Music: Onward Christian Soldier

Jazz bassist Christian McBride takes time from his busy schedule to get busy

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You may think you have a busy schedule, but Christian McBride, one of this generation's most renowned young Jazz bassists, will match Day Planners with you anytime.

Although it's been a year and a half since his last album, Live at Tonic (a three-CD document of his star-studded stint at the now defunct New York club), McBride's schedule remains booked tighter than a unicycle's turning radius. Currently in the midst of a road circuit with his own band, McBride's latest collaboration with guitarist Pat Metheny, Day Trip, will be released next week (necessitating an imminent tour); he holds down two artistic directorships (at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass summer program and the Dave Brubeck Institute at the University of the Pacific); last year he was named the co-director of the National Jazz Museum of Harlem; and he's an in-demand session musician, lecturer and guest artist.

To top it off, McBride is planning the May premiere of his Jazz opus "The Movement Revisited" in Los Angeles, fronting a full Gospel choir and a big band performing his four-part suite dedicated to some the most prominent figures in the civil rights movement — Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It's the kind of calendar-blocking that would wither a lesser man, but the atmosphere that McBride creates within keeps him energized.

"I've been fortunate to have really great personal and musical relationships with a lot of awesome musicians," McBride says. "Those musicians come up with a lot of great projects and it's hard for me to say no to a situation where I know I'm going to have fun."

Whatever the musical endeavor, McBride approaches his work with equal amounts of purity and clarity. Working primarily but not exclusively in Jazz, the celebrated bassist is as intent on bringing a Jazz flavor to other genres as he is on bringing outside influences to bear on his own work.

"I think any decent musician does that," he says. "It's hard to turn on and off the switch that says, 'OK, this is a Jazz gig so I will now go into my Jazz thing,' or 'OK, this is an R&B gig so I now go into my R&B thing.'

They're not mutually exclusive, as far as the great musicians are concerned. There haven't been too many musicians who have been able to get a strong foothold in all kinds of different genres, but even the ones who have not understand that at the end of the day it's all music.'

Having worked with everyone from Chick Corea to Freddie Hubbard to Wayne Shorter to former Frank Zappa keyboardist George Duke, who he considers nearly a father figure, McBride brings a wealth of experience to every assignment he accepts. Considering McBride's family connections — his father and great uncle are both renowned Philadelphia bassists — many observers would have predicted a more traditionally structured career path for McBride. But he has surprised most of them with his unorthodox choices.

"To most of the Jazz world, where I'm going now, apparently no one was able to see it coming," McBride says with a laugh. "If you were to ask most people who followed my career in the early days, they would think I was going to become the next Ray Brown. And if it wasn't going to be that, it would have been more R&B or Soul, because everyone knew my love for James Brown. But the kind of things I've been doing with my own projects for the past couple of years, I never get a chance to play in that style with anyone.

"I've been influenced by so many different things, the music I'm doing in my own band is kind of a culmination of everything I've heard and gotten to play and I'm just trying to personalize it to a point where it is not reminiscent (of) anything I've done in anyone else's band before."

For McBride, his work with the Jazz Museum of Harlem is every bit as important as composition or recording. His primary goal for the museum — currently comprised of a series of events and not yet an actual facility housing exhibits, although a building is planned within the next three years — is that it should serve as a vehicle to expose a young demographic to the history and the potential future of Jazz.

"With the Jazz Museum, it's been great because there has been no more storied community than Harlem," McBride says. "It's very fruitful and there's so many cultural opportunities for a lot of people to experience. We noticed — and by 'we' I mean musicians and people who work at the Jazz Museum — there's no one place to experience the great history and legacy of Jazz. We decided there needs to be something in Harlem. We stared a bunch of free programs and a lot of events and concerts around Harlem.

"We get people who are 16 or 17 years old and I'm thinking that this is exactly what we dreamt of, having teenagers come in who were just curious. That's the first step to really getting someone, that curiosity. And me, because I have that R&B and Hip Hop background, I can meet them on their terms. That's been a great joy for me."

THE CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE BAND performs at UC/Raymond Walters College's Cultural Center at 8 p.m. Saturday. Buy tickets and find nearby bars and restaurants here.

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