Nobody Is Cooler Than the Bass Player

The Ray Brown Tribute Band; Christian McBride, Benny Green, and Greg Hutchinson

A Tribute to Ray Brown, with Christian McBride, Benny Green, and Greg Hutchinson. At the Lobero Theatre, Thursday, January 18.

Pianists are cool; so are drummers, but nobody is cooler than the bass player. That’s the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the concert that Christian McBride gave with Benny Green on piano and Greg Hutchinson on drums Thursday night at the Lobero. I have rarely seen a group take the stage with more confidence — and the Juilliard Quartet played here last month — but this trio walked on and took over. Coolness reigned supreme.

By Courtesy Photo

Christian McBride, Benny Green, and Greg Hutchinson

McBride, trained in both jazz and classical styles, has an easy way with the bass — he plays as if he were just thinking out loud. Most bass players are fortunate if they can stay on time and in tune, but McBride has about a hundred different ways to pluck the string, from a clear “pop” to a soft “throom,” and all of them are exactly right for the occasion. In this case, the occasion was to pay tribute to Ray Brown, one of the greatest bass players, songwriters, and band leaders of all time. McBride showed us how much he had learned from the master with stellar performances of some of Brown’s most famous songs and arrangements. “Buhaina Buhaina,” for instance, came across as clever and as funny as always, and the “Tenderly / Love Me Tender” medley broke our hearts when McBride took out his bow and made the bass sound like a jazz version of Elvis.

McBride told stories about Ray Brown, too, including his advice not to marry a singer — which McBride wisely ignored — and his friendships with other jazz luminaries. He introduced one song by saying, “The politically correct explanation of this song (‘F.S.R.’) is ‘For Sonny Rollins.’” It took a second, but everyone got it, including Mrs. Brown, who was in attendance, and graciously took a bow. When the set ended, McBride told the audience he would stay around to answer questions, but I didn’t have any, except “When can you come back?”

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