” Thompson, Chaka Khan, Sting and opera star Kathleen Battle 
among his many collaborators.


Bass virtuoso Christian McBride is now on tour to promote his forthcoming 
triple album, "Live at Tonic."
This eclectic Philadelphia native is headlining the ongoing “What Is Jazz?” 
tour, which stops in San Diego tonight at the House of Blues. The marathon 
show will feature individual performances by DJ Logic, drum marvel Bobby 
Previte and bands led by guitarist Charlie Hunter and McBride. There will 
also be more than a little spontaneous interaction, in the classic jam 
session tradition, although a better reference point for rock fans would be 
the annual Bonaroo festival than the vintage “Jazz at the Philharmonic” 
all-star tours of half a century ago.

“I would call it something like a miniature Lollapalooza, because we won't 
all be playing in just one band with guest soloists, like they did for 
'Jazz at the Philharmonic,'” McBride, 33, said from a recent tour stop in 
Chicago. “I certainly know that Charlie will do his own set and I'll do my 
own. And I think Bobby will play with Charlie, too, as well as with DJ Logic.

“I've never done anything like this before, and part of me is quite 
nervous. But we're going to play some real memorable music. I find that the 
bands – jazz and otherwise – who maintain their fan base are the ones who 
consistently give their fans something they wont forget.

“And that's the approach I take, which is what Art Blakey did in jazz and 
what James Brown and the Rolling Stones do in funk and rock. You go out on 
stage and hit the audience (with your music), so they won't forget you.”

He is also convinced that a key way to draw in listeners is by emphasizing 
percolating rhythms that people can lock into, then playing 
more-challenging music on top. Groove is truly in the heart for McBride, 
who balances his time between his own band, studio work and a trio with 
guitarist Pat Metheny and Mexican drum dynamo Antonio Sanchez.

“I can only talk in terms of jazz fans,” the bassist said. “Sometimes so 
many jazz fans get caught up in their subconscious, superior way of hearing 
music. They think: 'Yeah, man, I am an intelligent person because I know 
what jazz is, and I can understand esoteric music.'

“They hear music that grooves as something that's not intelligent. But 
music that grooves is for the soul and talks to your heart. And you have to 
balance that with something for the brain.”

McBride credits his desire to make a visceral impact with listeners to his 
time with trumpet great Freddie Hubbard and vocal star Betty Carter. He 
also cites the two for impressing upon him the importance of approaching 
live performances with the utmost care and respect for audiences.

“Both Betty and Freddie, via his time in Art Blakey's band, were very much 
in tune with their audiences,” the mustachioed bassist said. “Somewhere 
along the way (jazz) musicians got so hung up in the music that they lost 
concern for things like: 'What is the feeling the audience is getting from 
you? How do you look on stage? How does the audience perceive you?'

“A guy can be on stage playing the greatest solo in the world. But if this 
guy is wearing a T-shirt and shorts and some sneakers, his solo might not 
be considered quite as great as the guy who's well-groomed and has fresh 
clothes, or at least has a sense of style. That goes along with hitting the 
audiences with the music. You don't want to come out lollygagging or being 
lackadaisical. And it's not just jazz musicians who do that; I've seen it 
with a lot of rock bands, too.”

McBride grew up listening to rock, R&B and hip-hop, before the jazz bug hit 
him when he was 11. It was then that he heard “Jazz at Massey Hall,” a 
classic live album featuring bebop giants Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, 
Bud Powell and Max Roach.

“It was recorded in 1953, but it sounded new,” McBride recalled. “The 
energy coming off the record sounded like these guys were rabbits! They 
were playing so fast and fresh, and with so much fire and joy and passion. 
When you're young, that's what you get from music, a certain energy and 
feeling. You're not 11 and listening to Michael Jackson and thinking: 
'Those are nice chords, or what a nice instrumental voicing that is.'”

McBride was barely out of his teens when he established himself in the 
early 1990s through his work with such jazz luminaries as Hubbard, 
saxophonist Bobby Watson and pianist Kenny Baron. But he made an impression 
before then.

“I knew Christian when he was still a kid and he stood out even then,” said 
Pulitzer Prize-winning trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. “I never see him that 
much now, but he was already a phenomenal musician then. He was 
unbelievable! As a boy, he could play the piano as well as the bass. I was 
like a band director for him and he could play everything great.”

McBride has earned lavish praise before, and no doubt will again. His goal 
now, though, is a more immediate one.

“There are all kinds of ways to make things work for you,” he said. “Right 
now, I think one of my biggest challenges is just trying to get some bodies 
to come out to hear us on this tour.”

Dr. Jazz
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