Bassist McBride stresses attitude for jazz hopefuls

Christian McBride (center) with pianist Christian Sands (left) and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr.
Christian McBride (center) with pianist Christian Sands (left) and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr.
Photo by Chi Modu
| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 5:59 p.m.

Bassist Christian McBride has performed with jazz-piano great McCoy Tyner and singer-actress Queen Latifah, but he tries to provide something other than versatility.

“I tell any young bassist I meet, the most important thing they can be is dependable,” he says.

McBride, who also is an arranger and composer, will show one aspect of his dependability April 22 at the Cabaret at Theater Square, Downtown, where he will appear with his trio.

The concert is part of the Jazz Appreciation Month series sponsored by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Janis Burley Wilson, a vice president of the trust who puts together the jazz events, says she invited McBride because he takes his music in so many different directions, yet follows directly from the legacy of bass players such as Paul Chambers or Pittsburgh native Ray Brown.

His visits have shown that talent many times. He has appeared in a trio led by guitarist Pat Metheny, in a small group doing a tribute to bassist Brown, and with the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, as well as groups of his own.

Earlier this year, he released albums featuring the trio appearing here — with pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. — as well as his quintet, Inside Straight.

“No matter what you are doing, the most important thing is to play the best you can behind whoever is out there soloing,” he says.

The Grammy award-winner says that attitude is the key to the success of all the great sidemen. He believes focusing on such will result in “a bassist having to turn down jobs just because he has too much work.”

It certainly appears to keep McBride busy. Along with his performing, the Philadelphia native also does a great deal of arranging and composing for groups ranging from the trio to his big band. Currently, he is working on putting together his next album, a big-band version of his work “The Movement Revisited,” a four-movement suite dedicated to four of the major figures of the civil rights movement — Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was commissioned by an arts group in Portland, Maine, in 1998 for a jazz quartet, he says, but he believed it could be better presented in a larger setting, so he kept working at it.

He hopes the album will be released in January or February of 2015.

He keeps his mind open for projects such as this one. And while he wants to stay open to new directions, he says he sees nothing wrong with nestling close to tradition. Art Blakey, for instance, had a sound that never changed, but his band and leadership produced a world of excellent players, he says.

“I'm at the midpoint of my career, I think,” he says. “God willing, I will have another 25 years, so there will be a lot of music to work on.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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