Untamed Lion

There will always be a little Miles Davis in electric jazz. And maybe some Christian McBride, too.

But he recently returned to Philadelphia for a project that sounds quite exciting. For The Philadelphia Experiment, McBride teamed up with an old high school friend, The Roots' drummer ?uestlove (Ahmir Thompson), and Uri Caine, who's worked extensively with Don Byron. "The guy who produced the sessions, who was the coordinator of the sessions, was this guy from Philly who I guess it was kind of like his dream to get the three of us together and do something," McBride says. "Ahmir and I went to high school together. We were old, old buddies. And I used to work with Uri a lot before I left Philadelphia. So we just went into the studio for a couple of days, kind of locked the doors and went for broke."

That coordinator was Andy Hurwitz, yet another Philly native who is best known as the maverick behind Ropeadope Records, home of producer/turntablist DJ Logic. The songs the three cranked out include a couple of covers, such as Grover Washington and Bill Withers' "Just the Two of Us," Elton John's "Philadelphia Freedom" with a string section arranged by '70s soul maestro Larry Gold, and a solo-piano dedication to Washington's 1975 chart-topper, "Mister Magic," as well as on-the-fly improvisations, such as a free odyssey dedication to a former City of Brotherly Love guru, Sun Ra.

"It's a little bit of everything," McBride says. "There's some hip-hop stuff. There's some drum 'n' bass sounds. We did a couple of free jazz things. It was a good project."

Ain’t too proud to teach: “That’s one of the reasons why I became a professional jazz musician,” Christian McBride says.
Silvia Otte
Ain’t too proud to teach: “That’s one of the reasons why I became a professional jazz musician,” Christian McBride says.

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The first North Texas Jazz Festival happens April 3-8 in Addison. Christian McBride performs on April 7.

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Though the album hits stores in June, there are only two dates set for the project to perform--Philadelphia's Mellon Jazz Festival and New York's JVC Jazz Festival. Outside that, McBride's summer is already booked. Come June, McBride will be hopping around the country conducting workshops and seminars himself, like the ones he used to attend as a teen in Philadelphia. "Every summer I get involved in an educational program," McBride says. "This year I'm going to be doing a residency and workshops at the University of Richmond and my band will be doing a couple of shows down there, and I get to work with a lot of students, too. After that, though, I'm going out to Aspen [Colorado] for my annual work with the Jazz Colony at Jazz Aspen Snowmass summer camp. Then after that I go to L.A. for the Henry Mancini Institute. So it'll be a pretty busy summer."

It may seem odd for a professional musician to devote his entire summer, which is often the busiest and most lucrative time for a musician, to teaching, but McBride feels that it's simply one of his job's responsibilities. "I love it," McBride says. "That's one of the reasons why I became a professional jazz musician. A lot of internationally renowned artists, like Wynton, took the time to come through Philadelphia and give clinics and workshops for all the young cats growing up. So me and [organist] Joey DeFrancesco and Ahmir and all kinds of guys were able to learn from some of the best. I just want to be able to give a little something back. That's the way it's supposed to work."

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