In jazz, to be a bassist usually means playing in someone else's band. The bassist-as-bandleader is a fairly rare thing, with the torch being passed over the years from Charles Mingus to Ron Carter ... and now to Philadelphia-born Christian McBride.
Not yet 40, McBride has become one of the most prolific performers in jazz. He's just released two new albums, each representing completely different takes on the form. For those who prefer that intimate, smoke-filled-club sound, there's the spare Conversations with Christian, which features duets with the likes of Chick Corea, Sting and the late Dr. Billy Taylor. For those who like big-band swing, there's the splashier The Good Feeling.
McBride had an abrupt introduction to writing and arranging for big bands in 1995, when Wynton Marsalis commissioned an orchestral piece for a Jazz at Lincoln Center performance. Before then, he'd never written for any group larger than a sextet.
"I was always curious, but I was always scared to stick my foot in the water," McBride says. "Wynton didn't give me any direction. He just said, 'Write something about New York. It can be whatever you want it to be — swinging, or a ballad, or whatever you want — just make sure it's about New York."
McBride speaks with weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz about that encounter and others with Marsalis, and explains how he decided to put out two wildly different albums.