Christian McBride & Bootsy Collins: ‘All for the Funk of It’

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Bassist Christian McBride (left) and Bootsy Collins sat down for a moderated conversation with journalist Andy Hermann in Los Angeles.

(Photo: Paul Wellman)

Christian, do you have any James Brown stories from your time with him?

McBride: The title track of my first album, Gettin’ To It, was inspired by “Get It Together.” I basically took the same bass line and rhythm and wrote a melody on top of it. So, when James Brown heard it the first time, he was like, “Yeah, son, that’s mean. You got a thing happening on there.” And then about a year later, I just caught him in a not-so-good mood. [imitates Brown] “That song ain’t nothin’. I’m-a sue you.” [laughs]

Collins: Oh, he could turn on you like that.

McBride: And when we did the Hollywood Bowl, right before he passed, it was such a monumen- tal night. He’d done this record called Soul On Top with Louie Bellson’s big band. Oliver Nelson did all the arranging. I wanted to play that album live with the big band. So, I asked Mr. Brown if he would be into doing it.

When we were rehearsing, and he’s singing with the big band, we were doing “Kansas City”— which actually is not on Soul On Top ... . And after we stopped, he got real reflective. He says, “Son, I wanna thank you for putting me back in my original bag.” I said, “Really?” He says, “You know, I wanted to be a jazz singer first. But then I got side-tracked by the funk.”

On your most recent album, Bringin It, there’s a pretty funky bass line on a big band arrangement of Gettin To It.Can you talk about mixing big band music with funk?

McBride: Well, I never thought that was a stretch at all. All great funk records have great horn sections. You think about Ray Charles, James Brown, all those Motown records—and then later on with Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang and P-Funk. It’s just a big band with electric instruments, instead of acoustic instruments. And in some cases, even still acoustic instruments.

I think of Horace Silver as funky. I think of Cannonball Adderley as funky. Ramsey Lewis, Les McCann, Stanley Turrentine, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: All that stuff has got a high cholesterol content. And I find that jazz, a lot of it—at least a lot of it that gets critical acclaim— is what I like to call gluten-free jazz. You know, the healthy lifestyle has gone a little too far when it comes to the music. I need some Crisco in my jazz, you know? Some fatback.

Bootsy, on your new album, you bring some jazz guys into the mix: Victor Wooten, Stanley Clarke. But there also are some bassists on there who are less famous: Manou Gallo and Alissia Benveniste.

Collins: They’re kind of the new generation of bassists. They’re coming up, and I saw them on the horizon. And they’re female, so it was like, “Wow.” ’Cause when we were coming up, you didn’t have a lot of females doing that kind of stuff.

McBride: Yeah. They’re killing it.

Collins: Killing it. So, we became friends. Alissia, she lives in New York. And she did the Berklee thing, so she’s very educated, and she got that thang. Whatever it is, she got it. So, we hooked up and started doing some tracks, and it was like, “Yeah, I need to put this on the record.” ... And then, Manou, she’s from West Africa. ... And she plays everything.

Christian, let’s talk about some of the young bass players you’ve worked with or mentored.

McBride: Sure. Joe Sanders, Ben Williams, Matt Brewer, Russell Hall. All these young bass players out there killin’ it. I have not had a chance to spend a lot of time with Linda Oh yet, but Linda Oh is killin’ it. Esperanza goes without saying. She’s her own universe at this point.

Thundercat is probably another one.

McBride: Yeah, the first time I met Thundercat—I knew his brother, [drummer] Ronald [Bruner Jr.] first, ’cause we worked together with George Duke. He said, “Man, you gotta meet my brother, Stephen.” He didn’t say, “You gotta meet my bass-playing brother, Stephen.”

So, you met him when he was really young.

McBride: Yeah, a teenager, probably. He was a really super-nice dude. And then the second time I saw him, he says, “Hey, Christian, what’s happening?” I was looking at him [trying to remember him]. He says, “Stephen. Some call me Thundercat now.” I was like, “Yo, what’s up man?” That’s a bad dude, man. Super bad. And there’s another cat out here: Hadrien Feraud. First time I heard him play, I almost got sick.

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