For Montclair’s Grammy-winning McBride, losing Chick Corea was a shock
ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
By ERIN ROLL
It was lucky number seven for Christian McBride.
The Montclair-based musician, teacher, and artistic director of Jazz House Kids brought home his seventh Grammy award on March 14, for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. It was an honor that McBride shared with fellow musicians Brian Blade and with the late jazz legend Chick Corea, a longtime friend and mentor to McBride. The three of them had won for their work on the album “Trilogy 2.” This award marks McBride’s seventh Grammy in his career as a musician.
McBride and Blade had also been nominated in the same category for their work on “RoundAgain” with Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau.
But the ceremony was a bittersweet one, taking place just over a month after Corea’s death on Feb. 6 at the age of 79.
“He was always a regular, everyday kind of guy,” McBride recalled of Corea.
On the first tour McBride did with Corea in 1996, Corea was also composing a symphony for the New Tokyo Philharmonic. And in between shows, Corea would sit down at the piano and write. Not with composing software, which was still fairly new in the 1990s, but the old-fashioned way: with pencil and score paper. He had that symphony done in two months, in time for its premiere: a feat and work ethic that McBride described as “superhuman.”
Corea visited Jazz House Kids in Montclair as a visiting instructor over the years, giving master classes to the students.
“The students were just in awe of him,” McBride remembered.
It wasn’t unusual for Corea, like many other jazz greats, to be willing to talk shop with aspiring musicians after a show.
In March 2020, McBride had been midway through a European tour with Corea. And then the pandemic shut everything down. The musicians all went home, and spent the next several months planning how to get the tour restarted once it was safe to do so.
No one had any inkling that “Trilogy 2” might have been one of Corea’s last projects. Corea’s death from cancer came as a shock to McBride and others who knew Corea.
“If anything, we were planning the next tour,” McBride said.
Corea’s widow, Gayle, appeared on video at the Grammy Awards ceremony to pay tribute to her husband and to thank McBride and Bland for all of their work with Corea over the years.
“Christian and Brian, this is your Grammy too,” she said.
In Montclair, McBride is the artistic director of Jazz House Kids. His wife, singer Melissa Walker, is Jazz House’s founder and president. Jazz House Kids came into being in 2002, and opened its first Montclair studio in 2009, before moving to its current home on Bloomfield Avenue in 2013.
Walker shared a statement on behalf of Jazz House:
“We congratulate Christian on his very special Grammy win, along with Brian Blade, for their album recorded with one of America's greatest cultural treasures and friend of the Jazz House: the late Chick Corea. As an organization dedicated to training young musicians, Chick and Christian's musical journey highlights the importance of mentorship, one of our founding principles at Jazz House Kids.”
For most jazz musicians, McBride said, a Grammy typically means that the musician picks up a little extra work over the next year.
“We only think about the Grammys in the sense of, you get a little more work for the next 365 days.”
And then it’s “back to our regularly scheduled programming,” he joked.
Jazz House went virtual, as did other arts groups and music classes, with the pandemic. The Montclair Jazz Festival, which usually takes place in August, also had to go virtual last year. McBride said the students have taken to virtual instruction remarkably well, and Jazz House did not lose any students. But he said people are ready to return to making music in-person: “Everyone’s getting a little antsy.”
Following the ceremony, McBride posted a tribute to Corea, posting a statement on Facebook and Instagram
“I could say something like ‘we’ won this Grammy, and considering this album was officially released as a cooperative and not a ‘Chick Corea Trio’ album, using ‘we’ would technically be correct. But the real truth is what Brian Blade and I ‘won’ was the opportunity to play with Chick Corea in this trio for over 10 years, McBride wrote. “Chick tried so hard to convince me and Brian that this was NOT the ‘Chick Corea Trio,’ but a cooperative group of equals. Brian and I will forever love him for that, but we knew better. He was too much of a giant to us. A friend, but still a giant.
“With hundreds of thousands of miles logged on the road together, our lives were enriched and enhanced being in Chick’s universe — and that doesn’t just go for Brian and myself, that goes for any of us who were fortunate enough to know, play and/or record with Chick. With that, while I’m very proud of our Grammy, the real award was getting to call Chick Corea a friend and cohort.”