Born: January 12, 1973 Primary Instrument: Keyboard
It's On Tonight
There is a well-known and anticipated moment during every Brian Culbertson concert when the keyboardist discreetly asks the members of his band to turn their backs to the crowd. The leader then bows his head at the electric piano and plays a seductive theme. He offers the audience this intimate moment to kindle romance, hoping to send them home in a state of blissful anticipation with the thought, “Baby, it's on tonight.”
Culbertson has turned that fleeting concert highlight into a 12-song seduction suite that marks his eighth album and GRP Records debut, It's On Tonight .
Culbertson has turned that fleeting concert highlight into a 12-song seduction suite that marks his eighth album and GRP Records debut, It's On Tonight . Dripping in sensuality, the album consists of all-original material, including three vocal pieces: the flirtatious title track (f/ Will Downing ), the spirited “Love Will Never Let You Down” (f/ Patti Austin ) and the bold “Wear it Out” (f/ Marc Nelson , lyricist of three numbers on the CD and a member of Babyface's protégé vocal group, Az Yet ). Culbertson also hand-picked three of smooth jazz's most sensitive horn players to lend their singular auras to the vibe at hand: saxophonists Boney James and Kirk Whalum , and trumpeter Chris Botti . As always, Culbertson produced the album, collaborating on seven of the songs with his frequent creative partner Stephen Lu .
“I like conceptual albums,” Culbertson begins. “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. They'll tell me, ‘My wife and I (fill in the blank) to that song.' 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, really - to chill out, relax and do what they need to do.”
That the man who - at 20 - wrote and recorded his very first album in the bedroom of his Chicago apartment would get around to crafting an album like this is as natural as lovers in a lip-lock. “Let me break it down for you,” the keyboardist suavely begins. “The album opens with ‘Let's Get Started' (f/ vocalist Ledisi), a song that feels like you're getting ready to go out on the town. Then on ‘Hooking Up' (the CD's first single), the vibe mellows out a bit as you attempt to connect with that special someone. And by the third song, ‘It's On Tonight. ‘If you come home with me, baby it's on tonight.'” The rest of Culbertson's latest with subtle variations in tempo remains in this mode with the mood-setting “Sensuality,” “The Way You Feel,” “Touch Me,” “Euphoria” (bonus track) and the solo piano afterglow of “Reflections.”
What Culbertson has crafted is the ultimate make-out CD for 2005 and beyond. “The idea is to not interrupt anything that's going on,” he says confidently. “Put it this way: hitting the skip button will not be required. And here's a little disclaimer: anyone popping this CD in with the express intent of doing somethin' can just start the disc at track 3.” In another bold move, Brian recorded only original songs, opting not to include any covers of bedroom classics. “My thinking is that if people are buying this record for the purpose in which I intended, I didn't want to do any remakes. Cover songs will evoke memories. I didn't want to put any memories in listeners' heads other than the new ones that they are creating...right then...when they're in the moment.”
Brian had a couple of wonderful new advantages to utilize in the creation of It's On Tonight . The first was his personal, fully loaded BCM Recording Studio, which took from the summer of 2004 until January of 2005 to complete. In addition, the 150 year old Boston-based Mason & Hamlin piano company selected Brian to endorse a new seven-foot grand, which they delivered to his studio door and he plays throughout the CD.
Among the most special of the songs on It's On Tonight is “Dreaming of You,” a semi-acoustic piece with a lovely lilt that features his wife, Michelle Culbertson , on violin. “In the past she's sung on my albums,” Brian shares, “but this is the first time she's played violin. She was a violinist through high school and went on scholarship to DePaul University . 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 - 'cuz it was pretty dusty by this point - and start messing around with it again. I heard this beautiful sound coming from the other room, ran in and 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.”
Seeing as Brian is such a happily married man, it might appear out of sorts for him to have two songs on this album with ‘sneakin' sentiments in the title - Secret Affair and Forbidden Love. He insists there is a very good explanation. “Although I wouldn't know about such things,” he assures, “I love cinematic music. The arrangements for those songs reflected that kind of subject matter. I'm not endorsing such things - but, hey, it happens. You never know who's gonna be listening to your record. For all I know, a couple might really get into one of those slow jams to the point where it becomes, ‘Oh, baby, that's our song.'”
