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A bassist duo brings out a new album called 'But Who's Gonna Play the Melody?'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's been a while since I've spoken with jazz bassist Christian McBride. You know, our last interview was about 23 years ago.

CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE: What?

SIMON: Well, that was my reaction. You had just released a jazz album with the Philadelphia Experiment, and we learned that the bass drum in one of the songs was actually your size-13 foot thumping a carpet.

MCBRIDE: (Laughter) That's right.

SIMON: So how's your foot?

MCBRIDE: My foot has not grown or shrunk. It's still a 13. I still have the boots that I used on "The Philadelphia Experiment." Those boots are sturdy.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE AND EDGAR MEYER'S "PHILLY STOP")

SIMON: Christian McBride hosts NPR's Jazz Night in America program. He's also an accomplished composer, a bandleader and artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival. His new recording finds him teaming up with another great bassist, Edgar Meyer...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE AND EDGAR MEYER'S "PHILLY STOP")

SIMON: ...Which led to an album title in the form of a question.

MCBRIDE: You know, the way we came up with that title was actually because of a Facebook comment that a mutual friend of ours left. When I first posted a picture of Edgar and I working on the album, the great saxophonist Joshua Redman left a comment which said, but who's going to play the melody? - and, like, with the little laugh emoji at the end of it. Edgar said, man, that's so clever. We should name the record that.

SIMON: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE AND EDGAR MEYER'S "PHILLY STOP")

SIMON: How did you come up with the idea for the album?

MCBRIDE: Edgar and I, we've had a mutual admiration society going on for many, many years. I was introduced to Edgar's genius through my mentor, the late, great bassist, Ray Brown. And that was in the very early '90s. That was in 1991. I just followed Edgar's career all through the '90s and, apparently, vice versa. And in 2007, we both realized that we both have a summer residency in Aspen, Colo. Aspen Music Festival and Jazz Aspen came together and said, hey, you're in town. Edgar's in town. Why don't we come up with a concert - one night only - you know, Edgar Meyer and Christian McBride. And we had such a wonderful time. Slowly but surely, we started building repertoire, and we went on tour. It was only logical that the next step was to make a recording.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE AND EDGAR MEYER'S "FRB 2DB")

SIMON: You mention, of course, Ray Brown, who was important to both you and Edgar Meyer. Tell us about the composition you have here that is a tribute to Ray Brown.

MCBRIDE: That's actually Edgar's composition. It's called "FRB 2DB." When we started playing it as a duet, it only made sense that we played this tribute for Ray Brown, which is based on the chord changes of the Sonny Rollins' song "Doxy."

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE AND EDGAR MEYER'S "FRB 2DB")

SIMON: Does it present a particular challenge to come up with a single collection of songs when each of you have such a distinct point of view?

MCBRIDE: I think it has less to do with point of view than it does with how can two double bassists come up with material interesting enough so that the average listener can get it, you know, because even in the classical world, there's really not a lot of bass repertoire, much less than that for two double bassists? And you don't even really hear that in jazz that often. So one thing that we came up with, which is also on the new release - maybe 90 minutes of only double bass might be a bit too much, so we also both play piano. So we decided that just to sort of break up the frequency a little bit, we would accompany the other for one song on the piano.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE AND EDGAR MEYER'S "LULLABY FOR A LADYBUG")

SIMON: "Lullaby For A Ladybug" - this is a haunting and beautiful piece.

MCBRIDE: Thank you.

SIMON: How does it strengthen you overall as a creative artist to think in terms of different instruments?

MCBRIDE: I have always felt that the best musicians, no matter what their primary instrument is, can also play the piano, just to be able to hear and see the full picture because you do have access of the entire orchestra when you play the piano. So I think my piano skills are probably - they're middle of the road, you know? On a scale from 1 to 10, I'm probably about a five, 5 1/2. But I can see almost any song and play it on the piano slowly, very slowly, but then, go back to the bass and have a deeper sense of what's going on.

SIMON: You mentioned your summer residency in Aspen. So you're the guy who gets on a small plane with a big bass, right?

MCBRIDE: Yeah (laughter).

SIMON: I mean, do they let you get on with families or service members or...

MCBRIDE: Yes.

SIMON: They do? OK, 'cause I've never heard them say all musicians (laughter).

MCBRIDE: Yeah, right, right, right. We fall under the people-who-need-extra-time umbrella.

SIMON: Yeah. Are there emotions in our human chemistry that only the bass can call out?

MCBRIDE: I believe so. I think when people hear an ensemble that has a bass player, there's a gravity to that music.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE AND EDGAR MEYER'S "GREEN SLIME")

MCBRIDE: There's a certain gravitational pull that the bass has that when it's not there, you see people look confused all of a sudden. Like, something has happened. Well, the bass stopped playing. So there's a certain comfort, emotional safe space the bass can give because you feel it. The bass is more felt than heard. You feel it in your belly.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE AND EDGAR MEYER'S "GREEN SLIME")

SIMON: Christian McBride, I hope it's not another 23 years before we get a chance to speak to you.

MCBRIDE: I'm telling you, let's fix that. Let's put it on the books now.

SIMON: We will indeed. Thanks so much.

MCBRIDE: (Laugher) My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE AND EDGAR MEYER'S "GREEN SLIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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