One of post-bop's most advanced and versatile bassists, Cecil McBee has played with an enormous variety of artists, and is just as capable in a solo or group improvisational context as he is at offering thoughtfully advanced background support.
McBee was born May 19, 1935, in Tulsa, and played clarinet as a high schooler before switching to bass at age 17. He studied to be a music teacher and spent two years conducting a military band; he played with Dinah Washington in 1959, and, in 1962, he moved to Detroit to make inroads into the city's burgeoning jazz scene. He joined Paul Winter's folk-jazz ensemble in 1963, and moved to New York with them the following year.
McBee found numerous opportunities there, recording and playing with artists like Andrew Hill, Sam Rivers, Jackie McLean, Wayne Shorter, and Keith Jarrett. He worked with Charles Lloyd during the saxophonist's breakthrough year of 1966, and later in the decade recorded with Pharoah Sanders, Yusef Lateef, Alice Coltrane, and Charles Tolliver.
The '70s found McBee maintaining many of those connections, while also playing with Abdullah Ibrahim, Lonnie Liston Smith, Joanne Brackeen, Art Pepper, and Chico Freeman, plus leading his first session for Strata East in 1974 (titled Mutima). Two live dates from 1977 featuring Freeman, Music From the Source and Alternate Spaces, followed on small labels. McBee branched out into string-driven chamber jazz on his next effort, 1982's Flying Out. After 1983's Compassion, though, McBee remained largely silent as a leader for quite some time, returning to his familiar sideman role.
In 1996, he formed his own quintet and began touring Europe; their music was documented on 1997's Unspoken.
~ Steve Huey, All Music Guide