'Everything Is Cyclical': Christian McBride Looks At 2015 In Jazz

Jan 14, 2015
Originally published on January 15, 2015 5:55 pm

Christian McBride likely doesn't need much of an introduction. He's a bassist who's worked with everyone from McCoy Tyner to Diana Krall to Paul McCartney. His latest gig is as the host of NPR's Jazz Night In America, "a portrait of jazz music today, as seen through many of its exceptional live performances and performers," as we wrote in October.

McBride recently sat down with NPR's Audie Cornish to discuss what he's excited about in jazz this year. Two new albums came to mind, including Fresh Cut Orchestra's From The Vine ("I really like the way that they work with layers") and pianist Aaron Goldberg's The Now ("I think Aaron is absolutely brilliant"). McBride says he's particularly drawn to Goldberg's commitment to the swing.

"Everything is cyclical," McBride says. "In the jazz world right now, it's not too popular to play swing rhythms. But if you're talking about something with a legacy as deep and as vast as jazz, one thing that's always been constant in that tradition is the swing rhythm."

McBride says he's also looking forward to celebrating two major birthdays in jazz. Herbie Hancock turns 75, and McBride shares a cut from The Warner Bros. Years (1969-1972), a collection that highlights the Mwandishi band: "It was funky, it was swingin', it was avant-garde, it was land, it was water, it was everything."

Roy Haynes, an icon to jazz drummers, turns 90 this year.

"Without a doubt, Roy Haynes is a science project," McBride says. "He is still so spry at age 90 and still sounding great."

You can hear the conversation by clicking on the audio link.

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And that, on bass, is Christian McBride, the host of a new public radio program called Jazz Night In America.


CORNISH: McBride is also a Juilliard trained bass player, a composer, a Grammy winner and a frequent collaborator with pretty much all the big names in jazz. We asked Christian McBride to talk with us about some of the things in jazz that he's looking forward to this year. And to start, he recommended a few albums, including a debut called "From The Vine" by the group Fresh Cut Orchestra.

CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE: I really love the way that they work with layers. They - all of their songs build. They stay with that consistent structure of starting off small and then just growing and growing and growing.


CORNISH: And really taking advantage of the horns, as well, by that point when you really get to the bigness of the song.

MCBRIDE: That's right, 'cause then it means something. You know, once it gets to that final layer where the horns come in, you just fold over, like, wow.


CORNISH: I want to talk about another new work coming out. This from a pianist named Aaron Goldberg, who...


CORNISH: You are familiar with him, right? Have you worked with him?

MCBRIDE: Oh, very - I've worked with Aaron on and off for many, many years. He's one of my favorite musicians in the whole world. I can't see him and not shout out Goldberg variations. That's my nickname for him.

CORNISH: Well, here's a song called "Perhaps."


MCBRIDE: Well, what do you know - a jazz record that sounds like jazz.


CORNISH: This is pretty - I guess the phrase these days is straight-ahead jazz.


CORNISH: So what do you mean by sounds like jazz (laughter)? And what do you mean by that surprise in your voice?

MCBRIDE: Well, everything is cyclical, and in the jazz world right now it's not too popular to play swing rhythms. But if you're talking about something with a legacy as deep and as vast as jazz, one thing that's always been constant in that tradition is the swing rhythm. Now, you will get a counter argument and say that, well, the other constant is imagination, but I've never thought of swinging and imagination as mutually exclusive. Aaron Goldberg, you're so far behind the times. You need to get a little more modern, son (laughter). No, but I'm saying that jokingly because...


MCBRIDE: I think Aaron is absolutely brilliant. Listen to that. It's so smoking.


MCBRIDE: Go ahead, you all. Listen to that.


CORNISH: All right, that song was called "Perhaps." It's off the new album from Aaron Goldberg called "The Now." Now, Christian, I know one thing you're excited about this year - actually two things you're excited about this year - two big birthdays in jazz. And I want to start with Herbie Hancock. He turns 75 years old in April. Obviously, one of the great jazz pianists, you know, of our time, but why is his birthday on your to-do list?

MCBRIDE: You know, Herbie Hancock to me is - he's just such a titan. He's got to be the most youthful 75-year-old on the planet, you know, but his playing is still so imaginative and vital and so full of life.


CORNISH: Now, an album that you're recommending to us is actually a collection called "Herbie Hancock: The Warner Bros. Years."


CORNISH: It's from 1969 to 1972, so not a big window of time given the length of his career. What is it about this time in his work that really struck you?

MCBRIDE: When Herbie Hancock left Miles Davis - his quintet - in 1968, he embarked on one of the most creative periods of jazz. Now, music was so experimental, so dense, and it was everything. It was funky, it was swinging, it was avant-garde, it was land, it was water. You know, it was everything, it was addressing the black power movement, it was addressing African heritage, numerology. There was so much happening with that particular band, which now is affectionately known as the Mwadishi band.


MCBRIDE: I have so many bootlegs of this band playing live. And when they would play this song they would play it for, I think, the shortest version I have is 40 minutes.


MCBRIDE: The song doesn't really have a melody. It's just kind of this groove, this vamp.



CORNISH: Now, there is one more big birthday that you want to mark for 2015 - Roy Haynes, obviously, icon to jazz drummers. He turns 90.


MCBRIDE: Well, Roy Haynes has a nickname, and the name is the sound that his drums make, and that is snap crackle.


MCBRIDE: You know, Roy Haynes has such a pop, has such a flare, a shine to his drum sound. You know, we joke sometimes and say his snare drum at times can sound like a pistol. So if you're not really paying attention and Roy whacks that snare drum, you'll be hitting the floor, you know?


MCBRIDE: And the man personifies the word hip. I mean, he's got that lean, that gangster lean, when he walks, and he wears those big sunglasses and the cowboy hat. I love that man with every inch of my soul.

CORNISH: That sounds like a good-looking 90.

MCBRIDE: Yes. He's definitely a science project, the fact that he is still so spry at age 90 and still sounding great. I played with him just a couple of months ago here in New York City, and he was incredible. I can't believe it.


CORNISH: Well, Christian McBride, thanks so much for giving us a heads-up for 2015.

MCBRIDE: It was my pleasure talking with you.

CORNISH: Christian McBride - he's the host of the new program Jazz Night In America. It's produced by NPR, member station WBGO and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROY HAYNES SONG) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.