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August 21, 2017

A Conversation with Christian McBride, Artistic Director of Newport Jazz Festival (Part 3)


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An amazing bass player, band leader and composer, Christian McBride, the Newport Jazz Festival’s new artistic director, brings profound respect for the festival, and a keen sense of those who should be playing at it.

He’s also not afraid to showcase young talent. “Some of it you just get excited by something that you hear, you see or hear, and you say, ‘hey, I don’t know exactly if this is going to work, but I think they deserve an opportunity.’”

And more than ever, the Newport Jazz Festival is showcasing high school and college jazz bands from Rhode Island and Massachusetts. “They get a taste of what their future could be,” said McBride.

In this, part three of our series ( Part 1 here and 2 here), A Conversation with Christian McBride, we talk about how he chooses the festival performers, how they view the festival, and the student bands that will get an opportunity to showcase what might be the next wave of great jazz performers.

Question: When I was involved in the theater, Herbie Mann told me that it would be really easy to hire a young, very good female vocalist before they had a name out there and after they had a name I could never afford them.

McBride: That’s right. That is absolutely right.

Question: When you look at a performer and think about them for the festival what do you look for? And what might be different looking at them for a festival versus, maybe, a club or other venue like that?

McBride: I think a lot of this is reputation. I think a lot of it is having seen someone perform and you know they’d be able to connect with an audience. A lot of it is reputation where someone will say, hey, I saw such and such and, you know, I think they would be good for the festival. And then some of it is a gamble. Some of it you just get excited by something that you hear, you see or hear, and you say, ‘hey, I don’t know exactly if this is going to work, but I think they deserve an opportunity.

Question: I think when the Friday performances started the initial idea was new performers or performers who were doing new things.

McBride: Right.

Question: Is that the way it’s happening? Looking at some of the names here for Friday you’ve got Bela Fleck, and Cecile McLorin, you’ve got …

McBride:  Maceo Parker.

Question: And Joey DeFrancesco. There are people here who I wouldn’t call newcomers by any means, and I don’t know whether they’re doing new things, or this is just now that the festival has generally expanded to three days.

McBride: It’s just generally expanded to three days.

Question: It is an amazing lineup, it always is an amazing lineup. Branford Marsalis, of course, is terrific. Who’s the headliner on Saturday?

McBride: I think it says Andra Day …  No, I think Andra plays on Sunday.

Question: Yeah, I’m just looking here, there’s this crazy guy on Saturday, Christian McBride’s.

McBride: Oh yeah, he’s a real radical.

Question:  Yeah, that’s what I understand. So, the other thing that’s happened over the last couple of years, which I think is very exciting, is the opportunity for college and high school bands. On Friday, you’ve got Berklee Global Jazz Institute, their Workshop Ensemble. On Saturday the Rhode Island Music Education Association, and that I guess is, that’s high school right, Senior All-State?

McBride:  Yes.

Question: That’s pretty amazing, but for those kids, it’s got to be just an incredible experience. And then on Sunday, you have Massachusetts and the University of Rhode Island Band. Obviously, that’s been a conscious decision to expand to include these high school and college bands. What do you think these kids take from that?

McBride: Well they get a taste of what their future could be like if they stick with music. And if they really love it they will be on that same stage as professionals one day. I clearly remember in high school, Joey DeFrancesco and I playing a number of festivals around Philadelphia, and I was thinking, you know, hey man, this, this could be us one day? And so, look what happens.  It’s a glimpse into the professional life that could be upon them if they stick with it, to be able to connect with a larger audience. That’s really something that no high school student ever forgets. They get to see their favorite artists if they hang around the festival grounds that day, which I’m sure they will, and they’re going to get to hear a lot of good stuff.

Question: When a performer is asked to be at the festival what is the general reaction? Is it excitement, is it an honor, or just another gig?

McBride: I do believe that even the staunchest veterans of this music still get excited to get a call to play the Newport Jazz Festival, because there’s just a certain level of credibility that comes with that. I believe that everyone’s very thrilled to get that call. There a lot of great festivals. I think of Detroit, they have an incredible festival. And Monterey is another incredible festival that we all love playing a lot. But, you know, Newport it is the granddaddy.

Question: Circling back, I just saw that Andra Day is on Sunday.

McBride: Yes, Snarky Puppy are the headliners for Saturday.

The 2017 Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Global Asset Management takes place August 4 – 6 at Fort Adams State Park and the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino. Artists include The Roots; Béla Fleck & The Flecktones; Snarky Puppy; Andra Day; Branford Marsalis Quartet; Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue; Rhiannon Giddens, Christian McBride Big Band with Special Guests; Cécile McLorin Salvant;Maria Schneider Orchestra; Hudson: Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski & John Scofield; Maceo Parker; Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith and many more.

For more information and tickets to the Newport Jazz Festival, visit www.newportjazz.org.

More From This Interview Series

  1. A Conversation with Christian McBride, Artistic Director of the Newport Jazz Festival (Part 1)
  2. A Conversation with Christian McBride, Artistic Director of Newport Jazz Festival (Part 2)
  3. A Conversation with Christian McBride, Artistic Director of Newport Jazz Festival (Part 3)
  4. A Conversation with Christian McBride, Artistic Director of Newport Jazz Festival (Part 4)

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