Jazz bassist and composer Christian McBride was nine years old when he knew the direction his life would take.
“It came from my dad [Lee Smith], just watching him play [electric bass],” McBride said. “I had seen him play a bunch of times, but this one particular concert it hit me, and I said I wanted to give it a shot. It felt very natural. I knew it was what I wanted to pursue as my life-long endeavor.”
Within eight years he was considered a teen prodigy and had joined saxophonist Bobby Watson’s group. By the time he was 22, he had played with jazz legends Freddie Hubbard and Milt Jackson.
Now at 40, McBride is a three-time Grammy Award-winner and has become something of a jazz elder statesman, leading education efforts, directing jazz museums and more. He’s also headlining this year’s 55th anniversary tour of the Monterey Jazz Festival, which comes to Columbus Friday at the Lincoln Theatre.
“I feel very fortunate that things have happened as they have,” he said. “I geek out routinely.”
Not that McBride’s resting on his past accomplishments. He’s comfortable with his career, but only in the sense of being comfortable living in the moment.
He still records at a prolific pace and has two album releases this year, one with his group Inside Straight in May and another with his trio in August.
He also continues to work with musicians outside his genre, having collaborated in the past with artists such as ?uestlove from The Roots, James Brown, D’Angelo and Queen Latifah. And despite the sometimes critical response to such collaborations or to jazz musicians re-interpreting pop songs, McBride sees it as a way to not only stay energized and fresh, but also to continue in a longstanding jazz tradition.
“To me, the idea of doing that is no more special than Charlie Parker saying, ‘There’s a cool Cole Porter song I want to record.’ But we’ve been dangerously placed in this way of thinking that jazz is something from the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s and everything you do in jazz has to reference something in that period and if it doesn’t it’s considered unusual.”
He continued, “I was laughing because hip-hop now has its first generation of old cats, like Kool Herc and Melle Mel and Grandmaster Flash. They’re sitting around going, ‘These young boys are messing up. This ain’t real hip-hop.’ Now they sound like crusty old jazz guys. To their defense, I’ve got to admit if I was them and I was listening to 2 Chainz, I’d be pissed off too.”