In the 1960s, when the Civil Rights Movement achieved its greatest moments, gifted bassist and composer Christian McBride was not yet born. As a child in the 1970s, he learned the history of the movement in school, but due to a quirk of fate – his grandmother’s fortunate propensity for saving old things – he found another source of information that spoke to him on a more emotionally accessible level than history books.
“When I was a kid, I used to spend hours looking at old copies of Ebony and Jet magazines that my grandmother saved,” he says. “To read contemporaneous writings by black writers about events and people who were my history – our history – that was absolutely fascinating to me. It was the greatest gift my grandmother could have given to me.”
That gift played a major role in the creation of The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons, McBride’s stunning masterpiece about “the struggle,” which is now a 20 year-long, continuously evolving project. The work combines elements of jazz, gospel, big band, swing, symphony, theater and dramatic spoken word, in a clear-eyed yet optimistic look at where our society has come from and where it is hopefully headed.
Born in Philadelphia, McBride was a gifted musical prodigy who soaked up influences from every direction. At the tender age of 17, he was recruited by saxophonist Bobby Watson to join his group, Horizon. During the 1990s, he proceeded to work with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Pat Metheny, Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard and Chick Corea as well as major pop and rock stars like Sting, Paul McCartney, James Brown and Celine Dion. His abilities were also coveted by the classical music world, including opera legends Kathleen Battle and Renee Fleming.
In 1998, a musical commission from the Portland (Maine) Arts Society set in motion what would eventually become a major part of his life’s work. The only stipulation for the commission was that it had to include a choir. “At that time, I called it a musical portrait of the Civil Rights Movement,” Christian says. “I thought about those times and decided that rather than try to write a history of the movement, I wanted to evoke its spirit and feeling.”
Christian Sands grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, and later moved to the nearby Orange. He started playing the piano at a very young age, and took lessons from the age of four; he commented that "I grew up with it in the house, in the classroom and on stage so it has always been a huge part of my life".
Sands was mentored by pianist Billy Taylor, who allowed the teenager to close one of the sets that Taylor played at the Kennedy Center. Sands went on to study at the Manhattan School of Music. The school's Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, led by Bobby Sanabria, recorded the album Kenya Revisited Live in 2009; it was nominated for a Latin Grammy.
After graduating, Sands joined Inside Straight, one of bassist Christian McBride's bands; they have toured internationally.
Sands became a Steinway artist in 2012. In 2014, Sands cited as influences McBride, Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Garrett, and Marcus Roberts, because "They're coming from the tradition of bringing people into the music, but also moving it forward into new directions". In the same year, Sands became an American Pianists Association Jazz Fellowship Awards Finalist.