Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Christian McBride was born on May 31, 1972 in Philadelphia. Electric bass was Christian's first instrument, which he began playing at age 9, followed by acoustic bass two years later. His first mentors on the instrument were his father, Lee Smith (a renowned bassist in Philly) and his great uncle, Howard Cooper (a disciple of the jazz avant-garde).
While intensely studying classical music, Christian's love for jazz also blossomed. Upon his 1989 graduation from Philadelphia's fertile High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (C.A.P.A.), Christian was awarded a partial scholarship to attend the world-renowned Juilliard School in New York City to study with the legendary bassist, Homer Mensch. That summer, before making the move to the Big Apple, the already in-demand bassist got his first taste of touring, going to Europe with the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, and traveling the U.S. with the classical jazz fusion group, Free Flight.
McBride never had a chance to settle into his Juilliard studies. Within the first two weeks of the semester, he joined saxophonist Bobby Watson's band, Horizon. He also started working around New York at clubs such as Bradley's and the Village Gate with John Hicks, Kenny Barron, Larry Willis and Gary Bartz. After one year at Juilliard, McBride made a critical decision to leave school to tour with trumpeter Roy Hargrove's first band, electing "experience with as many musicians as possible" as the best teacher. In August of 1990, he landed a coveted position in trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's band, which lasted until January of 1993.
In 1991, legendary bassist Ray Brown invited the young wunderkind to join him and John Clayton in the trio SuperBass. After being hailed “Hot Jazz Artist” of 1992 by Rolling Stone, Christian continued to prove it as a member of guitarist Pat Metheny's "Special Quartet," which included drum master Billy Higgins and saxophonist Joshua Redman. While recording and touring with Redman the following year, McBride signed to Verve Records in the summer of 1994, recording his first CD as a leader, Gettin' to It. He also graced the big screen playing bass in director Robert Altman's 1940's period piece, Kansas City (1996).
Christian recorded three more career-shaping albums at Verve: Number Two Express (1996), the soul-jazz fusion project A Family Affair (1998 – featuring Christian’s first two songs as a lyricist), and the critically acclaimed SCI-FI (2000), marking the inaugural execution of Christian’s concept of music being boundless by genre. The following year, he continued to expand his audience with two endeavors. He dipped into hip hop with a side project dubbed The Philadelphia Experiment, a “jam band”-inspired CD that reunited Christian with his high school friend, drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson (leader of The Roots) and featured keyboardist Uri Caine and guitarist Pat Martino.
Later that year, pop star Sting invited Christian to become a key figure in his 2001 All This Time CD, DVD and tour. Then in 2002, Christian supported George Duke by becoming a member of his band and recording on his landmark album Face the Music: the legendary keyboardist’s first album on his own recording label, BPM. “Christian is a monster on that bass,” Duke states with pride. “It isn’t often these days to find a young musician so dedicated to his craft. Christian is my kind of musician, one that is open to new ideas, good at playing different styles, reads music prolifically and is dedicated to furthering the growth of music not only as a musician, but as a young representative of his profession. There isn’t anyone better. And besides that, he’s a great cat!”
There have been very few artists who truly embody the genuine, heart-felt passion for music in all areas as has Christian McBride. By boldly continuing to leave his mark in areas of musical performance, composition, education and advocacy, he is destined to be a force in music for decades to come.
Since the landmark release of Giant Steps, musicians have struggled to explain how John Coltrane created his trademark "sheets of sound." In his new DVD, George Garzone, successfully does just that with his "triadic-chromatic" approach to improvising.
Garzone's new concept for improvisation is a product of more than twenty-five years of teaching at such institutions as the Berklee College of Music, The New England Conservatory, The Manhattan School of Music, and New York University. While his playing today may be classified as avante-garde, Garzone came from modest beginnings, learning the art of swing in the back of a pizza parlor.
Growing up in Boston, Garzone began playing to carry on the family tradition, including a fat sound that he credits as an heirloom of his Calabrian descent. His earliest influence was his Uncle Rocco, a successful tenor saxophonist who'd worked in various big bands during the thirties and forties but gave up music to settle down. In order to support his family, Rocco set up a pizza shop, (Rocco’s Pizza, located at Norfolk and Geneva in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood,) which went on to become a Boston institution unto itself.
