Christian Sands Relies On Adaptability


Christian Sands is among the 25 artists DownBeat thinks will help shape jazz in the decades to come.

(Photo: Anna Webber)

​When pianist Christian Sands titled his latest Mack Avenue album Be Water, he had no idea how appropriate its metaphor for adaptability would be. “There are different challenges with everything, and you just have to remind yourself to be ready, and to prepare yourself as much as possible,” he said. “I did not know that 2020 was going to put that to the test, but here we are.”

Like most jazz musicians, Sands has seen his bookings reduced to a trickle, but he has done some livestreamed performances.

“I went on the road with Christian McBride in my senior year of college,” Sands, 31, said via phone from Stamford, Connecticut. “So, this is the longest I’ve actually been home since then.” It hasn’t quite been time off, though, because Sands has been working. He’s been practicing, performing online and putting serious thought into the evolution of his artistry.

“Before, I was always on the road and always performing, which is great,” he said. “But you don’t really get a moment to improve the performance. I mean, you might say, ‘OK, tomorrow, let’s try doing this with the tune.’

“But how do we present the tunes? How do we really entertain people? Now that I’m home, I can take this time to work on different things.”

Like most artists nowadays, Sands can’t help but be influenced by the nightly news.

“As far as 2020, and having to be like water whether we like it or not, it’s put us through a lot of different things,” he said. “There are things that are making us more aware—I mean, George Floyd. Now is the time to be proactive. I’ve been more on the sidelines of things, and part of that was the notion of, ‘Can I do this? How do I do this? How do I go about this the right way?’”

Sands explained that he has benefited from time spent online. “All the Zoom meetings I’ve had to do have actually made me more comfortable speaking onstage,” he said. “I’m a very private person, but now that I’ve been doing shows in my living room, and having to be intimate with the fans, there’s this connection. Now, I have a chance to really create performances.

“My goal is to create experiences when you come to see me,” he added. “I mean, you already get one, but now it’s going to be more of an experience. Like Christian McBride says, ‘We want you to leave feeling full.’” DB

This story originally was published in the November 2020 issue of DownBeat. Subscribe here.

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