Christian McBride makes room for all forms of jazz

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Photo: Doug Coombe (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Jazz bassist Christian McBride is one of the most recorded musicians of his generation. He’s played with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Diana Krall, Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis and even James Brown.

Now, he’s on tour with the Mack Avenue Superband, a group of ever-changing musicians born out of a record label in Detroit. Rooted in the Detroit Jazz Festival, this is the first time the band is on tour. This time around, it consists of Tia Fuller on saxophone, Sean Jones on trumpet, Christian McBride on bass, Gary Burton on vibraphone, Carl Allen on drums, and Christian Sands on piano.

KCRW spoke with Christian McBride before his stop in Santa Barbara.

KCRW: You tend to stray away from traditional jazz and take a groove-oriented approach. What moved you in that direction?

McBride: Stray implies that there’s some sort of pact made, and I’ve never made a pact with straight ahead jazz. That was just the music that got my name out there. I’ve always thought of myself as a musician first. I do love jazz, but anybody from my generation has played a lot of different types of music. As musicians, we are trained to be able to express ourselves in any style.

You were recently named Artistic Director of the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island. What does that mean for you?

I couldn’t see this coming from a mile away. I’m more than flattered. I’ve been friends with [current artistic director] George Wein for quite some time. Little did I know, he had been keeping an eye on the curating I had been doing with other performing arts organizations around the country over the last decade. That’s why it’s always important to do a good job at all times, even when you think no one’s paying attention. Someone always is. George has always had a tradition with never exploiting the word, “jazz,” but never disallowing different forms of the music to come into the festival. When I have an opportunity in 2017 to book the festival, I will keep that tradition going.

“We realize the wisdom Gary Burton carries with him, but he doesn’t wear his legend status on his sleeve,” McBride says about vibraphone player Gary Burton. Photo by Doug Coombe (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Santa Barbara doesn’t seem to have a big jazz presence, in terms of clubs and places to perform. What does it take to get jazz in the limelight in smaller cities?

It takes someone with a lot of love, and it would help if they have some money. I met a guy in a small town called Old Lyme, [Connecticut]. He has a place up there called The Side Door. Now, Santa Barbara is a booming metropolis compared to Old Lyme. But, this man has that place jammed every single weekend, full of the most unlikely jazz fans you could ever imagine. All you need is one person like that to get the party started.