Blindfold Test: Christian McBride


​Christian McBride and writer Ashley Kahn meet for a DownBeat Blindfold Test hosted by New York University’s Jazz Studies program.

(Photo: New York University)

Christian McBride turned 51 this May 31 and is still pushing far beyond what many might consider conventional career bandwidth. In addition to touring regularly with multiple groups (including a promising new unnamed quintet) and recording on a wide variety of projects, he hosts NPR’s Jazz Night in America and Sirius XM’s The Lowdown, to serve as artistic director for the Newport Jazz Festival and artistic advisor to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and is now spokesperson for Qobuz, the high-end streaming service. This Blindfold Test was hosted by New York University’s Jazz Studies program, with more than 30 students attending.

Roy Hargrove

“The Joint” (The RH Factor–Hard Groove, Verve, 2002) Hargrove, trumpet; Chalmers Alford, guitar; Bobby Sparks, electric piano, organ; Bernard Wright, keyboards; Pino Palladino, bass; Jason Thomas, drums; Daniel Moreno, percussion; Butter, drum programming.

Roy has so many clones. Everybody that came after took a little of Roy for themselves, especially playing stuff like this. That whole period between like ’98 and 2001, the Young Lion generation, en masse, got funky. Jazz is the second music of our lives. The first music of our lives is soul and rhythm-and-blues. Dare I say it, but John Coltrane was not a part of my bone marrow as much as James Brown was. Is Pino playing bass? When Pino started playing classic electric bass, people thought, “Oh, we forgot how big and fat the bass sounds without it being popped and slapped.” Pino made it cool not to slap. 5 stars.

Terri Lyne Carrington

“Continental Cliff” (New Standards, Vol. 1, Candid, 2022) Nicholas Payton, Milena Casado, trumpet; Anabel Gil Diaz, flute; Veronica Leahy, bass clarinet; Kris Davis, piano; Linda May Han Oh, bass; Carrington, drums.

Killer. I love music that kisses the curb, like it’s about to go off the road but it doesn’t. The interaction is incredible. Can you start that from the beginning one more time? A couple of names come to mind. [afterwards] This rightfully won a Grammy. I think there’s a modern jazz standard not as in song but the way that people interact. TLC is not just a great drummer but also a great producer. I’m not sure I would have figured out it was Terri — I know her feel better when she’s swinging. The first time I heard Linda play was maybe 15 years ago in the Monk competition. I remember Charlie Haden in particular was like, “Hey, who’s that? She’s bad!” We all heard that it was only a matter of time before she would blow up. Linda’s taken care of much business. 5 stars.

Sonny Rollins

“We Kiss In A Shadow” (East Broadway Run Down, Impulse, 1966) Rollins, tenor saxophone; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums.

“We Kiss In A Shadow,” East Broadway Run Down. Elvin and, of course, Sonny give it away, and the recording quality — Rudy Van Gelder. I love Jimmy Garrison especially in a setting like this. He came along in the time when a lot of bass players were breaking out of strict time-keeping rules. 5 stars, plus.

Emmet Cohen

“Pitter Panther Patter” (Future Stride, Mack Avenue, 2021) Cohen, piano; Russell Hall, bass.

It’s “Pitter Panther Patter” by Duke Ellington, originally recorded by Duke with Jimmy Blanton. Obviously they both can play, and had that been a lot slower I think I would have enjoyed it more. [afterwards] When you’re young and you’re hungry, you eat too fast. Both of these guys on their respective instruments are two of my favorites. In about 10 more years they’re going to play that again and it’s going to be extra killin’. 4 stars — I only subtracted one star because of the tempo.

Monk Montgomery

“Me And Mrs. Jones” (Reality, Philadelphia International, 1975) Montgomery, lead bass; Ron Kersey, guitar; Vincent Montana, vibraphone; Ronnie Baker, bass; Earl Young, drums; Larry Washington, percussion; string arrangement; Don Renaldo.

“Me And Mrs. Jones.” This must be the MFSB Orchestra. They had vibes and glockenspiel up in the mix like that. Is this from the Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto album? Is this the bass playing the lead? [afterwards] I had no idea Monk made a solo album for Philly International Records. When I was born this was the hottest label in Black music. Wow, you turned me onto something there., here I come. 5 stars.

Kenny Dorham

“Blue Spring Shuffle” (Quiet Kenny, New Jazz, 1959) Dorham, trumpet; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Art Taylor, drums.

This is Paul Chambers — this right here. I just know his touch. Definitely from somewhere between 1958 and ’61. This is not “Whistle Stop”? [afterwards] I had the right trumpet player but the wrong album. That’s one of my heroes there, Chambers and Ray Brown and Ron Carter, all cut from that same Blanton/Pettiford cloth, everything just pitch- and beat-perfect. All the notes get their full value. 5 stars.

Donald Byrd

“The Emperor” (Ethiopian Knights, Blue Note, 1971) Byrd, trumpet; Harold Land, tenor saxophone; William Henderson, piano; Joe Sample, organ; Don Peake, Greg Poree, guitars; Wilton Felder, bass; Ed Greene, drums.

My first reaction was to guess who the trumpet player is. Donald Byrd? I’m used to hearing vocals on a lot of his funk records. [afterwards] I remember this, but I don’t know this record that well. That’s Wilton Felder. Almost every record that came out of L.A. in the late ’60s through the mid-’80s, it was all Felder. 5 stars.

Rosa Passos & Ron Carter

“Por Causa de Você” (Entre Amigos, Chesky, 2001) Passos, vocal; Carter, bass.

I have no idea who that is but I enjoyed it very, very much. I love the vulnerability of it all. There’s an obvious bond there. This was not a session that was phoned in. Please hip me to this. [afterwards] I’m not used to hearing Ron like that — natural, just in a room without the pickup. The instrument sounds how it looks: big, beautiful, wooden. That was absolutely gorgeous. 5 stars.

Endea Owens and the Cookout

“Love Cynical” (Tiny Desk Concert performance,, 2022) Giveton Gelin, trumpet; Jeffery Miller, trombone; Zoe Obadia, alto saxophone; Jonathan Thomas, piano; Owens, bass; Lee Pearson, drums.

Pull it, baby, pull it! She is not scared of the bass, man. I love her. She has so much enthusiasm. I did a residency at Michigan State like 10 years ago, and I first met Endea. She had a lot of questions, and I really enjoy musicians who, as opposed to saying it’s hard figuring out where my place is in the artistic world, they’re like, “I don’t care where my place is — I just love playing.” That’s where Endea is coming from. Definitely 5 stars. DB

The “Blindfold Test” is a listening test that challenges the featured artist to discuss and identify the music and musicians who performed on selected recordings. The artist is then asked to rate each tune using a 5-star system. No information is given to the artist prior to the test.

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