Boss Bass

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Chris­tian McBride jazzes up the Len­sic

the twenty-some­thing bassist Chris­tian McBride cap­i­tal­ized on his sta­tus as a young prodigy to play with true jazz le­gends — Milt Jack­son, McCoy Tyner, and Hank Jones among them — even as he es­tab­lished a unique con­tem­po­rary voice on his in­stru­ment in bands with sax­o­phon­ist Joshua Red­man, trum­peter Roy Har­grove, pi­anist Brad Mehldau, and oth­ers of his gen­er­a­tion. The Philadelphia-born mu­si­cian picked up the bass guitar at age nine and played funk and R&B gigs in high school. At the age of sev­en­teen, he was snatched from his clas­si­cal stud­ies on up­right bass at New York’s Juil­liard School by sax­o­phon­ist Bobby Wat­son. Sud­denly, he seemed to be ev­ery­where, record­ing with the likes of sax­o­phon­ists Joe Lo­vano and Joe Hen­der­son (he’s heard on Hen­der­son’s 1992 Grammy Award-win­ning Lush Life: The Mu­sic of Billy Stray­horn), vo­cal­ist Diana Krall, trum­peter Fred­die Hub­bard, and pi­anist Chick Corea. His first record­ing, Get­tin’ to It, re­leased in 1995, fea­tured a who’s who of his peers — in­clud­ing trum­peter Roy Har­gove, sax­o­phon­ist Red­man, drum­mer Lewis Nash, and pi­anist Cyrus Ch­est­nut. But it also fea­tured two of McBride’s men­tors, bassists Ray Brown and Milt Hin­ton, who joined him in a bass-only trio per­for­mance of “Splanky,” a tune pop­u­lar­ized by the Count Basie Or­ches­tra.

With hun­dreds of recorded ap­pear­ances as a side­man and a dozen al­bums un­der his own name, McBride is now a men­tor him­self. In an email ex­change as he was re­turn­ing from a sum­mer tour of Europe with his trio, com­pris­ing pi­anist Chris­tian Sands and drum­mer Ulysses Owens Jr., McBride said that men­tor­ship is only part of what he con­sid­ers when putting a group to­gether. “As a band­leader, you al­ways want the best mu­si­cians you can find. But at some point, why should you con­tinue just call­ing on your peers? It’s the nat­u­ral or­der to start to call younger mu­si­cians. They have fresh ideas, fresh energy. In any en­deavor, you even­tu­ally start reach­ing out to a younger gen­er­a­tion of fresh blood. Mu­si­cians who don’t do that are mu­si­cians who tend to get ar­tis­ti­cally stale.”

That McBride takes his role as a men­tor with se­ri­ous­ness and a lack of ego was ap­par­ent when he made a 2012 Santa Fe ap­pear­ance as a side­man with Sands in a trio head­lined by drum­mer Owens at one of the SFÉ Jazz club’s in­ti­mate gath­er­ings. At that gig, McBride was con­tent to let Sands and Owens, usu­ally his young side­men, take cen­ter stage while he con­trib­uted his usual rich, ro­bust sup­port and in­trigu­ing way with a solo im­pro­vi­sa­tion.

As a leader, McBride has fronted var­i­ous trios as well as straight-ahead com­bos, big bands, and elec­tric en­sem­bles (with McBride on bass guitar). He’s also been heard on record­ings from Sting, Paul McCart­ney, and Queen Lat­i­fah. While much of this broad ap­proach to style was in­flu­enced by his youth­ful en­thu­si­asm for con­tem­po­rary mu­sic of all sorts, some of those he calls men­tors also con­trib­uted. McBride has fre­quently claimed funk and jazz fu­sion key­boardist Ge­orge Duke as an in­flu­ence — the bassist was heard on a hand­ful of the late Duke’s record­ings, in­clud­ing his last, 2013’s Dream-Weaver — as well as straight-ahead bassists Brown and John Clay­ton, both of whom were part of the Su­per-Bass trio that in­cluded McBride as its youngest mem­ber.

For his ap­pear­ance at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on Sun­day as part of the New Mexico Jazz Fes­ti­val, McBride will con­tinue his ex­plo­ration of sound and in­stru­men­ta­tion, lead­ing a multi-gen­er­a­tional trio with gui­tarist Mark Whit­field and emerg­ing pi­anist Emmet Co­hen. “I’ve en­joyed play­ing in drum­less trios on many oc­ca­sions through­out my ca­reer,” he said. “I be­lieve a drum­mer­less trio is a true test of a bassist’s time and feel. You must be the bassist and the drum­mer. Mark Whit­field and I go way back. We played in many of the same bands in the early ’90s. I’m not sure that our six-year dif­fer­ence in age [Whit­field is older] is a gen­er­a­tional con­trast. We came on the scene at the same time and played with the ex­act same peo­ple. This is me re­unit­ing with an old friend.”

Co­hen, though, does make for some­thing of a gen­er­a­tional con­trast. He was a fi­nal­ist in the 2011 Th­elo­nious Monk In­ter­na­tional Jazz Pi­ano Com­pe­ti­tion and has been heard ac­com­pa­ny­ing vo­cal­ist Kurt Elling, among oth­ers. The pi­anist’s latest record­ing, Ques­tioned An­swer, is co-led by trum­peter Brian Lynch and fea­tures vet­eran drum­mer Billy Hart. As a bud­ding young star, Co­hen is in much the same po­si­tion as McBride was in the early 1990s. “Emmet Co­hen is a for­mer stu­dent of the or­ga­ni­za­tion that my wife and I run in Mont­clair, New Jersey, Jazz House Kids,” McBride said. “Since he grad­u­ated from high school in 2009, I be­lieve, he’s be­come an in-de­mand pi­anist around New York. We’re very proud of him.”

At forty-three, McBride is more than just a men­tor and em­ployer for a ro­tat­ing crew of young tal­ent. He’s truly a voice for jazz, host­ing Na­tional Public Ra­dio’s “Jazz Night in Amer­ica” and pro­vid­ing artis­tic di­rec­tion for the Na­tional Mu­seum of Jazz in Har­lem and other mu­sic or­ga­ni­za­tions. “It has been hum­bling to be able to be in-de­mand in these non­play­ing po­si­tions. It’s cer­tainly not some­thing that I set out to do early in my ca­reer. It just hap­pened. It may have some­thing to do with the fact that I’ve al­ways wanted to give to younger mu­si­cians and fans and lis­ten­ers the same en­thu­si­asm that I ex­pe­ri­enced as a younger mu­si­cian grow­ing up in Philadelphia.”


▼ Chris­tian McBride Trio (Fen­der Rhodes key­boardist Marc Cary’s Rhodes Ahead trio opens)

▼ 7:30 p.m. Sun­day, July 19

▼ Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, 211 W. San Fran­cisco St.

▼ $20-$50; 505-988-1234; www.tick­

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