End-of-Week Mixtape: Christian McBride’s Non-Jazz Playlist
A Friday item, in which we feature a playlist suggested by one of our critics—or by a friendly guest.
Christian McBride has laid down records with so many jazz icons that to list them here would be sort of obnoxious. (It would also require us to discuss the latter-day work of Sting.) Suffice it to say that whatever jazz greats were alive in the ’90s, McBride played with them—and made their records a better place to spend some time.
Mike West, City Paper's jazz guy-in-chief, calls McBride "the most revered bass player of his generation."
More important, perhaps, is McBride's statesmanlike work as a bandleader and composer. McBride's new band, Inside Straight, which backs him on this year's Kind of Brown, represents a return to a traddier brand of music (what the bassist describes as "right down the pike, straight-ahead, swinging jazz") after the forward-leaning funk of the Christian McBride Band. Not to say that the dude's playing it safe or anything...but if John McLaughlin wanders into Blues Alley this weekend, he's not gonna hear anything to turn his hair unwhite.
Still! A man's allowed his guilty pleasures. In anticipation of his four sets this weekend, I phoned McBride to solicit a playlist of his favorite non-jazz songs. Predictably, they're heavy on the low end. (Hey, a bassist has to look out for his own.) Also predictably, one of the songs is by Sting.
Playlist & videos below the interview.
Washington City Paper: You've said that the inspiration for Inside Straight was so that they'd let you back into the Village Vanguard. How did it turn into an album?
McBride: Well, we should clarify—it wasn't that I was banned from the Vanguard; I just hadn't played there for a long time. And I thought that was a gross oversight on my part that I hadn't. What am I doing? I'm supposed to be a jazz musician, and I haven't been back to the Vanguard? That's inexcusable! But of course, I had to put a certain band together to play the Vanguard.
Then it took about a year for us to play again, and it was determined that my next CD would be with that band. We played the Monterey Jazz Festival, and it was in that run in Monterey that we had a "name the band" contest, and we had submissions sent to my Website to name the band. Anyway, this couple sent "Inside Straight," and I thought, "That's perfect." Philosophically and everything.
And what happened to the Christian McBride band?
Well, everybody seemed to really like the quintet—even for a month after the initial vanguard arrangement, the guys in the band, the people in the jazz community...plus it was also a combination of the guys in the CMB, in the old band, getting so busy doing other projects, it became increasingly difficult to get all the guys together at the same time. Ron Blake joined the Saturday Night Live band 4 seasons ago, which pretty much eliminated his being able to work on Friday and Saturday. And what kind of band doesn't work on Friday and Saturday?
Were you tempted to sneak some dirty fusion into your first set at the Vanguard?
[Laughs] No, no, no, no, no, no. That is not the place to do that. I didn't need to do that. That's what I'd had the CMB for.
So we asked you to put together these "top 10 favorite non-jazz songs." First of all, you cheated. You tried to sneak in a second Stevie Wonder song at the end.
Oh, did I send you 11? I'm sorry!
It's cool. The other artist you doubled up on is James Brown. Is that just 'cuz you played with him, or....
He's been my childhood hero—he has been the central focus of my entire musical universe since I was 8 years old.
I saw him perform live when I was a kid and I became obsessed with his music. Obsessed might not be a good word—I'm at, like, a historian status now. I like to think I'm part of this James Brown Experts task force. There's this guy named Alan Leeds who does a lot of essays on James Brown...anyway, I'm part of their little circle now, so James is my hero.
What happened when you were 8?
I saw him at the Academy of Music in downtown Philly. It ruined me.
So you picked "Soul Power." Have you seen the new flick? The one from Zaire 74?
Oh yeah, I saw Soul Power before it came out—I told you, I'm part of the James Brown Elite task force, so I had a chance to see one of the test runs before it hit the theaters. That is a really, really great documentary. Everybody in that movie is in peak form...from Bill Withers to Big Black and the Fania All-Stars.
On "Every Little Thing," Sting seems to be playing an upright. That why you chose it?
No, out of all the Police hits, that just seemed to be my favorite one. I just gravitate towards it. [Laughs] And when i joined Sting's band and we'd play that song, I'd have try really hard not to smile too much. It's just such a cute song.
How's Sting as a bass player? You teach him anything?
[Laughs] Ah, no—I was just there to play the parts. He's a good bass player. I mean, he certainly plays—he has a certain way that he likes his music played, and obviously nobody can do it better than him. So I was really honored that he asked me to play in his band. He would just sing. But there were a number of times...it was actually kinda cute—he was so used to singing and playing at the same time, there were moments where it was uncomfortable for him—so there were a number of times when he would put his bass on and turn the volume down. Because to only do one at a time was a struggle for him.
Public Enemy—that mainly a Philly thing, or does it go deeper?
That was my high school thing—I was class of 1989, and that was my high school's unofficial theme song. ?uestlove and I grew up together, we went to high school together—I mean, you remember, when Public Enemy came out they were huge. and ?uestlove and i just loved them. Fact, I remember seeing Flava Flav in a burger place in downtown Philly right around the time that "Fight the Power" came out. He was just crazy—that politically aware rap, that positive rap...man, this was one of the seminal songs of that era.
When's the last time you fought the power?
Oh, goodness—every day when my wife tells me what she wants me to do. My wife is the power.
Christian McBride's Friday "Non-Jazz Playlist":
1. Soul Power – James Brown
2. Got the Feeling – James Brown
3. Love TKO – Teddy Pendergrass
4. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic – The Police
5. Fight the Power – Public Enemy
6. If You Think You're Lonely Now, Wait Until Tonight – Bobby Womack
7. Lady in My Life – Michael Jackson
8. Ball of Confusion – Temptations
9. Fantasy – EWF
10. Summer Soft – Stevie Wonder
11. Superwoman – Stevie Wonder
Christian McBride and Inside Straight perform at Blues Alley at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., tomorrow and on Sunday.