Tri-C JazzFest Artist-in-Residence Christian McBride Says 'Music Was My Saving Grace'
April 04, 2014
When the organizers of Tri-C JazzFest decided to move the festival to June for its 35th anniversary, they also knew they wanted its traditional educational events to remain in April.
And jazz bass superstar Christian McBride had to be part of it.
McBride, 41, is the 2014 JazzFest artist-in-residence, a role that will bring him to Cuyahoga Community College April 10-11 for the DownBeat education days, then back to Cleveland in June to play the festival.
Since breaking big on the jazz scene as a teenager, McBride has played and recorded with dozens of top musicians, including McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Joe Lovano, Diana Krall and Wynton Marsalis. He has worked in ensembles small and large, won three Grammy awards and appears on dozens of records as the main artist and as sideman.
And with his wife, Melissa Walker, he’s helping educate new generations of musicians through the nonprofit Jazz House Kids in Montclaire, N.J.
Part of his effectiveness with student musicians perhaps comes from his own experience as a kid growing up in Philadelphia where “music was my saving grace."
“I was your classic overweight geek who nobody liked and got teased all the time,” McBride says. But at age 9, he started the electric bass, and two years later he switched to upright bass and was playing in the school orchestra. It changed his life. “All of a sudden no one could laugh at me anymore, because I was good at something,” he said.
Not only was he good, but he already had stumbled on his life’s passion.
After high school, McBride went off to Juilliard on scholarship. It took him no time to meet friends in the jazz world and to start getting club gigs. After a year he knew he wanted to follow the path opening up in the professional world. He left Juilliard without regret.
His career has soared ever since, opening up opportunities to play with peers and jazz legends, and to experiment with projects large and small in the music he loves.
As to the long-predicted “death of jazz,” McBride doesn’t give that a lot of attention. “If it ain’t dead by now, I don’t foresee it going anywhere,” he said.