Christian McBride, jazz bass

First jazz artist in residence strides statewide with MSU jazz orchestra.

Christian McBride directs MSU Jazz Orchestra I during a concert at the Fairchild Theatre.

Part of the MSU Federal Credit Union Jazz Artist in Residence program, Christian McBride’s visit to Michigan State University left jazz studies student Endea Owens with experiences that will forever shape her approach to the bass. One of the most memorable was traveling with the renowned bassist and members of Jazz Orchestra I to perform and conduct workshops at several Michigan schools. 

“I remembered how exciting it was like when Rodney Whitaker came to my high school,” says Owens, recalling when the MSU Director of Jazz Studies visited the Detroit School of Arts. “It was great to be able to give that feeling back to students.”

Owens, a senior in the College of Music, was among the direct beneficiaries when McBride visited campus in October through the MSU Jazz Artist in Residence Program. Now in its second year, the program provides one-on-one instruction, collaboration, and performance opportunities for students with the world’s very best jazz musicians. The program was made possible through a $1 million endowment from the MSU Federal Credit Union.

McBride was the first of five scheduled artists to hold weeklong residencies with the Jazz Studies Area in the 2014-15 academic year. His residency also involved touring with MSU’s Jazz Orchestra I to several high schools and colleges from Northern to Western to Southeastern Michigan.

“Everyone from our faculty to our students to the schools we visited were transformed, simply by knowing he was coming into town,” says Whitaker. “It was so joyous and such an honor to play and be mentored by someone of his ability.” 

Whitaker was in his early 20s and performing with the Harrison/Blanchard Quintet in Philadelphia when he first heard the then 15-year-old McBride play the bass. The two formed an instant bond that developed into a longtime friendship.

“When I heard him play a couple years later at Juilliard, I saw the amount of progress he had made,” says Whitaker. “I realized then he was a genius.”

McBride’s name was at the top of Whitaker’s list as he considered artists for MSU’s residency program. Whitaker said he knew McBride would relate well to students, particularly since the bassist had started so young with his musical career.

“He’s such a big star,” says Whitaker. “Everyone was really shocked at how down to earth he was and that he cared so much about their learning.”

Jazz Orchestra I bassist Joe Vasquez admits he was a little intimidated when he heard that one of his biggest influences on the upright was coming to campus.

“But there was always so much joy coming from him,” says Vasquez. “He made you feel everything will be all right even if you’re struggling. He let you know you could pull through, and he never put anyone down.”

Jazz studies student Louie Leager echoed his fellow bassist from Jazz Orchestra I.

“I learned that with a lot of hard work and patience it’s possible to overcome the challenges posed by any instrument,” Leager says. “Mr. McBride exceeded all my expectations. I’ve always been a big fan of his.”

Whitaker heard similar sentiments from students and educators at high schools in Byron Center, Ludington, and Detroit, and from Schoolcraft College in Livonia. In the course of three days, McBride and MSU students held workshops for 30 to 60 students at each location, interacted with band directors and educators, and performed for audiences that exceeded 350 community members.

“Jazz is all about mentorship and it’s about working together as performers,” says Whitaker. “By bringing artists like Christian McBride here, we’re giving students a world-class experience they might not otherwise get living in Michigan.” 

The MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence program represents the largest-ever investment in the College of Music’s curriculum. The 2014-2015 programs features a blazing line-up of critically acclaimed musicians from the international, national, and regional scene, including Christian McBride, Robin Eubanks, Peter Bernstein, and Michigan jazz icons Tim Froncek and George Benson. 

Recap: On the Road with Christian McBride 

While an MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence last October, Philadelphia-born bassist Christian McBride took to the road with Jazz Orchestra I as part of MSU’s efforts to bring jazz performance and education to Michigan high schools, music academies, and colleges.

Destinations and highlights:

  • Byron Center: 60 high school students attended workshops and performed at an outreach concert for more than 400 community members 
  • Ludington: 325 band directors, educators, high schoolers, community college students, and community musicians attended an outreach concert at the Ludington Center for the Performing Arts 
  • Schoolcraft College: 150 students from Schoolcraft College, the Southeastern Music Academy, and the greater Detroit metro area participated in a guest artist clinic; more than 300 people attended a concert featuring McBride with jazz orchestras from Schoolcraft, Southeastern Music Academy and MSU; a team from Detroit Public Television recorded activities and conducted interviews for a feature program
  • East Lansing: About 70 music students at MSU attended workshops, rehearsals, master classes, and performed with Mr. McBride; more than 300 people attended Jazz Artist in Residence concert at the Fairchild Theatre featuring McBride and MSU Jazz Orchestras I, II, and III

What people said:

“Overall, the event was a tremendous help to the growth and motivation of our students.”
– Marc Townley, band director, Byron Center High School

“When MSU performs an outreach concert in our area students get an up-close and personal look as to what is available at MSU. Having Christian McBride in our small neck of the woods was an absolute honor. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
–Ted Malt, Associate Professor of Music Studies, West Shore Community College

Christina McBride Bio

Bassist, composer, arranger, educator, curator, and administrator, Christian McBride has contributed greatly to the jazz world in the last 20 years. Beginning in 1989, this Philadelphia-born bassist moved to New York City to further his classical studies at the Juilliard School, only to be snatched up by alto saxophonist, Bobby Watson. Since then, McBride’s list of accomplishments has been nothing short of staggering. McBride has made numerous recordings, his latest with his trio, entitled “Out Here,” and appeared with many musicians in the jazz, R&B, and pop worlds: Milt Jackson, Roy Haynes, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Pat Metheny, as well as playing with and/or arranging for the likes of Isaac Hayes, Chaka Khan, Lalah Hathaway, Sting, and James Brown.

College of Music Media Release (PDF)

Christian McBride’s official website

October 6-12, 2014
Monday, 10/6, Blue Monday MSUFCU & Jazz Forum
Tuesday, 10/7, Rehearsals & Workshops MSU College of Music
Wednesday, 10/8, Rehearsals & Master Class MSU College of Music
Thursday, 10/9, Byron Center High School, Byron Center, Mich.
Friday, 10/10, Cass Tech High School, Detroit Mich.
Friday, 10/10, Fairchild Theater, MSU Auditorium
Saturday, Oct. 11, Schools in Ludington, Mich.
Sunday, Oct. 12, Schoolcraft College, Livonia, Mich.