Monterey Jazz Festival celebrates 55 years with tour
Bass player and composer Christian McBride reflects on the history of the Monterey Jazz Festival, founded in 1958 and considered the longest continuously running jazz festival in the country. He mentions a few of the guest artists who made history at the festival – Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck, John Lewis.
The festival is celebrating 55 years of presenting music, and Saturday McBride and members of the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour sextet will perform at The Carolina Theatre. In addition to McBride, who also is music director of the tour, the sextet that will perform is Dee Dee Bridgewater on vocals, Benny Green on piano, Lewis Nash on drums, Chris Potter on saxophone, and Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet.
McBride, who spoke by phone from Davis, Calif., said the tour is not conceived as an all-star band playing music they want to play. “I think the challenge was trying to figure out how to filter this band through the lens of the Monterey Jazz Festival,” he said. “When you think of the Monterey Jazz Festival, you think of the people who made it what it is.” The music on this tour leans heavily on that history, as well as “what it means to us.”
As music director, he shapes the set lists “but ultimately that’s always a collective process,” McBride said. “With these kind of people in the band, no one’s a dictator.”
Arranging the compositions also is a collective process, he said. The audience at Saturday’s concert will hear standards that pay homage to Monterey as well as originals from different members of the sextet.
In addition to performing at the historic festival, McBride was the artist in residence at the 2008 festival. “It was a great honor because I got to play with a lot of different bands that year,” he said. “I got to play with every band that I had. I got to do some educational outreach. I got to play some sideman gigs as well.”
McBride’s most recent recording project was “The Good Feeling,” his first big band ensemble effort. During his career, he has worked in different kinds of ensembles, including trios, an electric band, and with a group called Philadelphia Experiment, which stretches the artificial boundaries of genres. McBride has written many original pieces, and he has arranged tunes from different genres – from the Earth, Wind and Fire ballad “I’ll Write a Song for You” to Joe Zawinul’s “Boogie Woogie Waltz.”
Born in 1972 in Philadelphia, McBride said listening widely and across many styles comes naturally to his generation. The generation of jazz players that included Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis had to respond to popular forms of music such as rock and soul, he said. For McBride’s generation, “that’s what we listened to first,” and being able to listen to popular forms and jazz was “something that was placed in our DNA.”
Like many people who gravitate in one way or another to jazz, McBride remembers what first got him listening. “The first record I heard that made me fall in love with jazz was the famous ‘Jazz at Massey Hall’ recording,” a classic live performance with Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and other artists of the 1950s. “I will never forget the energy in that recording. I could see that the recording was made in 1953, but it could have been made the year I heard it,” he said. The recording also made him realize that jazz can be intellectual and still have feeling.
He also has a full plate of teaching and other projects. He is an artistic adviser, along with saxophonist Loren Schoenberg, of The National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Schoenberg is now artistic director (McBride calls him “my co-pilot”). When the museum opened, they were both co-directors. The museum has grown since 2005, and McBride said it has been fun to establish a museum that specializes in presenting jazz. “Anyone can go there and see these fantastic exhibits we have. They can listen to records. They can read books, old and new,” he said. “There’s always a free program going on, if not five days a week, four days a week.”
Being a musician and juggling other dues is a challenge, but McBride said, “I’ve managed to pull it off because I enjoy doing all those things. It’s always fun for me to go work with kids, or work with the jazz museum in Harlem. It’s always fun to try to manage all that stuff in the calendar.”
Go and Do
WHAT: Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour
WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 26, 8 p.m.
WHERE: The Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St., Durham
ADMISSION: For tickets, call 919-560-3030 or visit www.carolinatheatre.org.