Christian McBride grew up with a love for music and a passion for the bass. At the age of eight he picked up electric bass and later moved on to acoustic. His technique returned to the basics of the 1940s and ’50s jazz style and launched his notoriety as an up-and-comer before he even graduated from high school. McBride’s mature mastering of the acoustic bass combined with his musical talent led him to become a notable member of the youthful jazz genre known as the Young Lions—and one of the most sought after bassists in the business.
“More than any other young bass player, McBride has the potential to transcend the perceived limitations of his instrument,” Jeff Levenson commented in Billboard. “He is a broader musician than those who follow the party line of tradition. Deeply steeped in the history of jazz and the history of his instrument, McBride is not just a swinger or a bebopper. Instead, his tastes cover a wider range of rhythmic music, including the pop and soul originating from his hometown, Philadelphia.”
McBride’s father, Lee Smith, inspired him to study music and specifically to play the bass. Smith had played with some of the major acts of the 1970s, including the Delfonics, Billy Paul, Blue Magic, and Major Harris. McBride’s great uncle, Howard Cooper, who had earlier played with a who’s who of avant-garde artists such as Sunny Murray and Byard Lancaster, introduced the fledgling musician to jazz.
McBride attended Philadelphia’s High School for the Performing Arts and studied classical bass with Neil Courtney of the Philadelphia Orchestra. In 1987 the scholarship fund of the Philadelphia Music Awards enabled McBride to buy his own instrument, a German Juzek upright bass.
When McBride was in the eleventh grade, Wynton Marsalis invited him to sit in with his band at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. Marsalis helped launch the young bassist’s career by spreading the word of McBride’s talent among other jazz artists. However, McBride continued to study and perform classical music along with jazz. After graduating from high school in 1989, he embarked on a two-week tour of East and West Germany with the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, playing mostly twentieth-century classical music.
At the Musicfest U.S.A. Finals, McBride won $7,000 in scholarships to the Berklee College of Music and was chosen an All-Star in the Stage Band and Jazz Combo categories. But he had also been awarded a scholarship
For the Record…
Born May 21, 1972, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Lee Smith (a musician). Education: Graduated from Philadelphia’s High School for the Performing Arts, 1989; attended Juilliard School of Music, New York City, 1989-90.
Launched career with performance with Bobby Watson at Birdland, New York City, 1989; first recording with Wallace Roney, 1989; released debut as a leader, Gettin’ to It, 1995; released Number Two Express, 1996; featured musical role in the film Kansas City, 1996; recorded over 100 albums as a sideman, 1989-96.
Selected awards: Named “Hot Jazz Artist of 1991” by Rolling Stone; top bassist honors from Rolling Stone, 1992 and 1993; honored at the Mellon Jazz Festival, Philadelphia, PA, 1994; winner of Down Beat’s critics’ poll and the Jazz Times’s readers’ poll in jazz category, both 1996; voted new artist of the year by Japan’s Swing Journal, 1996; voted jazz artist of the year by Gavin, 1996.
Addresses: Record company —Verve Records, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019.
to attend the Juilliard School of Music; he moved to New York to begin his studies there on August 29, 1989. At Juilliard, McBride continued his classical studies with bassist Homer Mensch; Marsalis, though, had inspired the New York jazz community to draw McBride into its circle. “Even before he got to New York,” Betty Carter said in Down Beat, “the word was out about this young bass player in Philadelphia who was a monster.”
Bobby Watson was the first to get in contact with McBride, since the struggling musician lived at the YMCA and didn’t have a phone. Watson left messages with all of McBride’s teachers at Juilliard until he reached him. A few days later, they played together at Birdland. “Talk about being thrown into the pit: it was Bobby Watson, James Williams, and Victor Lewis, and it was like an iron brand going into me,” McBride told Larry Birnbaum in Down Beat.
By the end of his first year at Juilliard, McBride had completely lost interest in school and had become fully absorbed in playing jazz. He made his first recording with Wallace Roney in 1989 and the next year went on the road with Benny Green and the Contemporary Piano Ensemble as a trio with drummer Carl Allen. McBride spent 1991 working with Roney, Green, Allen, Benny Golson, Roy Hargrove, and Freddie Hubbard.
Around the same time McBride recorded Part III with fellow Philadelphia native Joey De Francesco. At the end of the year Rolling Stone named McBride “Hot Jazz Artist of 1991.” At the age of 21, the bassist had completed 32 recordings in just two years. And he was quickly becoming one of the most in-demand bassists in jazz. By the fall of 1992 he had embarked on his first worldwide tour with the Young Masters Sextet, which included drummer Lewis Nash and saxophonist Joshua Redman. “Mr. McBride is strangely mature,” Peter Wa-trous wrote in the New York Times, “an advocate of a new type of classicism in which each note has its place and the musician is in a secondary position to the music itself.”
