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Musicians Used To Adapting Find Their Rhythm Again As Live Jazz Returns



Among those who finally got back to work recently - the 18 musicians of the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra...


CORNISH: ...A sign of the times in Seattle, which has fully vaccinated over 70% of its residents 12 and over. You can even buy a ticket to attend in person, or you could buy a pass to watch an online livestream.

CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE: I had three commission works that I completed during the pandemic.

CORNISH: The orchestra played a new work composed by a friend of this program, international touring bassist and Jazz Night In America host Christian McBride. He wrote it when his shows were canceled and he was stuck at home.

MCBRIDE: It was really good for me to not be on the road for the first time in, you know, 32 years, you know, just to be able to wake up in my own bed, like, five days in a row. I can't remember the last time that's happened, you know?

CORNISH: As Christian was set to fly across the country to perform his new composition, we caught up with him, and we spoke about jazz clubs and festivals all over the world reopening but also about those that didn't make it.

MCBRIDE: A couple of places come to mind - The Blue Whale in Los Angeles, which was a real haven for creative music on the West Coast. And here in the New York area, it was the Jazz Standard.


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #1: (Singing) When Lester took him a wife...

MCBRIDE: I have some personal history with the Jazz Standard because that's where I met my wife. And so when the Jazz Standard closed, that really hurt.


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #1: (Singing) ...Drove them from their hotel bed. Love is never easy.

CORNISH: So obviously, live performance is a big part of jazz. But here we were in the Zoom videoconferencing age, which is tough enough for us just to talk and have, like, nerdy meetings. I can't imagine actually trying to perform - right? - with the delay in the lack of eye contact and all that sort of stuff. How did you and how did the industry cope?

MCBRIDE: It got a little dicey when musicians tried to play together over Zoom because, you know, the technology has not quite caught up with what the music needs, you know, because there's a little bit of latency in Zoom, you know? That's why it's so easy to kind of talk over someone - because there's always, like, a .5 second delay. And our friend Dan Tepfer, the wonderful pianist - he is one of the people behind JackTrip, this program which is still in beta testing. And we also played a live concert over JackTrip, and there's no latency.


MCBRIDE: It was one of the most incredible things I had ever experienced, you know? So with something like that, which will, I'm sure, at some point become standard, you know, you could improvise with musicians across the world. You could play a duet concert with someone in Japan. You know, you could play a concert with someone in Europe or South America or wherever it is. So that was one of the very, very bright spots of the pandemic.


CORNISH: As you said, musicians obviously are still productive even without us around - right? - even without audiences, so to speak. What are some of the sort of works that were released these last couple of months that were kind of remarkable and that are products of this weird time in our history?

MCBRIDE: You know, so many musicians did so many great things, but it's also been an interesting time for some real incredible multi-instrumentalists to sort of do their thing and flourish. Nicholas Payton...


MCBRIDE: He came to prominence as, you know, one of the world's greatest trumpet players. He's also a fine pianist, a fine bass player, drummer, vocalist. He's annoyingly talented. You know, he came out with a project called "Quarantined With Nick."


MCBRIDE: Another great multi-instrumentalist - my friend, Chris Potter.


MCBRIDE: He came out with a project called "There Is A Tide" where he plays all the instruments. So I don't know. I'm starting to feel like a slacker.


CORNISH: I know that you are artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival. That's coming in August.


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #2: (Singing) My man don't love me.

CORNISH: What does it mean to reopen? Can you give us some sense, for instance, with the Newport Jazz Festival, kind of how you guys are thinking about approaching this either creatively or logistically?

MCBRIDE: Well, I think on the creative side, we felt that all of us collectively, just the entire country - you know, everybody's so excited to get out again. Just put some great musicians together, and people are going to want to see it.


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #3: So thanks, y'all, for coming out once again. And I'll talk to y'all in a minute. We're going to play this.


MCBRIDE: But being safe and, I believe, being smart, we're still going to have limited capacity. We're only going to go 50% in both audience and musicians. But I think it's going to have a deep impact on both the musicians and the people who come.


CORNISH: I know that you're a part of the sort of Save Our Stages kind of support and lobbying effort. But when you think about what live venues might be like in the future, do you see us going back to all being crammed in a, you know, small space somewhere (laughter), getting that feel, like, that I think of when I think of a jazz club?

MCBRIDE: I think there will come a time where we all will be jammed up in the club again. There will be plenty of hand sanitizer handy - no pun intended. One thing I would love to see remain is the whole technology angle. With that being said, I would like to see venues start to set their places up for livestreaming. That way, we can see what's going on at the Blue Note in Tokyo at any given time. You know, you just pay a ticket and watch the show.


MCBRIDE: I always think about my very first time going to Japan, and I would see certain people walking around with face masks on, and I didn't understand what that was. And they pointed out that, oh, that's when people have a cold. They put a mask on just to be mannerly. And I thought, wow, how sweet is that? You know, so just pure manners, I hope, becomes a part of our culture once we open back up fully again.


CORNISH: That's Christian McBride, host of Jazz Night In America from NPR Music, WBGO and Jazz at Lincoln Center. Thanks so much.

MCBRIDE: Audie, it's so great to speak with you again.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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