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Published: 2013/10/30
by Ron Hart

Christian McBride Heads Out

Were there any particular piano trios from the past that inspired your approach to Out Here ? If so, how?

I feel like I’ve had enough experience with enough groups not to use any one trio as an inspiration. They’ve all been inspirations – Oscar Peterson’s, Ahmad Jamal’s, Nat King Cole’s, Ray Brown’s, my old friend Benny Green’s…..a lot of them. My band members are huge inspirations as well. All I have to do is listen to them and I get ideas.

How was it to work in a small ensemble like you do on Out Here versus your normal big and large band operations? Is the trio format more freeing for you or is it the opposite?

I think I can find a big comfort zone with any size group. Be it trio, big band or whatever, I’m almost always comfortable.

I love the artwork for the new Inside Straight album, People Music. How did that concept come about?

I’m not sure, really. For starters, Christian and Ulysses are two of the very few young musicians I know who like to get real sharp. They love wearing suits. They both read GQ and stay on top of men’s fashions. It’s a real breath of fresh air. I don’t know where this notion that suits make a musician conservative came from. No one thinks Morris Day and the Time are conservative, right? How come when jazz musicians wear suits, it’s automatically assumed they’re conservative? Not us. My brother-in-law, Chi Modu, who’s photographed Biggie and Tupac, took the photos. He’s a bad man.

You’ve compared People Music to ‘a classic car – a ’69 Lincoln Continental’. Speaking of ’69, is that era of jazz in your mind when you play with Inside Straight?

No. The only era of jazz in my mind when we play is the current one. I only compared to a ’69 Lincoln because it’s pretty comfortable. I will own one one day!”

I’d love to hear more about the jazz school in Montclair that you are involved in with your wife, Melissa. What is the scope and depth of your involvement in the school and the curriculum? What is the age range of the students? Are there any kind of music appreciation classes?

Oh, my goodness. What my wife Melissa has done with Jazz House Kids is just beyond words. We have up to 1,000 kids from 8 to 18 from all over New Jersey who come and study at JHK taking private lessons, playing in large ensembles and small ensembles. We have adult classes, jazz appreciation classes, a summer camp and more. I urge the readers to go to

Do you think programs like Jazz House Kids are the future of arts education in America? Do you feel at this point music and arts education for children is better served as a private venture as opposed to a public or state/federal funded thing? Why or why not?

Yes. In this day and age, organizations like JHK have supplanted what used to be taught in public schools. The arts should be federally funded, but we all know it isn’t, and sadly, probably won’t ever be again. I hope I’m wrong on that. People like my wife, Wynton Marsalis, John Clayton and anyone else who dedicates their life to educating children to the creative process are saints.

Who is still out there in terms of musicians you wish to collaborate or sit in with and have you made any moves to make it a reality?

I feel so lucky. Everyone I’ve ever wanted to play with, I’ve played with. After I worked with James Brown, I was afraid I would be terribly depressed. Sort of like “It all goes downhill from here,” you know? Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. I want to continue to play with every great musician in the world. Period. I think maybe the last two people on my bucket list are Bobby Womack and Dolly Parton.

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