Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater among the stars for Monterey Jazz Fest tribute
BY MICHAEL JACKSON March 20, 2013 4:47PM
Bassist Christian McBride is among the lineup for the Montreal Jazz Festival 55th anniversary concert special at Symphony Center on Friday night.
MONTEREY JAZZ FESTIVAL 55TH
♦ 8 p.m. March 22
♦ Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, Chicago
♦ (312) 294-3000;
Updated: April 23, 2013 1:36PM
‘It Happened in Monterey” (sic) — the misspelled song made famous by Frank Sinatra in 1956, actually references Monterrey, Mexico, but might as well refer to the Monterey Jazz Festival in California that will host its 56th edition as the longest running event of its kind this September. In tribute to year 55 (composite number anniversaries always more popular than prime), MJF artistic director Tim Jackson handpicked a crack touring sextet under MD Christian McBride. Featuring vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, saxophone titan Chris Potter, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist Benny Green and veteran drummer Lewis Nash, this truly all-star group visits Symphony Center on March 22 as part of the Chi Town Jazz Festival.
We caught up with McBride on the phone, his voice as deep and succinct as his vastly in-demand bass playing.
Question:Is the Monterey Celebration Tour modeled after Norman Granz’s classic Jazz at the Philharmonic junkets from the ’50s?
Christian McBride: Well any all-star jazz grouping seems to point to the Granz model but those were jam sessions; this is a working band with a set repertoire that breaks into duets, solos, trios and quartets; different units.
Q.Naturally you were Okay with the assembled dream team, and you had known Dee Dee for many years, yes?
CM: Dee Dee and I were figuring out when we first met. Probably in the mid-’90s when she in France and I was working the festival circuit. [Bassist] Ray Brown used Dee a lot, and I think he introduced us. She is one of my favorite people in the world with a personality the size of a planet.
Q.Though there will be a few standards, the band has fresh originals for this tour?
CM: We have about 25 new songs in the book, and everybody is represented as a composer.
Q.Anything in particular you look forward to performing?
CM: I love the duets with Dee Dee, I think the audience really feels the bond between us. Dee is not well-known as a composer but I made her blush by insisting we play something she wrote in the late ’70s during her R&B period. It’s called “Love Won’t Let Me Go” from her record “Bad For Me” (1979). All the guys did it once in L.A., and she was so cute, her cheeks were beet red doing it! We have couple great Chris Potter songs and there’s an original of mine, “The Shade of the Cedar Tree,” which is incredible for me to hear these guys solo over, although Lewis Nash recorded the original with me on “Getting’ To It.” (Verve 1995).
Q.You’ve played Monterey eight times. What is special about the festival?
CM: Because it has been in the same location since the beginning. Unlike Newport, also a legendary festival, it’s like playing the Village Vanguard inNew York City — you feel the ghosts of those who played there. Also very few jazz festivals are true to their billing, but Monterey books the best of the genre. Other festivals may book blues acts, or, say “Blink 182,” but Monterey never misleads jazz fans.
Q.Which ghosts do you feel the most?
CM: Well I was lucky to play with a lot of the legends at Monterey — Dave Brubeck, Milt Jackson, J.J. Johnson, Ray Brown, so I feel a kinship with those greats.
Q.You’ve played funk with James Brown, smooth jazz with Kirk Whalum, even performed with opera star Kathleen Battle, are you comfortable in any chair?
CM: I like to think so. It is just language inflections. There is the American version of English; the Caribbean version; English English. Music is the common thing I like to study, in all inflections.
Q.And how about Symphony Hall. I last heard you there with Chick Corea. What are your feelings about the room?
CM: It is a great space. Jim Fahey has done an amazing job with the jazz series. I’ve performed there with my groups, the Mingus Big Band, Roy Haynes, Pat Metheny. I love that room, and, of course, there are no words needed about Chicago as a great town.
Michael Jackson is a local free-lancer writer and photographer.