You are here:Home>Jazz Artist Interviews>Brian Culbertson

Brian Culbertson

Brian Culbertson Brian Culbertson Ricky Richardson
Multi-instrumentalist Brian Culbertson is one of the premier performers in smooth jazz. His shows are primarily upbeat in nature and the audience senses the energy that Culbertson brings to his performance. He says, That's kind of what I like to do. The albums are one thing and you go out and see a live performance and it's a whole other energy going on. People seem to like it. However, if it wasn't for one special person in his life, Culbertson wouldn't be the kind of performer he is today. That special person is his father.

Jim Culbertson is a music teacher at a central Illinois high school. Culbertson says, Originally I learned all the basics of music and jazz theory. He really sat me down and expose me to all kinds of music when I was a kid and made me take piano lessons. We would be jamming together. We have this kind of den. We had this stereo system that he would always be playing music. He'd get his trumpet out and I'd have my trombone. We've just play all the time. That's what really, really got me excited about playing music and kind of owe that to him.

With Brian Culbertson owing much of his passion about music to his father, he is also a supporter of music programs in schools. He says, They proven that kids that do these extracurricular activities, like sports, music and art, are smarter. It keeps some kids really interested in even going to school. If I didn't have band, I wouldn't even want to go to school. That was the part of the day I looked forward to. I think a lot of kids do.

In the past few years due to school budget cutting, many school music programs either get cuts in their funding or get eliminated all together. Culbertson says, It's not right at all. The fact that they're cutting the band programs it's just a shame. It's horrible. I'm definitely an advocate of saving the music and as many schools as we can. My dad's program was even in danger two years ago. Thankfully, all the parents around the area really, really came together, supported it and kept it going.

In terms of saving music programs, Brian Culbertson says citizens in school district areas must understand that school music programs are important. He says, A lot of people don't even know they're getting cut. It's getting the awareness out there. I think if more people knew about it, it would help. A lot of the school districts will bring it up in an election so you'll have to vote on it and it will raise your taxes, maybe a dollar a year. However, so many people don't have children in school that they don't really care. They say 'Nah, I don't want to pay that extra few dollars. Nah, we don't' need music.' It's just, what? The quality of life for kids is just way diminished. Think of it, if all you had to do all day is study history, English and math, I would have taken myself out.

Culbertson has a new CD called "It's On Tonight" and he says the CD is one that puts you in the mood for a great evening. He says, It's the CD you put on after the kids go to sleep. From the top to bottom, it's one mood consistent. You're not going to break it. The album opens up with 'Let's Get Started' with vocalist Ledisi, a song that feels like you're getting ready to go out on the town. Then on 'Hooking Up,' the vibe mellows out a bit as you attempt to connect with that special someone. By the third song, 'It's On Tonight,' if you come home with me, baby, it's on tonight.'

Brian Culbertson says "It's On Tonight" is a departure from some of his other releases. He says, My last album "Come On Up" was primarily an up-tempo party record, but I've always done one or two slow jams on my albums and everyone seems to be taken by those songs. So I decided to do a whole album about just that, grooves designed to accompany every stage of romance. It's the reason most people buy instrumental music, to chill out, relax and do what they need to do.

Culbertson plays piano, trumpet, trombone, keyboards, bass, synth bass, drum programming, percussion and also background vocals on the new release. However, he also got a lot of help as well. He says, I had a lot of incredible musicians and singers like Will Downing and Patti Austin--incredible sax players like Kirk Whalum and Boney James and Chris Botti on trumpet and so many other side musicians like bassist Marcus Miller.

Another person who is on Brian Culbertson's new CD "It's On Tonight" is his wife Michelle. On previous releases, Michelle sang, but this is the first time she plays violin on the track Dreaming Of You Brian says, She was a violinist through high school and went on scholarship to DePaul University in Chicago. That's where we met. Believe it or not, she stopped playing violin and concentrated on voice just before I met her. I'd never, ever seen her play in the ten years I've known her. For some reason during the making of this record, she decided to get it out of the closet, dust it off and started messing around with it again. I heard this beautiful sound coming from the other room, ran in and it was like, 'you're playing violin! It sounds incredible. We've got to put it on the record!' So right then and there, I wrote a little melody line into the bridge and told her she was coming to the studio the next day to lay it down.

"It's On Tonight" is Brian Culbertson's first release on the GRP label. He says, It is fantastic. They really know what they're doing. It's definitely a huge step up from Warner Brothers, who decided to stop doing jazz altogether and let everyone go. I'm very happy to be on GRP, actually the only major label to still be doing jazz. Can you believe it?

To help support "It's On Tonight," Culbertson will be touring the country extensively this summer. He learned a lot about live performances when he toured on one of saxophonist Dave Koz' Hot Summer Nights tours. He says, Those are a lot of high energy and you get the crowd reaction, and you just kind of go with it. If they're into it, keep it going. Of course, you always got to throw a couple of ballads in there and take it down a little bit. In general, it's pretty high energy. We just have fun up there. That's the bottom line. That's why we all start doing music because you have a passion about it and you just love doing it. Lucky we get paid for doing it. It's crazy.

While touring, Brian Culbertson brings along one special person to perform in his band. That's his father Jim. He says, We have a great time. He loves it. He actually never been on tour before. Always just been a teacher and played around locally in central Illinois. This is his first time on tour and we're both just having an incredible time. He loves hanging out after the show. I'll be selling CDs and doing autographs and he'll work the line before the people get to me. He'll be walking around and just talking to everyone. He loves that.

Brian Culbertson has been inspired by his dad Jim to be the best in whatever he does. His new release "It's On Tonight" is one of his best as both a musician and a composer. He gained a lot of knowledge from his father and gave back to him by having him by his side on stage during his summer tour. It's a relationship that's strong and it shows on CD, on stage, and in life. It's what family values are all about.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Brian Culbertson
  • Interview Date: 7/1/2005
  • Subtitle: Like Father, Like Son
Login to post comments