With cigar in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other, bassist Christian McBride struck an easy, affable pose onstage at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in the first of his “Conversations With Christian,” a series of onstage dialogues and musical encounters to be broadcast on the Sirius/XM satellite radio network. To kick off the series, which was taped before a live audience at Dizzy’s, the Philadelphia native featured Chick Corea as his special guest. Currently bandmates in the Five Peace Band, an all-star quintet featuring guitar legend John McLaughlin, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (with Brian Blade filling in on some dates in an upcoming tour of the States), McBride and Corea also played together in the pianist’s Remembering Bud Powell band from the late ’90s. So their natural rapport was evident in both the interview and musical segments of the evening.
McBride described his role in “Conversations With Christian,” which hops easily from talk about music to talk about sports, as a cross between Bill Cosby, Howard Cosell and Marian McPartland (a reference to her celebrated public radio show, Piano Jazz). An avid Eagles and Phillies fan, McBride equated his role on the bandstand to that of an offensive lineman in football. “All the attention in football is on the quarterback and the running backs and the wide receivers. Nobody knows the names of the offensive linemen. It’s the same for bass players. We’re in the background and our job is to ‘block’ for the sax players and trumpeters upfront.”
To open their animated conversation, the hulking McBride, a former lineman on his high school football team, revealed the surprising fact that Corea was actually a right guard on his Chelsea High football team in Boston (hard to imagine, considering his relatively diminutive physique in those days). Throughout the course of their free-flowing dialogue, Corea reminisced about his Boston roots (including one poignant memory of seeing his trumpet-playing father Armando standing in the living room, smoking cigarettes and crying while listening to Miles Davis records), his early tenure with Sarah Vaughan (who was so upset about Chick leaving her band to join Miles that she didn’t speak to him for two years) and his earliest memories of New York City (playing with Blue Mitchell’s band at Minton’s Playhouse, seeing the Miles Davis quintet with Mssrs. Coltrane, Kelly, Chambers and Cobb at Birdland).
McBride also pressed Corea about some info on his tenure with Miles and his decision to leave the band in 1970 to form Circle with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul. There were also some insightful stories about Anthony Braxton, who joined Circle, about Corea’s brief stint with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, the formation of the first acoustic edition of Return to Forever and his decision to “go electric” after witnessing a Mahavishnu Orchestra concert with Stanley Clarke at New York’s Felt Forum in 1972.
Their appealing rapport in the dialogues carried over to duet performances of Corea’s tune “Bud Powell,” along with lovely renditions of the poignant ballad “But Beautiful” and the waltz-time “Some Day My Prince Will Come” and a rousing “Blue Monk.” At some point in the proceedings, McBride invited one of the audience members onstage to play a game called Paint the Picture. The visitor, from Birmingham, Ala., was asked to describe any scene that he could think of and the two musicians would then play that scene. The Alabama tourist painted an idyllic picture of lying stretched out on the grass on a beautiful summer day with birds chirping and the sun beaming down on his skin. With McBride resorting to his bow and Corea laying down cascading arpeggios, they captured the essence of this pastoral scene in their free improvisation.
An edited version of this lively encounter between McBride and Corea will be broadcast as “The Lowdown: Conversations With Christian” on Sirius/XM.