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It was a good night for bass players. Not only did Christian McBride collect a Grammy Award — his eighth — during the April 3 ceremony, but so did Esperanza Spalding (for Best Jazz Vocal Album) and Ron Carter (with Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Jack DeJohnette for Best Jazz Instrumental Album). McBride’s big band release For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver (Mack Avenue) got the nod for Best Large Ensemble Album. That this occurred in the same month as Charles Mingus’ centennial birthday (April 22) was pure serendipity. Mingus casts a giant shadow, one that McBride became aware of at an early age. His great uncle, Howard Cooper, a bassist himself who played with the likes of Sun Ra and Byard Lancaster, had given him a copy of Jazz at Massey Hall, the historic concert recording in which Mingus, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach captured bebop lightning in a bottle. “That was pretty much the album that sealed the deal for me,” says the booming-voiced bassist by phone in April, happy to be discussing the legacy of one of his heroes. “I fell in love with jazz officially after I heard that album.”Further listening led the Philadelphia native, who was born in 1972, to Mingus classics such as 1959’s Mingus Ah Um and 1961’s Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, and later to ambitious masterpieces such as 1957’s The Clown and 1972’s Let My Children Hear Music. “But I think for me, the album that really made me fall in love with Mingus’ music was [1959’s] Blues and Roots,” he says. “For whatever reasons, that’s always been my favorite Mingus record. That album just felt a little more down-home to me.”It’s easy to hear the appeal of that recording to a young McBride. At the helm of a roaring 10-piece ensemble, Mingus infused the raucous energy of a tent revival with a sweaty juke-joint sensibility — or perhaps the other way around — on tracks such as “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting,” complete with vocal exhortations and hand claps and sermonizing from the saxophones of John Handy and Booker Ervin. Pepper Adams’ foghorn baritone sax opens Mingus’ “Moanin’” — not to be confused with the Bobby Timmons tune — which is powered by Mingus’ relentless walking bass, an inexorable engine in league with Horace Parlan’s piano and Dannie Richmond’s drums. There’s also the New Orleans throwback “My Jelly Roll Soul,” reverential and mirthful, with Mingus rendering a washtub bass sound on slapped and pulled strings. “There are some Mingus records, ooh, it sounds raggedy!” McBride says of the sound Mingus elicited from his strings. “But it lends to the music. Sometimes you can tell that he’s kinda using those sloppy gut strings. The gut strings are actually dried intestines, so the winding doesn’t last forever; it doesn’t last nearly as long as steel strings. So to really get a good sound out of ’em you really gotta pull ’em. And that was standard until steel strings became more standard, I would think not until the ’60s. But you can tell Mingus was just yankin’ the hell outta them strings.”McBride’s musical personality differs significantly from Mingus’ — as does his temperament, which leans more toward affability than the volcanic rage which Mingus sometimes visited physically upon his sidemen. But he does share some characteristics with his predecessor beyond their common initials. Writing for large ensembles has been a passion of McBride’s, as well as Mingus’, one he began in earnest a dozen years ago with the release of his first big band album, The Good Feeling. Also like Mingus, he frequently hews to his roots, offering a jubilant, bluesy read of the spiritual “Down by the Riverside,” for instance on For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver, with Joey DFrancesco’s whirling organ, Mark Whitfield’s fleet guitar lines and the superb horn sections reflecting the urbanity of original arranger and album salutee Oliver Nelson. McBride also includes Whitfield’s slinky “Medgar Evers Blues,” a celebration of the slain civil rights leader that echoes Mingus’ impulse to address the struggle, most famously on the biting “Fables of Faubus”; McBride tackled the topic head-on with his 2020 release The Movement Revisited, which like several Mingus works incorporated spoken-word performance.For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver’s concluding “Pie Blues” revels in rootsy raunch with squalling muted trumpet and gutty bari sax, Hammond organ and blues guitar putting a Philly spin on the Mingus model. And while this is very much an ensemble album, listeners never lose sight of its leader, whose charismatic bass playing drives the action, again, right out of the Mingus playbook. Another similarity: As Mingus did with his ill-fated Debut Records, McBride recently started his own Brother Mister imprint.McBride gained some insight into Mingus (who died in 1979) when he was invited to join a 31-piece ensemble that traveled to Russia in 1991, under the direction of Guther Schuller, to perform Mingus’ long-form “Epitaph.” The piece was deemed a disaster after Mingus’ scattershot attempt at presenting it at New York’s Town Hall in 1962, a copyist in the wings literally writing out parts for the band in real time. Mingus shut the massive manuscript in a closet where it wasn’t discovered until the 1980s. McBride fondly recalls the Russian tour, in which he performed with Mingus Big Band members Jimmy Knepper, Jack Walrath, John Stubblefield and Kirk Lightsey. With Mingus’ widow Sue Mingus’ blessing, he’d revive the piece again in 2008 at the L.A. Philharmonic, and take it to Chicago and New York.Unlike the aborted “Epitaph,” Mingus was able to fully realize his ambitions on his late-career Let My Children Hear Music — a recording McBride calls “one of the greatest extended works written by anyone in the 20th century” — as he interweaves orchestral sophistication with spoken-word performance and themes of alienation, but never loses touch with his roots. “I think that’s why that piece is so great,” McBride says. “Everything that he’s attempting is making his mark in a very personal way. It doesn’t sound like Debussy, it doesn’t sound like Bartok, it sounds like Mingus. I think it’s very skilled writing, and no matter what Mingus does in his music, the blues is always present and I think that’s what I love about his music the most. It threatens to go off the cliff, but it never does, because the blues always keeps it on the road.”Approaching his 50th birthday in late May holds no trepidation for McBride, who only registers a complaint about the sprinkling of grey in his goatee. That and the fact that there will always be jazz fans who consider him the young cat on the bandstand. “You know, like 32 years later I’m still up and coming,” he says with a deep laugh. “People will always remember you as they first met or heard you. “It’s like, ‘Oh, there’s the young lion.’ Oh, boy, quit it with that.” - Bob Weinberg Featured photo by David Salafia.