McBride shares his musical journey in SAE lecture series

by Lisa Chau | 11/3/03 6:00am

When members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity discovered that acclaimed electric and acoustic bassist Christian McBride would be on campus with the Pat Metheny Trio this weekend, they knew they had an opportunity they couldn't miss. Upon hearing the news, they invited McBride to speak at their house as part of their Andrew J. Scarlett Lecture Series.

McBride spoke informally to an audience of over 30 students about jazz, family and school. The casually dressed bassist delivered an engaging narrative filled with humor and insight.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, McBride had just played with the Trio Friday night with his family in the audience. His performance was personally momentous since it was the first time he had seen his parents together since he was eight years old. His grandparents rounded out his very special family reunion.

Philadelphia was clearly on his mind as he spoke to the Hanover audience. He lovingly recalled the City of Brotherly Love when he was growing up, especially the music scene. "Philadelphia was very prolific," McBride remembered.

The most influential musician of McBride's childhood was his father, also a bassist. As a seven year old, he first saw his father play on the "Midnight Special" television program.

He also spoke of his devoted mother. "She's always been my number one supporter," McBride said. In fact, it was McBride's mother who purchased h -er son his first electric bass from the pawn shop. Since McBride did not have an amplifier at the time, he simply plugged his instrument into the back of his stereo. He said that moment as the "most exciting feeling I've had in my life." That feeling has not gone away for McBride, noting that playing bass is "the most comfortable I've felt doing anything."

His first introduction to acoustic bass was a "serious navet going into the instrument" since he treated it as an oversized version of his electric bass which stood up.

Nonetheless, McBride was educated in jazz history late at night by his great uncle. McBride fondly remembered that he never spoke in condescending tones and approved of his listening to all kinds of music including The Police, Prince and Michael Jackson. Concerning jazz, he advised his great nephew to "add this to your palette, to learn your heritage."

McBride also spoke of playing with his mentor, Wynton Marsalis. When McBride was 15, Marsalis surprised him by inviting the teenager onstage to play with him during a concert. "I shake as I think about it now. It was numbing, I actually don't remember how it went," McBride recollected.

After high school, via an acceptance by the Julliard School of Music, he arrived in Manhattan. "Right away I was trying to get gigs," McBride said. He played with as many musicians as possible. McBride explained that "playing with the best is the only way to get better."

The musician admits that he still gets butterflies in his stomach before performances. He's "generally cool under fire," until the announcer says, "ladies and gentlemen."

McBride ended the event by playing "Now is the Time" with Dartmouth students Jeff DellaVolpe '04 and Noah Shamosh '04. It was almost as if McBride was passing on the jazz legacy he had just spoken of -- the legacy that so many had passed on to him.