Cecil McBee - Biography
From the time he first arrived in New York City in 1964, Cecil McBee has remained one of the most in-demand bassists in jazz, appearing on hundreds of influential recordings as well as in clubs and concert halls throughout the world. During this same span of five decades, McBee has also become a celebrated composer and teacher, leading his own ensembles and earning a distinguished professorship at the New England Conservatory in Boston, where he has taught for over 25 years. This unparalleled experience is now captured in two remarkable publications: a revolutionary course of instruction to the art of the doublebass and a collection of McBee’s own remarkable compositions, many of which have already joined the canon of jazz standards.
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1935, McBee switched from clarinet to the upright bass at the age of 17 and quickly became a sought after voice on his instrument. Following his music studies at Ohio Central State University, the bassist spent two years in the army, conducting the band at Fort Knox. In 1959 he performed with Dinah Washington and moved to Detroit, where his engagement with Paul Winter’s ensemble in 1963–64 brought him eventually to his adopted home, New York City. Within two years McBee had recorded landmark sessions with such major figures as Wayne Shorter, Jackie McLean, Andrew Hill, and Sam Rivers, and held the bass chair in Charles Lloyd’s extraordinary quartet with Jack DeJohnette and Keith Jarrett.
Since that time he has recorded and toured with many of the greatest contemporary jazz artists, including Miles Davis, Yusef Lateef, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Alice Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Mal Waldron, Kenny Barron, Joanne Brackeen, Abdullah Ibrahim, Art Pepper, Anthony Braxton, Elvin Jones, Clifford Jordan, Chet Baker, and Johnny Griffin. McBee has also recorded seven albums as a leader of his own ensembles. In 1988 he received a Grammy Award for his performance on the tribute recording, Blues for Coltrane, a sextet that also featured Pharoah Sanders, David Murray, McCoy Tyner, and Roy Haynes.
Many of the touring groups and recordings on which McBee has appeared have also featured his exceptional compositions; Charles Lloyd’s breakthrough album, Forest Flower, released in 1966, includes McBee’s now standard ballad, “Song of Her.” Among his other most-recorded tunes are “Wilpan’s,” “Peacemaker,” “Slippin’n Slidin’,” “Blues on the Bottom,” “Consequence,” and another often-recorded ballad, “Close to You Alone.” With the drummer Billy Hart, McBee is the core of the rhythm section in two different longstanding groups of iconic artists, Saxophone Summit and The Cookers, each of which perform and record many of McBee’s more recent and classic compositions.
For nearly four decades, Cecil McBee has been teaching privately and at distinguished colleges and universities, including artist in residence at Harvard from 2010 to 2011. Throughout this time, he has been refining his teaching techniques and developing an instruction book for the doublebass that is revolutionary in its approach and widely applicable to improvisation for every instrumentalist.