Chelsea McBride: Profile of a Rising Star

The music business isn’t easy, but twenty-four year old saxophonist Chelsea McBride is driven enough to make it look like it is. A Vancouver native, Chelsea moved to Toronto when she was 18 to study music at Humber College. It was there that she met the friends and musicians who she still works with to this day. A prolific composer, Chelsea writes and arranges for her two groups: Chelsea & The Cityscape (a 6-piece pop group) as well as Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School (an 18-piece big band). Both bands focus on original music. To date Chelsea has three recordings with Chelsea and the Cityscape and one with Socialist Night School.

DC: Where did you get your start musically?

CM: I’ve been playing the piano since I was two or three. I picked up the saxophone in grade six band because I thought it was cool and Lisa Simpson plays the saxophone. I started singing somewhere between those times, so I’ve just always been around music. My dad is in radio and there’s always been music going on around me.

DC: What does your writing and composition process look like?

CM: It depends. I’ve been writing for a really long time. I started writing pop songs when I was nine or ten. I tried my hand at a few instrumental arrangements when I was in high school. That all solidified right at the end of high school; when I started at Humber I started writing for big band. So I incorporated all of those opportunities, along with my playing experience, when I started composing for big band and my pop sextet. I have had a lot of people encouraged me, and not a lot of people who have told me not to do things. The people who have told me not to do things have always managed to influence me to do other things that are cool and/or crazy. I start very often with a section of the tune. I’m always humming melodies or writing words or putting words together. I love words and poetry and prose and the construction of phrases and all that. For me it comes together on a very minuscule level, trying to find a way to do things from just doing it. For me it very rarely starts with grooves. I’m not a drummer; I’m not rhythmically based. So it’s very rare when something starts with a groove or a very heavy rhythmic figure in mind. Melodies I’m really drawn to, chord progressions I’m really drawn to, substitutions for chords. I start with the germ of an idea, and it isn’t “how do I write more stuff? It’s “how do I write things to make this idea more complete?”

DC: So do you find yourself writing for the specific players in your groups?

CM: All the time. For example I have two really solid improvisers in my big band. If I give them a concept and a chord progression, and not a lot else, as long as I’ve conveyed things properly, they will run with it. The other really cool thing about it is that the two players that I’m thinking of are nearly twenty years apart in age. They have complimentary outlooks on improvisation more than anything, complimentary backgrounds.

DC: At this stage in your career you have quite a few recordings under your belt. What are you working on at the moment?

CM: My big band is actually in the process of recording. We put out an EP two years ago and we are in the process of making our first full length recording, which is going to feature a vocalist for the first time in about three years. That is the group that you’ll be hearing at the jazz festival (Club 120 on June 26th). We will be playing selections from the new record, some old favourites, as well as a couple of surprises that we’re throwing in just for the festival.

Be sure to catch Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School at Club 120 on June 26th. For music and more information please visit her website

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