Passionate Plea

Christian McBride urges fans to attend his Arizona show

By Christopher Boan

Six-time Grammy Award winner Christian McBride has always loved playing shows in the Sonoran Desert.

Hailing from Philadelphia, McBride will return to Arizona to perform as part of the Tucson Jazz Festival at the Fox Tucson Theatre on Saturday, January 18.

McBride is a household name in jazz, setting forth on a three-decade career that’s included stints with Sting, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Freddie Hubbard and George Duke.

McBride is excited to return to the Old Pueblo with his own act for the first time in more than a decade, calling the January show a can’t-miss affair.

“I always love coming to the desert. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world,” McBride says. “And my first time playing in Tucson with my own group, I believe that was in the early 2000s, it was a beautiful concert and I look forward to coming back with my quintet.”

McBride is excited to be associated with the Tucson Jazz Festival, which runs from Friday, January 10, to Monday, January 20, at various Downtown Tucson venues.

“As a jazz musician, you really only have three options: you have clubs, you have concert halls—which don’t really happen that often for jazz artists—and then you have festivals,” he says.

“Festivals are sort of the lifeblood for a lot of jazz artists. The more festivals that you can play, the more you get around the country and see a lot of places and hear a lot of great bands.

“That’s really the great thing about playing festivals, generally, is that you get to hear more than one group.”

McBride has his fair share of experiences at festivals across the country, as well as serving as an artist-in-residence and artistic director with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Jazz Museum in Harlem and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, to name a few.

The evolution of McBride’s live act has been 30 years in the making, with each tour stop adding another chapter to a storied career. McBride compared his growth as a musician to that of any other trade, learning more with each passing day.

“When you’re deep in the jazz genre, or whatever endeavor you’re in, it’s kind of hard to see the entire picture when you’re really up close and in front of it,” McBride says. “But, one thing that is for sure, there’s always going to be great musicians and there’s always going to be great music.”

For now, McBride is thrilled to still have the opportunity to tour the country playing shows at venues of all sizes.

He’s also humbled to be a major voice for the genre as a whole, as the host of NPR’s Jazz Night in America program.

McBride has seen monumental changes in the music industry as a whole, including the jazz genre, with vinyl coming into vogue status and streaming services overtaking traditional listening platforms.

“Streaming has become a thing, hearing music on YouTube, I believe that 2019 was the first time since 1986 that CD sales were eclipsed by vinyl, so it seems to me there’s a medium that’s coming back with vinyl, those are like you’re real audiophiles and people that really, really love the music,” McBride says. “They want to hear the music the right way. And then you have your general population, which I think are sort of your iPhone, Spotify, Pandora crowd. So, that’s a way that the music business has been changed forever.”

McBride keeps returning to American stages for one simple reason.

“Any time that you can wake up and have your instrument in your hand, that’s a great thing,” McBride says.

McBride often wonders how his live performances these days stack up to his early days in the mid-’90s, when he was figuring out how to balance a set and communicate with an audience.

He believes all of those facets of his shows have improved with time, but said he’d love to pick the brains of those in attendance for his shows two decades ago.

“I like to think that I’ve gotten better as a performer,” McBride says. “I’d like to think that I’ve gotten better at all of those things, but I would like to ask someone back in 1995 who saw me, like, ‘OK, you’ve seen me now, how have I done?’”

McBride did not mince words when describing why people should pack the Fox Tucson Theatre in January for his show. For McBride, going to see a live act is a rare treat and should be taken advantage of whenever possible, especially given how long it’s been since his last trip to Tucson.

“Well, really what are your options? Why would anyone stay at home and watch Netflix when they can come out and hear some of the greatest music in their area that my guess they don’t get very often,” he says.

“You can stay home and watch Netflix or whatever you do at any time, but I rarely come through Tucson. So, if nothing else, just come see five guys who are coming to town who almost never come to town.”