Music and Career Advice from a Famous Non-Saxophonist

Christian McBride

This is a guest post from saxophonist, clarinetist, flutist, pianist, educator, and blogger, Mark Catoe.

Back in April, the self-described “nonpartisan enterprise,” MinnPost, published an interview with Christian McBride. In it, he talks about the groups he currently plays with, having fun playing music, and knowing James Brown. I find the entire read fascinating (head on over and check it out), but he really gives some practical advice as well.

When he first moved to New York City, he had a wish list. A list of twenty musicians he wanted to play with. At present, McBride can play with whoever he wants to. But how did he get started? His actions turned into his advice:

“Make a list of all the people you want to play with. Then learn their music.”

Once you make your list, you have your assignment. If you want to play with a band leader—maybe local to wherever you are—who plays standards, find out which standards and get to work! A local wedding band? Get their repertoire from their website. Or maybe you want to fill the sax chair for Jane Monheit someday; get her albums and start learning the tunes.

The good news about this approach: the goal is quite clear, yet ever expanding. McBride brings up another point. It didn’t stop for his list of twenty.

“I knew their repertoire. I had to — in case I got that call, I would be ready. Learning the music of those 20 people, I ended up learning the music of the people who played with those people.”

‘Knowing’ can mean memorizing, being able to improvise on, or both, depending on the situation and style. Sometimes you’ll be able to find music (especially for standards), or you may need to learn by ear. So, who’s on your list? (Besides Christian McBride…)

Photo by dheprimdity’s