Christian McBride Speaking well of CHICK COREA

Christian McBride

Speaking well of CHICK COREA

as Norman Warwick listens in

Speaking to Jazz Times in February, Christian McBride remembered an early conversation he had about Chick Corea.

It was the cool guy at college; Colin Locker, who introduced me to The Byrds, singer-guitarist Pete Benbow who taught me of John Stewart and Jim Croce and football team-mates Clive Lancaster and Roger Holland tipped me off to The Incredible String Band all of whom became cornerstones of my listening. I think now that I was already vaguely aware of all those artists before the advice of my mates encouraged me to give them a fair hearing. Sometimes, though, it is someone I hardly know who steers you to an artist you have for too long overlooked. And sometimes its just that the time is right to pay proper respect and attention to an artist everybody else is already well aware of.  So when I recently read bass player Christian McBride speaking so well of Chick Corea I realised it is time I took more notice of the late pianist and composer. So come follow your art along the sidetracks & detours of mutual admiration.

´I first became aware of Chick on an album that wasn’t his´. he told Jazz Times journalist Lee Mergner. ´In fact, he wasn’t even on it! My mother used to love Al Jarreau’s (left) version of Spain on his album This Time. My mother would say, ´That’s Chick Corea’s song´ and I would say, ´Who’s Chick Corea?´ And she would respond, ´Oh … you’ll learn about him´. 

´As I started getting into jazz, some of my earliest Chick memories on record were Three Quartets with Michael Brecker, Eddie Gomez and Steve Gadd, and Echoes of an Era with Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White. And the live one they did with Nancy Wilson. We had all of those records. The one where I really started to get into Chick was Bobby Hutcherson’s Total Eclipse. Then I heard him on Blue Mitchell’s The Thing to Do. By this time, I’m probably 12 or 13 and becoming a huge fan of Chick’s. I would soon after get into those Return to Forever albums.

I first met him at the old Mt. Fuji Jazz Festival in Japan. I was playing with Benny Green’s trio (right) and Chick was there with the second iteration of the Elektric band: Eric Marienthal, Mike Miller, Jimmy Earl and Gary Novak. I was so excited that Chick was there. Much to my surprise, when Benny’s trio played, Chick pulled up a chair, sat in the wings, and listened intently to every note we played. I was surprised because that was right around the time I started to learn that there was a group of musicians who weren’t too fond of what was about to be called the “Young Lions” era. They thought we were too retro. Benny’s trio was one of the most straight-ahead groups on the festival that year. But Chick really listened to us, and after it was over he was really complimentary, particularly to Benny, saying, “Benny, you played your ass off, let’s get together—I like what you’re doing.” I think his being so supportive of Benny made me love and appreciate Chick even more.  

Shortly after he got finished speaking with Benny, I got to say a few words with him and it was the same thing. “Christian, you sound wonderful, it’s great to hear you play for the first time…” Shortly after that conversation, he said, “Let’s exchange info, I want to have your number.” And of course, my 21-year-old brain started running like crazy. Oh man, is he going to call me for a gig? My head is exploding. I gave him my address and my phone number. 

Maybe three or four months later I received a letter in the mail. He had handwritten a one-page letter and it basically said, “Hey, it was a pleasure to meet you, let’s stay in touch … maybe we can make some music together one day.” Almost immediately I got a frame for that letter. That was in 1993.  

In 1995 I asked Chick (left) to play on my second CD, Number Two Express. That was the first time we played together. I was scared to death because here I am, getting to play with Chick Corea and Jack DeJohnette. I’m sure they could tell I was nervous, but they made life so easy for me. One of the songs I wanted to play was Chick’s “Tones for Joan’s Bones.” Chick said, “Sure, but I don’t know if I remember it.” He was sitting at the piano and I reached over his back and started playing the song, and Chick was pretty tickled that I knew it that well. It all came back to him and we recorded it—thus starting my wonderful 26-year friendship and working relationship with him.  

When you play with a legend, you have to train yourself to get out of the epicness of it all and embrace the moment. To not be starstruck. But it wasn’t that hard to do with Chick because he was so nice. In many instances, he almost acted like a sideman in his own band. There’s a certain mindset of musicians who worked extensively as sidemen before they became bandleaders: They know what it means to simply show up for a gig and make it work.  

Shortly before we recorded Number Two Express, Ron Moss, Chick’s manager at the time, said that Chick was interested in putting together an all-star quintet with me, Wallace Roney, Joshua Redman and Roy Haynes, playing the music of Bud Powell. Of course, my brain officially exploded then. During that first tour in the summer of 1996, not only am I playing with Chick Corea, but I’m also playing with Roy Haynes.

