Christian McBride performs three times during his weeklong residency at UR. 

First Bass Triple

The multiple performances by Christian McBride over the next week are a rare opportunity to see a jazz artist at the peak of his creative powers. McBride, arguably the premier bass player of his generation, will perform three times during the Modlin Summer Music Series at the University of Richmond. McBride, who is serving as artistic director of the jazz portion of the series, will also complete a weeklong residency at the university.

The lineups are varied enough to constitute a one-man festival. The first, on June 6, will feature bassist McBride with some of Richmond's leading jazz musicians: Howard Curtis, Mike Davison, Skip Gailes, Weldon Hill and vocalist René Marie. June 9 will be a meeting/jam session with Russell Malone, best guitarist winner in the 1999 Downbeat Jazz Critics Award. The series closes June 11 with McBride's all-star touring band. In a city where any performance by a first-rank jazz musician is a special event, it's an embarrassment of riches.

In addition to the performances, the residency involves lectures, lessons and master classes, something that McBride enjoys. "It's pretty cool," he says. "At the college level it's not a matter of molding students, like you would with younger players. It depends on the individual, recognizing their direction and enhancing it. It's a big-brother kind of thing. You talk with them, share war stories, and if they need advice, you give it."

There is an element of payback in passing his experiences along. McBride remembers meeting with older players when he was at school in his hometown, Philadelphia.

"We weren't that far from New York City," he says. "Grover Washington was a big supporter; so was Red Rodney. A lot of musicians would come by — Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, Lester Bowie. They all helped and inspired me.

"Each musician has a different theory," McBride reflects. "They don't teach a specific thing, just what they know. You might not figure it out for years to come, but you remember. There is no easy way to become a great jazz musician. You have to get out and play, get your hands dirty. Sometimes you get sent home with your tail between your legs."

Not yet 30, he has appeared on more than 150 recordings, as both leader and sideman. His live performances feature his amazingly adept playing, lyrical melodies, quicksilver runs and a dash of James Brown soul.

His most recent release, "Sci Fi," was one of the best albums of 2000, and perhaps the best fusion album since the genre's heyday in the early '70s. An intelligently integrated blend of improvisation, funk, rock and pop, it elegantly avoids the commercial clichés that made "jazz rock" seem an artistic dead end.

McBride's goal is to avoid categorization. "I want to play jazz without playing jazz, to incorporate other styles of music like rock and R&B; keep it loose and open," he says. "I want to keep the art form intact without doing what is expected."

He also hopes that this tactic will help keep jazz vital. "Jazz is getting dangerously close to being museum music, like classical music," he says. "In the 1700s classical was like jazz. Bach was improvised, his audience wasn't afraid to show emotion. Now people sit quietly and listen to musicians in tuxedos. You talk to older musicians; they say that classical music was ruined when that happened. Now most symphonies survive on sponsorships."

Keeping the music from becoming merely respectable requires teamwork. "If you have a vision, it's hard finding other players who share it," McBride confides. "My new touring band [Ron Blake on sax, Jeff Keezer on piano and Terran Gully on drums] is the first band that I have had where everyone is on the same page musically.

"It's a real working band," McBride adds proudly. For the next week, at the Modlin Summer Music Series, he'll prove

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