Although he continued his fast-paced recording schedule, McBride spent most of 1993 on the road with Joshua Redman. “Every night I played with him, I was awed by what he did, “Redman told Joseph Hooper inthe New York Times Magazine. “He can do things that I’ve hardly heard anyone do.” During the same year, McBride recorded Hand in Hand with Mulgrew Miller and The Tokyo Express with Rickey Woodard. And Rolling Stone named him “top bassist” in both 1992 and 1993.
By 1994 McBride had created such a stir in jazz that he received a day of honor at the Mellon Jazz Festival in his hometown of Philadelphia. At the same time, many record labels courted him, battling over who would sell this young jazz star. On January 17, 1995, McBride released Gettin’ to It, his debut album as a leader, on Verve Records. The album included appearances by both new and experienced jazz artists, Redman, pianist Cyrus Chestnut, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, trombonist Steve Turre, and drummer Lewis Nash among them.
“My primary focus on Gettin’ to It was to cover a lot of bases—no pun intended—to play with my peers, to play with my heroes,” McBride told Levenson in Billboard. Gettin’ to It spent more than 20 consecutive weeks on Billboard’s jazz chart, became the Number One record of the year on Gavin’s jazz chart, and reached Number One in CMJ. In addition, by the time he released his debut, McBride had more than 70 albums as a sideman to his credit.
Later that same year, McBride recorded Young Lions and Old Tigers Dave Brubeck, who wrote the song “Here Comes McBride” especially for the gifted young bassist. McBride also recorded Parker’s Mood, a tribute to Charlie Parker, with the Roy Hargrove-Christian McBride-Stephen Scott Trio. On February 28, 1996, McBride appeared with Dave Brubeck on the live telecast of the Grammy Awards.
McBride released his second album as a leader, Number Two Express, in 1996. This time, he invited musicians such as Kenny Barron (piano, guitar), Gary Bartz (alto saxophone), Mino Cinelu (percussion), Chick Corea (piano, guitar), Jack DeJohnette (drums), Kenny Gar-rett (alto saxophone), and Steve Nelson (vibes) to record with him. He reunited Corea and DeJohnette for the first time since they had played in the legendary Miles Davis band. “It was just great to see and feel the positive vibe between them,” McBride said in his record company biography. “Having all these great musicians interpret not only my compositions, but also tunes like ‘Jayne, ’ ’Miyako, ‘ and Chick’s own Tones for Joan’s Bones’ was a very emotional experience for me.”
Having amassed more than 100 recordings as a side-man, McBride was showered with accolades in 1996. Down Beat voted him the “acoustic bass player most deserving of wider recognition”; Japan’s Swing Journal named him 1996’s new artist of the year; and in addition to other prestigious honors, he gained even more exposure with a featured musical role in Robert Altman’s film Kansas City.
In the summer of 1996 McBride joined Chick Corea’s All-Star Quintet, which also included Joshua Redman, Wallace Roney, and Roy Hanes. Later, he divided his time between leading his own band—which featured saxophonist Tim Warfield, pianist Anthony Wonsey, and drummer Carl Allen—and working and recording with a vast array of musicians. McBride’s talent and versatility soon led him to become one of the late twentieth century’s most prolific bassists in jazz. He claims to have gathered inspiration from playing with as many musicians as possible. “I think a lot of people feel great connection with him,” Redman told Birnbaum in Down Beat. “That’s one of his gifts: being able to hook up with anybody.”
McBride took this capability to the highest degree and launched his career at top speed. As one reviewer wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Christian has the goods to move jazz into the 21 st century with freshness, integrity, and innovation.”
Gettin’to. It, Verve, 1995.
Number Two Express, Verve, 1996.
(Contributor)Kansas City (soundtrack), Verve, 1996.
Appeared as sideman on more than 100 recordings.
All Music Guide to Jazz, edited by Ron Wynn, Miller Freeman, 1994.
Billboard, January 7, 1995, p. 1.
Down Beat, October 1989; April 1991; June 1992; August 1992; August 1993; October 1993; March 1994, p. 33; December 1994, p. 52; January 1995; April 1995, p. 34; November 1995; December 1995.
Entertainment Weekly, January 20, 1995.
Musician, September 1992, p. 28.
New York Times, March 22, 1993.
New York Times Magazine, June 25, 1995, p. 34.
People, February 20, 1995, p. 19.
Rolling Stone, May 14, 1992.
Stereo Review, February 1996.
Time, March 13, 1995; January 8, 1996.
Additional information for this profile, including quote from the Los Angeles Times, was obtained from Verve Records press material, 1996.
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