“You think when you’ve played with someone for over 25 years that you would get used to it,” bassist Christian McBride says about the veteran jazz pianist Chick Corea. “You think you’d get accustomed to what it is that a particular person does. But playing with Chick I never cease to be amazed, and I’m still starstruck. I mean, he’s a living legend for a reason. I love making music with him. I feel completely free.”
Corea’s Trilogy Trio with McBride and drummer Brian Blade play the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, Oct. 8.
The legendary pianist began his jazz touring career in 1962 with Mongo Santamaría and went on to play with Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Herbie Mann, and scores of other jazz stars. In December 2001, New York’s storied Blue Note jazz club hosted Corea’s 60th-birthday celebration, featuring three weeks of concerts with a galaxy of other jazzers.
Along the way, he has won a remarkable 22 Grammy Awards. His Trilogymates, who are in their late 40s, are a few decades behind the 78-year-old Corea, but they also are multi-Grammy winners. McBride has six and Blade (longtime member of the renowned Wayne Shorter Quartet) has three.
Concord Jazz released the trio’s second album, Trilogy 2, on Friday, Oct. 4.
“Chick doesn’t really approach this as his trio,” says McBride, artistic director for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’ jazz programming. “He likes to look at it as more of a collective. He’s always asking Brian and myself to contribute music, but that’s very difficult when one of the greatest composers in the history of American music asks you to write a song for him to interpret. One of these days I’ll get over my angst and I might contribute more.”
Pasatiempo called McBride at his home in Montclair, New Jersey, on a Monday in late September.
Pasatiempo: You’ve worked mostly in straight-ahead post-bop jazz, but also fusion and hip-hop. Can you talk about your ability to adapt and have that chemistry in all those different flavors of the music?
McBride: Well, I think that’s what professional musicians are supposed to do, you know? If you are a trained musician and you’re paid to be a professional, I think it’s pretty basic that you have to learn how to play in all of these different settings. I think musicians who only sort of play one style of music, that’s something that they’ve consciously decided that they want to do.
Pasa: Do Brian’s contributions include something of saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter’s personality? Which I have no idea how to describe. Maybe beautiful controlled chaos?
McBride: Exactly. I think for all musicians of a certain generation, particularly jazz artists of a certain generation, that sort of controlled chaos is a goal. I mean that was the hallmark of the second great Miles Davis quintet [trumpeter Davis and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams]. There’s really something powerful about that: just get right to the edge without falling off. That’s an exciting feeling.
Pasa: Is that happening with this trio?
McBride: I think so. It’s Chick! [He laughs.]
Pasa: You’ve got an online course, Fundamentals of Jazz Bass and Beyond, that promises people who complete it will be able to develop their sound and “Build better bass lines.” That makes me wonder about the challenge of a player developing his or her personality on the instrument.
McBride: Yeah, but you still have to learn from somebody. ... Once you develop your fundamentals, then that’s when your own personality starts to kick in. ... Charlie Parker would listen to people like Bennie Carter and Frankie Trumbauer. The same thing with Lester Young. Wayne Shorter listened to Lester Young and Charlie Parker. Somebody like Joshua Redman listened to Wayne Shorter. It’s a thread that goes through the learning process. This is just one tool in the large scope of teaching tools.
Pasa: Did you look back to bassists like Leroy Vinnegar and Ray Brown?
McBride: Ray Brown was like my second father. He was such a great bassist, and a great guy.
Pasa: What do you think about playing arco versus the more standard pizzicato technique? Do you relish being able to bow in certain tunes?
McBride: Sometimes I listen to myself bow and I wonder if it’s worth it. I think I should leave it to the people who do it all the time. The bow is a tool that exposes every minuscule weakness in your playing. That’s why it’s important to do it every day. If your technique is your heart, the bow is a treadmill.
Pasa: I would think it’s the opposite, that your perfect intonation on that instrument that has no frets would really show up in pizzicato playing.
McBride: I think when you play pizzicato — particularly when there are drums and piano, a whole group playing — there are a lot of subtleties that flat-out won’t be heard. And that’s fine. The bass is supposed to be felt more than heard in those situations. But when you’re taking a solo and you’re improvising using a bow, if you do it well, it really does add such an incredible dimension to the overall sound. I’m gonna get better at it, don’t worry.
Pasa: Do you collect instruments or do you have one bass at home and on the road?
McBride: I never thought of myself as a collector, but then I look up and see all these instruments around the house. So I’ve inadvertently become a collector. I’ve had one acoustic bass since 1995, but I inherited one of Ray Brown’s old basses, and I also acquired a bass when I went to Australia five years ago. I wasn’t looking for one, but there’s a great luthier in Melbourne who offered me a bass and I didn’t want to be rude and say no.
Pasa: Do you use those other ones when you want a different sound from your main squeeze?
McBride: I try to stick to one bass at a time. But wooden instruments need to vibrate; they need to be played. ◀
▼ Chick Corea Trilogy
▼ 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8
▼ Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 W. San Francisco St.
▼ Tickets are $60-$120; 505-988-1234, ticketssantafe.com