All the right grooves

Christian McBride swings into the 2017-18 jazz season with a little help from his friends.


When Christian McBride curates jazz concerts for NJPAC, he frequently calls on his good friends – who happen to have some very familiar names.


Dianne Reeves, Chris Botti, Regina Carter and Randy Brecker are just some of the famous music-makers he’s helped recruit for the Arts Center’s 20th anniversary season jazz lineup. McBride, the GRAMMY-winning bass player who serves as NJPAC’s Jazz Advisor, will reunite with them during key events of the sixth annual TD James Moody Jazz Festival, taking place November 4-12.


“I’ve had the great honor of working with people like Béla Fleck here at NJPAC, to Jeffrey Osborne to the late, great Al Jarreau,” McBride recalls.


The bassist describes NJPAC’s upcoming anniversary as a nostalgic thrill – he performed in 1997’s inaugural season alongside saxophonist Joshua Redman, drummer Brian Blade and singer Betty Carter.


“I remember coming into NJPAC for the first time and literally just walking around and staring like, wow, this is palatial,” says the Philly native. “And to think that moment was 20 years ago, that’s pretty incredible.


“Everything I thought about NJPAC, and what it would do for Newark, has come true. Newark is a much different city; it’s been revitalized and I really believe that NJPAC started that ball rolling 20 years ago.”


McBride explains that jazz musicians are accustomed to performing in lively club settings, so appearing in 2,800-seat Prudential Hall “really sets the tone for the audience to understand that this is very serious music.”


“When American classical music, which is jazz, is presented in a concert hall, I think it gives a message to the audience that this is important to not just American culture, but to world culture, by having it in a big concert hall. So I think it’s beautiful when a venue like Prudential Hall is opened up and available to jazz artists.”


There are more than a dozen marquee events scheduled for this year’s festival and McBride has something breezy to say about each, whether it’s a free lunchtime interlude with singer Carrie Jackson, presented by WBGO Jazz 88.3FM, or a mainstage tour of music genres led by trumpeter Chris Botti (both on November 8). Here are some quick takes on what he’s especially … well, jazzed about:



Christian McBride & Dianne Reeves: One on One (music and conversation with a GRAMMY-winning vocal powerhouse, November 10). “It’s hard to think of too many musicians that I’ve had a closer bond with for as long a stretch as I’ve had with Dianne. (We’ve) been friends for over 25 years, and we’ve worked together on so many occasions, many at NJPAC. It’s going to be two friends getting on stage, talking about everything that we do, everything that we’ve done together, and what we plan in the future.”


Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition (SASSY Awards, November 12). “It’s become one of the premier events of the jazz community. A lot of wonderful young vocalists. Not just the winners, but even some of the runners-up have gone on to have really solid careers over the last six years, and I’m really excited that we’re going to have guys entering the competition this year.”


Ella & Dizzy: The Centennial Celebration (Gregory Porter, Lizz Wright, Regina Carter, Valerie Simpson, Randy Brecker and others with McBride’s big band, November 12). “It’s going to be a hot night celebrating the first lady of song, Ella Fitzgerald, and the great one, Dizzy Gillespie. … Not a lot of people realize (Valerie Simpson’s) jazz pedigree. People know all of her hit records with her late husband, Nick Ashford, but to have her here is going to be something very special. We have the great Regina Carter bringing her fiddle of soul, and to cover the Dizzy Gillespie side we have two masterful trumpet players: my homeboy Randy Brecker and my main man, Mr. Sean Jones.”


Among other festival highlights are Crosscurrents: Zakir Hussain, Dave Holland & Friends on November 5; guitar virtuosos John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring in the Meeting of the Spirits Farewell Tour on November 10, and Grupo Niche with Cuban singer Willy Chirino on November 11. Tickets are available at or by calling 1-888-GO-NJPAC (466-5722).


June 15, 2017