Over seven albums, Brian Culbertson has been creating “our songs” for the masses to great effect. He is the winner of the 2001 Smooth Jazz Award for Best Keyboardist, the 2005 American Society of Young Musicians' “All That Jazz Award,” and of nine Downbeat student awards for performance (piano/trombone) and composition. Ever since, Culbertson has been steadily amassing a faithful audience with his recordings, then sealing the deal with his high energy concerts. Once his previous contract was up and the dust settled from an eight-label bidding war, Culbertson chose to move to GRP Records, a company with time-tested contemporary jazz history dating back to the late `70s. And why not? He'd already contributed a breathtaking rendition of Brenda Russell 's “If Only For One Night” (in collaboration with Dave Koz ) to GRP's acclaimed Luther Vandross tribute disc, Forever, For Always, For Luther (the album's sole outside production). But the real reason Brian is at GRP/Verve now is personal.
“I'm here because Bud Harner (Vice President of A&R, GRP/Verve) is here,” Brian states. “He and my father played in college jazz band together at Millikin University in Decatur , Illinois . He's like ‘Uncle Bud' to me. He actually got me my very first record deal. And ever since he left Mesa/Bluemoon to go to GRP, he's been trying to get me over there.” Harner concurs, “Brian Culbertson is home! I've literally known Brian since he was born. I've watched him grow and listened to his experimentations with various styles of music over the years. Ultimately, this led to me signing him to his first deal at Mesa/Bluemoon, which segued to his association with Atlantic followed by Warner Bros. Needless to say, I'm thrilled to have Brian back where he should be with me at GRP/Verve.”
Brian Culbertson began his quest in music at the age of 8 on piano, adding drums at 9, trombone at 10 then bass at 12. He grew up loving genre-crossing jazz-pop artists such as Chicago , Blood Sweat & Tears , Tower of Power , the Brecker Brothers , David Sanborn , Yellowjackets and Chick Corea . So passionate and naturally gifted was Brian that his 7th grade piano recital consisted of all original music. He flourished in high school bands with his father, Jim Culbertson, as the school's award-winning jazz band director, then went on to compose commercial jingles for clients such as United Airlines, Oldsmobile, Sears and McDonald's in Chicago 's competitive advertising community.
In 1994 - at the ripe young age of 20 - Brian self-produced his debut album, Long Night Out , followed in short order by Modern Life (1995 - his first album to top R&R and Gavin 's Contemporary Jazz charts driven by the hit single “Come To Me”) and After Hours (1996). With 1997's Secrets , the hits kept on comin' with “So Good,” “On My Mind” (the song on which he asks the band to turn their backs) and his exceedingly tender, piano-driven rendition of Marcus Miller 's “Straight to the Heart” (a song first recorded by David Sanborn ). His 1999 follow-up Somethin' Bout Love also sat high among the CJ Top 20 for nearly a year with the two #1 singles “Back in the Day” and “Do You Really Love Me?”
In 2001 Brian released Nice & Slow (f/ special guest trumpeter Herb Alpert and singer/songwriter Kenny Lattimore ), which spent six weeks at #1 on Billboard 's Contemporary Jazz Chart thanks to the #1 singles “Get It On” and “All About You.” Then came Come on Up (2003), highlighted by a blazing cover of Earth Wind & Fire 's “Serpentine Fire,” plus the beautiful “Our Love,” penned for he and his wife Michelle's first wedding dance.
Now with the release of It's On Tonight , Brian Culbertson is anxious to return to weekend warrior mode and witness his magic at work, embarking on festival and concert stops this year via his returning tour sponsor, AirTran Airways . His show promises to be hotter than ever with his father Jim still holding down the trumpet chair, plus an exciting new addition to his concert group, saxophonist Eric Darius (who released his debut album, Night on the Town , last year and can be heard on Brian's “Let's Get Started”). “With Eric in the show there's a whole new energy,” enthuses Brian, a man known for working every inch of a stage playing piano, trombone and conducting. “He's 22, from Tampa , and has this soulful thing goin' on. He's my on-stage counterpoint now - a breath of fresh air. It will be a pleasure introducing him to a wider audience.”
Surveying all that is about to transpire in the “Life of Brian” Culbertson, GRP's Bud Harner concludes, “I'm extremely proud of this new album Brian has put together. Each track on It's On Tonight leaves you in high anticipation of what's coming next. It's a sexy, soulful collection of modern writing and production from someone who has reached the top rung of the contemporary jazz genre. Welcome home, Brian.”