Mr. Christian McBride, creator of ‘The Movement Revisited,’ an elaborate composition pairing jazz music to words of iconic black activists, details how he prepared the production.
A passage in an early 20th Century philosophy book, ‘The Revolt of the Masses,’ reads:
“For there is no doubt that the most radical division that it is possible to make of humanity is that which splits it into two classes of creatures: those who make great demands of themselves, piling up difficulties and duties; and those who demand nothing special of themselves, but for whom to live is to be every moment what they already are, without imposing on themselves any effort towards perfection.”
Mr. Christian McBride, a Grammy Award-winning jazz bassist and a man widely considered to be the most recorded musician of his generation, is the type of individual who fits into humanity’s first class: he’s continuously outdoing himself, tackling one elaborate groove after another.
As Mr. McBride tells it, life for him as always been about exceeding expectations, his own, and those of his contemporaries.
“I’ve always been driven to be a better musician … I really wanted the respect of the musicians I looked up to,” Mr. McBride told me as we drove up Broad Street towards the Uptown Theater in North Philadelphia, where we shot a scene for an upcoming documentary to be released in 2016 through NPR (National Public Radio) Music.
The Philadelphia-born virtuoso, who hardly recognized parts of North Philly during our drive, was in town due to a one-night only showing at the Merriam Theater this past Saturday of ‘The Movement Revisited,’ Mr. McBride’s original and quite ambitious composition – clips of the performance will be featured in the upcoming documentary – that pairs complex yet catchy melodies to speech uttered by iconic black activists, four to be exact: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mr. Muhammad Ali, Mr. Malcolm X and Ms. Rosa Parks.
Mr. McBride, and those on Saturday who joined him on stage, received a lengthy standing ovation when the concert ended, and it was well deserved: the choir director, Mr. J.D Steele, conducted a harmonious ensemble while also presenting himself as a lead singer; the saxophonists, who at one point in the show played off each in other in friendly competition, were lively, as was the entire big band; the pianist was artfully tasteful; the drummer was smooth and subtle, though dynamic; and Mr. McBride, as always, was the front-man whose fingers stole the show.
When ‘The Movement Revisited’ first premiered in 1998 at the behest of the Portland Arts Society, there was a fair amount of improvisation, and Mr. McBride’s on-stage accompaniment wasn’t nearly as elaborate.
“The original version was only for my quartet and a small choir, Mr. McBride said, noting that some in the choir also doubled as narrators.
But when given the chance to rewrite the piece in 2008 – the version which appeared before a Philadelphia audience on Saturday, November 21, 2015 – Mr. McBride “got really serious” and charted a lot of the music, though he “kept a lot of improv in it.”
But more challenging than charting the music, said Mr. McBride, was “figuring out what text to use.”
“I thought long and hard,” Mr. McBride said about the process of inserting choir voice into the music and thematically linking his characters together by using quotes where they refer to each other.
In an interview with Techbook Online following Monday’s documentary taping, Mr. McBride, a lover of what he calls “message music,” revealed that it took a couple of months to peruse books, text, and documentaries about his four main characters, with Dr. King, because of the sheer volume of material, and Ms. Parks, because of lack thereof, being the most difficult to compose for.
As for Mr. Ali, “he was kind of easy to figure out.”
To create Malcolm X’s scenes, Mr. McBride, a fan of “the post-nation Malcolm X,” selected text from early 1964-1965.
“Every minute was a fun challenge,” Mr. McBride said of the research, aggregation and pairing process.
When asked why he, instead of crafting a more simplistic production, chose to establish such a complex work, Mr. McBride responded: “I like pushing myself.”
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Feature photo: Mr. Christian McBride on stage at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia with his choir director, Mr. J.D Steele, his pianist, and the four narrators: Mr. Samuel Stricklen as Malcolm X; Mr. Dion Graham and Muhammad Ali; Rev. Alyn Waller as Dr. King and Ms. Sonia Sanchez and Rosa Parks./C. Norris – ©2015