I had played with Roy quite a bit before I played with Chick, so I felt comfortable, because we had a rapport. But that Haynes-Corea connection was a very special one for a very long time, and I thought it was so sweet that Chick treated Roy with such reverence. Because we were playing Bud Powell’s music and Roy had played with Bud, there was sincere respect from Chick. We would rehearse these arrangements and Chick would often defer to

Chick was always trying to get Brian and me to write more. When he first started the trio he said, “Look, I don’t want this trio to be all my music.” I can’t speak for Brian, but I was just too nervous to write. Chick stayed on us. Brian and I came up with a little something here and there and Chick was like, “That’s good, I just need more. Write more, c’mon.” Part of me feels like my personal tribute to Chick is to do just that: to write and compose more.

His passing has a very debilitating effect on the jazz industry, certainly in terms of the festival and club circuit, because he was a perennial draw with every band that he put together. It’s always been a challenge for jazz clubs and jazz festivals to sell tickets, but you always knew that if Chick Corea was going to be around, there would be some great band playing great music that people couldn’t wait to see and hear. He would have the trio with Brian and me, a tour with Béla Fleck (left) , with Vigil, with Bobby McFerrin, with Stanley and Lenny, with [John] Patitucci and [Dave] Weckl, all kinds of people. He always had multiple irons in the fire. It wasn’t just good for his creativity and his music skills. It was important for the business as well. But I don’t know how he did it.  

After playing with Chick for over 25 years … it feels humbling and even awkward to say it, but he became almost a literal family member. He became good friends with my mother. He and his wife Gayle became very close with me and my wife Melissa. But I think that most people who knew Chick Corea felt like he had become their family member. He was like that. If you spent more than five minutes with Chick, you felt like you had just met a close friend. He was just the nicest, most regular guy. But his creative talents and his skills and his kindness were anything but regular.

Christian McBride (right) has played bass on more than 300 recordings and won six Grammy Awards. He is the artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival and the host of the syndicated NPR program Jazz Night in America.

McBride was heralded as a teen prodigy when he joined saxophonist Bobby Watson‘s group, Horizon, at the age of 17. From age 17 to 22, McBride played in the bands of older musicians such as Watson, Freddie HubbardBenny GolsonGeorge DukeMilt JacksonJ. J. Johnson and Hank Jones, as well as his peers such as Roy HargroveBenny Green, and Joshua Redman. In 1996, jazz bassist Ray Brown formed a group called SuperBass with McBride and fellow Brown protégé John Clayton. The group released two albums: SuperBass: Live at Scullers (1997) and SuperBass 2: Live at the Blue Note (2001).

McBride was a member of saxophonist Joshua Redman’s Quartet in the early 1990s with pianist Brad Mehldau and drummer Brian Blade. McBride began leading his own groups in 1995 after the release of his debut album Gettin’ to It (Verve). Saxophonist Tim Warfield, pianists Charles Craig and Joey Calderazzo, and drummers Carl Allen and Greg Hutchinson are among the musicians who played in McBride’s early groups. From 2000 to 2008, McBride led his own ensemble, the Christian McBride Band, with saxophonist Ron Blake, pianist/keyboardist Geoffrey Keezer, and drummer Terreon Gully. The band released two albums: Vertical Vision (Warner Bros., 2003) and Live at Tonic (Ropeadope, 2006).

In 1996, McBride contributed to the AIDS benefit album Offbeat: A Red Hot Soundtrip produced by the Red Hot Organization.

McBride primarily plays double bass, but he is equally adept on bass guitar. He played both on the album The Philadelphia Experiment, which included keyboardist Uri Caine and hip-hop drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. Other projects have included tours and recordings with the Pat Metheny Trio, the Bruce Hornsby Trio, and Queen Latifah. Like Paul Chambers, McBride can solo by playing his bass arco style.

In 2006, McBride was named to the position of Creative Chair for Jazz with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, taking over from Dianne Reeves. He was signed to a two-year contract that was renewed for an additional two years. He was succeeded by Herbie Hancock in 2010.

McBride performed with Sonny Rollins and Roy Haynes at Carnegie Hall on September 18, 2007, in commemoration of Rollins’ 50th anniversary of his first performance there.[6] McBride was also tapped by CBS to be a producer for the tribute to Rollins on the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors broadcast.

In 2008, McBride joined John McLaughlinChick CoreaKenny Garrett and Vinnie Colaiuta in a jazz fusion supergroup called the Five Peace Band. They released an album in February 2009 and completed their world tour in May of that year, as Brian Blade took over for Vinnie Colaiuta as drummer in Asia and some US concerts. The album Five Peace Band Live won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group

In 2011 McBride released his first big band album, The Good Feeling, for which he won the Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance.

McBride leads five groups: Inside Straight, featuring alto/soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Peter Martin and drummer Carl Allen; a trio featuring pianist Christian Sands and drummer Jerome Jennings; his 18-piece big band; an experimental group called A Christian McBride Situation with pianist/keyboardist Patrice Rushenturntablists DJ Logic and Jahi Sundance, saxophonist Ron Blake and vocalist Alyson Williams; and the New Jawn, featuring trumpeter Josh Evans, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, and drummer Nasheet Waits.

In March 2016, McBride was named artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival, succeeding the festival’s founder and artistic director, George Wein.

McBride  now also hosts NPR‘s radio show, Jazz Night In America.


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