Old friends Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride perform together at Jazz House Kids benefit (with video)

Wynton Marsalis, left, and Christian McBride at the Inside the Jazz Note benefit at the Kasser Theater at Montclair State University, May 19.


Wynton Marsalis, left, and Christian McBride at the Inside the Jazz Note benefit at the Kasser Theater at Montclair State University, May 19.

In a 2006 interview on jazzreview.com, bassist Christian McBride was asked who, other than family members, had the biggest influence on him when he was growing up.

“I would have to say Wynton Marsalis … Wynton was probably the first world renown person who kind of came around and, you know, took me under his wing … really just mentored me to make sure that my focus was on the instrument and on learning the tradition — really learning the basics on how to be a really good jazz musician. I owe a lot to Wynton.”

Marsalis, 54, and McBride, 43, two of the most respected and admired figures in the current jazz scene, made a joint appearance May 19 at the Kasser Theater at Montclair State University. The occasion was the ninth annual Inside the Jazz Note Education Fund benefit for the Montclair-based educational organization, Jazz House Kids, which McBride’s wife, singer Melissa Walker, founded 15 years ago, and still runs. Marsalis joins a long list of stellar guests at this benefit; past participants have included Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Dianne Reeves, Esperanza Spalding and Jimmy Heath.

Marsalis and McBride performed together on several numbers, including a trumpet-and-bass instrumental duet on “What Is This Thing Called Love?” and a flawless Jazz House Big Band version of “St. Louis Blues” during which Marsalis stood in the back row, with the rest of the trumpet players, and Jazz House Kids student Claudia Nketia sang.

Several times, when just McBride and Marsalis were playing and McBride came up with a particularly daring riff, the usually undemonstrative Marsalis raised his eyebrows in a combination of awe, and surprise, and appreciation. It was pretty priceless.

Marsalis and McBride first met in the ’80s, when Marsalis, though still in his 20s, was an established jazz star, and McBride was a high school student in Philadelphia.

The Jazz House Big Band, at the Kasser Theater.

The Jazz House Big Band, at the Kasser Theater.

“I can think back to when you were 14, when I first heard you,” said Marsalis told McBride on May 19. “And I called my daddy (pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis Jr.). I said, ‘Man, you’re not going to believe this dude in Philly.’ … So, for me, all these years later, to see the kids playing, and see what you all are doing, what Melissa is doing, what (Jazz House Big Band director) Julius (Tolentino) is doing … I remember him when he was a student. I mean, what can I say about it? I’m sitting up here. I’m playing with you. And the type of maturity that you play with. And all the things you’re doing … I’m just proud. I wish I played with you more.”

“I wish that could happen too, man,” said McBride.

“I’m proud of these youngsters,” Marsalis continued, “because even though … You know, I’m out here, but I still always represent the musicians I grew up with. And there wasn’t a lot of them who were interested in playing. … At one point, my father’s class went down to one person. This was in 1982. It was a free public school in New Orleans. … So I don’t take it for granted to see a group of youngsters, well dressed, playing.

“I’ve went to thousands and thousands of schools across the United States, and heard kids play so sad for so long. And I say it with love, because we were sad, too. It’s just how that was. … I would say in the ’80s, when people asked me, ‘What do you want to see. You’re going to these schools.’ I’d say, I begged the Lord, before I die, that I can go across the country, and hear people who can play.”

The show ;was part of a two-day series of performances and workshops during which a new initiative, the Jazz House Kids Music + Education Fund, was launched, and it was announced that Dee Dee Bridgewater will perform at this summer’s annual Montclair Jazz Festival (Aug. 13), which Jazz House Kids produces.

Here is a video of the the May 19 event, which was streamed live:


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