Christopher McBride, a nationally recognized saxophone player, knows it’s been the small steps that led to a big moment for him being a Grammy Award winner as a contributor on the Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra album.
The work was selected in the Best Large Ensemble Jazz category. Steve Feifke and Bijon Watson, co-leaders of Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra, invited McBride to perform on the album.
“To be a contributor to a Grammy-winning project is still surreal,” the 2002 Homewood-Flossmoor High School graduate said. “My performance being recognized by the Recording Academy is an honor that not everyone receives in my profession.
“I am truly grateful to be recognized in such company as well as being a part of music history. Thanks to Steven Feifke and Bijon Watson for trusting me with their project. I will continue to carry a standard of excellence in my musicianship and character for the rest of my career.”
McBride said the album was produced during the COVID pandemic.
“The coolest thing about that project, it was completely remote. We did not meet in the studio at all. In fact, I didn’t meet some of my band mates who were on the project until the Grammys,” he said.
McBride credits his parents for recognizing his interest in music at a very early age. He was in Suzuki lessons at 4, sang in a choir at 7, and started on the saxophone at 10. He was in the Parker Junior High band and then joined the Homewood-Flossmoor High School Jazz Band as a freshman.
He said everything changed for him when he was on the H-F Band Tour of Ireland and London. He remembers meeting musicians playing with singer Madonna.
“I said, ‘You’re getting paid to play music?’ After than I was running with it,” he recalled.
After graduating from H-F, McBride went to Northern Illinois University and graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in music education. He was already starting to play professionally, but he used his degree teaching music for three years.
“I couldn’t do both at a high level, so I started being a full time musician in 2012, moved to New York in 2013,” he said. He started touring playing jazz, hip hop, R&B while also enrolled at Queens College where he earned a master’s degree in jazz studies in 2017.
Today he is based in Harlem. His career focuses on performance, education, arranging and composition.
As a composer, McBride was selected the 2022 Make Jazz Fellowship artist at The 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, California. The prize allowed him to spend time off the road to focus on composing for three months.
“I really felt like I made the most of the time as far as getting work done that I wanted to get done, and at the same time I was able to enjoy Santa Monica and spend time with friends,” he said. McBride expects to be releasing his new pieces on an album in 2024.
On Feb. 17, he released his second album “Ramon,” with musicians Jonathan Edward Thomas and Luke Carlos O’Reiley on piano; JS Williams on trumpet; Noah Jackson on bass; Cedric Easton in drums; Morgan Burrs and Bobby Broom on guitar; J Hoard on vocals; Kenny Bentley on tuba; and Corey A. Wallace on trombone. The album is available on Bandcamp, iTunes and all streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple, Tidal).
McBride travels to schools across the country as part of JazzReach, a not-for-profit founded in 1997 that has become a leading arts organizations dedicated to jazz.
As varied as his career is, McBride said, “All of these steps have been little steps that have led to a big moment — little steps in persistence and most importantly just taking the work that I do and taking pride in my relationships with people. You do the work a little bit at a time and every time you do it it gets a little bit better. The journey is really worth it in the end.”