The curious mind — and hard work — of bassist Christian McBride

By Lara Downes on NPR


Christian McBride might be the hardest working man in show business, or at least the hardest working bass player in jazz.

He’s a tireless road warrior, traveling the world as the leader of his own big band and his New Jawn quartet, recording and performing with a long and genre-fluid list of musicians from Sting and Herbie Hancock to Rhiannon Giddens and Renée Fleming. He’s the artistic director of the legendary Newport Jazz Festival, and he serves as an artistic advisor and director for several other institutions including the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, where we filmed this conversation. He hosts and produces The Lowdown: Conversations With Christian on SiriusXM, and Jazz Night in America for NPR Music and WBGO. He’s played on more than 300 recordings and won eight Grammys. He’s a composer, producer, curator, educator and ambassador. He literally never stops.

There are many reasons why people are driven to push themselves to their limits. But for Christian, it’s simple: He just loves music. When he plays, when he talks about music or thinks about it or listens to it, he lights up with pure joy. And joy like that, in our world today, is powerful.

In our conversation, Christian and I point to some of the artists who inspire us the most, and who loved music with that same insatiable kind of exuberance: Duke EllingtonLeonard BernsteinDr. Billy Taylor. They never stopped either — searching, learning, teaching, preaching — working harder than they had to. They always did more, gave more; there was so much they wanted to share.

Keeping up with Christian McBride isn’t easy. But wherever he goes, his delight in music reaches far and wide, because joy like that is unstoppable.