Like fine wine, Brian Culbertson is proof that maturity, development and musical ability significantly progress over time. With 18 years of musical experience, 8 hit albums, numerous prestigious awards and appearances on the Billboards Contemporary Jazz Charts, this remarkable musician and instrumentalist continues to remain true to his passion, retain originality, whilst consistently bringing a new dimension to Jazz music. Likening his music to chocolate with caramel and toffee ice-cream, it is easy to see how the perfect culmination of instrumental skill, unique artistic vision and soothing melodies would melt the hardest of hearts. Following a late night rehearsal for his tour with David Sanborn, Flavour gave Brian an early wake-up call in New York to talk strange habits, illuminating influences and his new hit album ‘Dreams’.
I grew up in central Illinois, in a town called Decatur, with an extremely musical family. My Dad was a Jazz band director and trumpeter. I would play along with my favourite music and in different bands, but I formally started lessons at 8. It was not until I started writing at 12, that I really got into and decided that is what I wanted to do.
You learnt to play the piano at 8, drums at 9, trombone at 10 and bass at 12, have you got any other musical talents?
My main two are piano and trombone but occasionally, I play bass. I love playing on the drum set in a jam session with the band. I also play trumpet, euphonium and a little guitar, but I’m not very good. I have always wanted to push myself, do interesting things and maintain a sound sense of musical integrity.
You are renowned as a musician and instrumentalist, how would you describe the genre of your music?
I’ve done a lot of different types of records, but I’d say my music is a culmination of Jazz with RnB, Soul, Pop and Funk. A lot of people like to pigeonhole me as a Jazz artist and Jazz purists may say ‘that’s not jazz,’ but there are many more strings to my bow! I’ve done an all Funk record, where I got to work with Maurice White from Earth, Wind and Fire, Larry Graham and other amazing funk artists. My previous album ‘XX11,’ had a lot of RnB and I got to collaborate with Brian McKnight and Faith Evans. On my new album ‘Dreams’, I continued that by collaborating with three vocalists. ‘Dreams’ is a mixture of Pop and RnB laced with jazz.
You have just released your 13th album – ‘Dreams’, what was your inspiration?
Last summer I started having really vivid, emotional dreams and would wake up with certain images, feelings and emotions. I felt compelled to go into the studio and write music, based on the foggy leftover images and feelings. The mood and vibe of this album is very hypnotic, emotional and romantic and almost puts you in a cool trance-like state. When I make music, I try to create something that takes people away from their regular life, like a mini escape.
We at Flavour want to do a mini quiz to test your profound artistic vision:
Are you superstitious? I’ve never told anyone this, but when I get out of the shower, I have to dry my face with the side that does not have the tag on it otherwise my day may be ruined. (Laughs)
Inspired by ‘light bulb’ moments or poignant memories? I get my inspiration by improvising with different keyboard sounds. I sit in my studio scrolling through music and sounds, until something hits me and then a song will be produced from that.
Can you tell us about your recent track release, ‘Still here’, which you co-wrote with vocalist Vivian Green?
I came up with the instrumental for this song and thought that it needed a soaring, powerful and emotional vocal. Instantly Vivian’s sound came to mind. We called her up out of the blue, (as I’d never met her) and she was available. The song is about a girl seeing a guy, despite her strong instincts and friends warnings that he may be too good to be true. She believes they’ve met in a dream and that he is different. This song is about having that inner foresight to see beyond all that and she blissfully sings because he is still in her life. The piano line has a repetitive line that goes on throughout the song and ties in with the thought that he is still there.
My first was the making of the funk album with Maurice White, where we have several days in the studio with live band. That was 100 per cent live musicians put together in a room, interacting with each other and it was electric! The second was the launch of my own Jazz event called the ‘Napa Valley Jazz Getaway’. This was a Four day event based around two evenings of concerts, but there were other different events, such as a winery, artists Q & A, jam sessions and amazing dinners. There were 8 artists, Sinbad the comedian and so many more. It was amazing and I hope to get a UK contingency next year.
You have collaborated with legendary artists, from Kenny Lattimore to Faith Evans, who would you like to work with next?
I have a long list! To work with Sting would be awesome and I would love to do something along the lines of duelling pianos with Elton John. My number one influence has always been David Sanborn and we are now doing a Dream tour, which is poignant as it represents my personal dream to collaborate with him, my dream album and also David’s 25th anniversary for his song ‘the dream’, so he will be releasing a retrospective album on his song.