George would come by every week, and his uncle would school him in the fundamentals of music, and introduce him to artists like Stan Getz, but it was the Italian culture of romantic music, which so influenced the "family sound" he inherited. Garzone still repeats the words of his uncle, who spoke of "romancing the instrument" and “sensualizing the sound.” As he told the audience, the "sound comes from life experience," likening his uncle's vibrato to something "that you could cut cheese with.”
Eventually, Uncle Rocco realized that his student had outgrown his instruction, and convinced his old friend Joe Viola to take the 15 year-old under his wing. Viola had founded the Berklee College of Music’s Woodwind Department, and taught only their most advanced students, but the relationship was immediately fruitful. “Joe was a guru,” Garzone said. “You could learn just by sitting next to him.”
Garzone officially enrolled at Berklee in 1968, encountering young hotshots like Kenny Werner, Dave Liebman and Steve Grossman, but it was a seventeen year-old Joe Lovano who really blew him away. He first saw Lovano playing in Herb Pomeroy’s band, and recalled, "I never heard anyone play like that before. Joe was playing, and we all left literally crying. I was in tears because I had never experienced music like that."
Shortly thereafter, the two were practicing Coltrane's "Giant Steps" in adjacent practice rooms at Berklee when Lovano literally kicked open the door and grilled him, asking, 'man, what are you practicing?' Garzone, stumped for how to respond, replied with the same question, at which point Lovano introduced himself, beginning a lifelong friendship.
A few years later, fresh out of college, Garzone went on tour with Tom Jones, stopping in Cleveland, where Lovano invited him over to his family's house for a wonderful Italian meal. Garzone "can still smell the tomato sauce" from when he walked in the door.
After the large meal, Garzone was ready to plop on the couch and watch television, but Lovano invited him down to the basement where they jammed along with Lovano's father, "Big T," one of Cleveland's top tenor players. "It was Joe on one side and Big T on the other. We started playing bebop tunes and blues, and they were so intense that they just squeezed me out of there. I couldn't hang with it, and I watched father and son go at it. It was a spectacular moment for me, to see something like that: dad and son, schooling the kid."
After a year in Tom Jones' band, Garzone was stuck back in Boston and in need of work. There he formed his long-running band, The Fringe, with drummer Bob Gullotti and bassist John Lockwood, who also got him a gig teaching at Berklee in the ensemble department.
Eventually he worked his way into teaching saxophone department, and there he began to develop his triadic chromatic approach to improvisation. "This concept, the triadic-chromatic approach, is really coming from Coltrane, but it's something the students really helped me develop because they would come and listen to my band The Fringe every week, improvising freely, and they would ask me, 'how do we do this?' So I had to figure out how I could give them a very layman's version of how to do something that I didn't even know how to do."
As Garzone's reputation grew, he began teaching at multiple institutions in New York and Boston on a weekly basis. It was in his regular drives between the two cities that Garzone listened more closely to Coltrane and discovered "subliminal messages that he left in his improvisation that were very triad-oriented."
Teaching at these schools, Garzone worked with many young virtuosos, whom he needed to give new material to. "When you have students like Mark Turner, Seamus Blake, Donny McAslin, Branford Marsalis, they're already playing, so you need to go in and find something that challenges them, and that's what I did through figuring out this concept because of these high-level players I've had. These kids can really play. Especially today, I'm dealing with people that can go neck and neck with me on a gig, but the only thing that gets them is this: major triads with half-steps in between, random inversions, don't repeat yourself. That gets them."
It was one student, guitarist Chris Crocco, who really pushed Garzone to clearly formulate and organize his triadic chromatic approach. Crocco studied with Garzone every week for seven years during the nineties, and in Garzone's estimation, he is the only other person, besides himself, who is really fluent in the triadic chromatic vocabulary. The two demonstrate and outline this concept in a brilliant lesson format on Garzone's new DVD: The Music Of George Garzone & The Triadic Chromatic Approach.
While his name may not ring out in the pantheon of jazz tenor players in the way that John Coltrane's does, Garzone's influence on the jazz scene, through the proliferation of his ideas, is immeasurable.
George Garzone plays the standard "I Want To Talk About You," inspired by John Coltrane's rendition, and then speaks about his approach to saxophone and unraveling Coltrane.