THE SMOOTH JAZZ RIDE

Smooth Conversations -- Gerald Albright
Artist Interviews
 

Gerald Albright -- Apr. 4, 2010

I wrote here a while back that Gerald Albright was the Musician’s Musician. I’d like to revise that. He's The Musician’s Guide to Charisma, Commitment, and Musicianship. That certainly seems much more fitting after the conversation we had with this sax giant who has done so much in the last 20+ years for smooth jazz and for the work ethic that goes into staying atop the field with the other giants who have molded the genre.  Here is that delightful chat. Enjoy. -- Ronald Jackson

TSJR: First off, congrats on the Grammy nomination of Sax for Stax as Best Pop Instrumental Album of 2009.

GA: Thank you. It felt good (laughs).

TSJR: You know, I can’t imagine that any seasoned smooth jazz fans would not know all about Gerald Albright and his illustrious career but, to give new listeners or new followers of smooth jazz a good glimpse into just who Gerald Albright is and how prominently he figures in this genre, and at the risk of repeating yourself for the umpteenth time, tell us when and where you developed this love of jazz—and particularly smooth jazz-- and who was responsible for that interest?

GA: Actually, I came about before smooth jazz, back in the mid- to late ‘80s when it was called contemporary jazz and it had a lot more energy and freedom to it.  So, what I do now kind of adapts to the smooth jazz sound of today. So, I was interested in this type of jazz way before smooth jazz was even the term, and I have a new CD coming out that hints more toward the contemporary/R&B style versus the smooth jazz style, but it’s all relative.

TSJR: Of all the experiences you’ve had in your career thus far, what stands out as the most memorable?

GA: Well, the one that I think about the most is actually my very first gig as a professional recording artist. It was at a club in New York called The Bottom Line. I think it’s most memorable because I remember being so frightened (laughs) because it was my first gig as a solo artist and debuting the new music from the new record. All of the big wheels from Atlantic Records were in the audience; all the people who  were to promote and market my project; but once I started the first tune and got about halfway through, then it started to feel like home again, and we were comfortable from that point on.

Another of my more memorable experiences is working with Quincy Jones. I’ve worked with him on several of his projects. One of note is called the Back on the Block project of his where I did a couple of tunes with Take 6 and Tevin Campbell.

Lastly, my 5 years touring with Phil Collins were quite memorable, as well. So, I’ve had some blessings in my life that I’ll never forget and some things I can tell the grandchildren, whenever I get some grandchildren (laughs).

TSJR: I see that your daughter, Selina, is now not only touring with you but has embarked on a bit of a musical career of her own, recording a bunch of songs being featured on her MySpace page.  Are these in the smooth jazz genre, as well?

GA: Actually she listens to everything from Ella Fitzgerald to a lot of the new artists like Beyonce and all the others. So, her experience is widespread but, in talks with her, she feels more comfortable with the neosoul/R&B flavor. So, we’re working on a new CD for her, which should be out later this year or in 2011. It will be in that genre although it will have some jazz overtones to it—that’s just the dominant genre in our household--but it will mostly be neosoul. I’m just so proud of her. You know, to be in the studio with your daughter and have her tour with you, from a father’s standpoint, it’s just one of the greatest achievements and compliments that I could have. She’s very passionate about the music and to see her onstage, she just glows because she’s in her comfort zone. It’s like that for me, as well. Onstage is my comfort zone, my playground. I love doing something within the improvisational world, something spontaneous to hopefully move an audience to something positive.

TSJR: What would you say to other young aspiring artists to inspire them to consider a career in smooth jazz? What would you tell them in terms of how to make it on the industry’s radar screen, if you will?

GA: I would say it starts with establishing your own brand, a sound that is all your own and that you can market. It’s not about being duplicating the hottest sax player or vocalist or other type of musician. It’s about creating your own sound so that, when people go buy your music, they know that it’s your sound. Also, be the most proficient musician or vocalist that you can possibly be. Constantly refine your craft. Even though I’ve been in the business as a recording artist some 23-24 years, I still consider myself a student. I’m always trying to learn and be better at what I do.

The other side of the fence is being well-versed on the business side. Learn how to read contracts and how to choose managers and lawyers to represent you well. It’s really a win-win to be well-versed both on the logistical side and on the creative side.

TSJR: On your website, I see that you’re promoting your bass skills now, and they are quite impressive to say the least. How long have you played bass, and what sparked that interest?

GA: Well, I’ve been playing bass since 1978—I was in college at the time. I’ve always loved the instrument, but I went to a Brothers Johnson concert near the college, and they were in their heyday at the time. Louis Johnson, who was one of the hottest bass players at that time, did a solo onstage, and my mouth just dropped. I said to myself, “I don’t know this instrument, but I’m going to borrow it from somebody and at least learn the scale on it. So, I’m literally self-taught. I would sit in my dorm room and just learned scales and eventually got a little deeper with it where I would play with small groups around the neighborhood of the college to earn extra money to help pay for my books and things. Then, over time, it worked out to where I was able to go out on tour with artists like Patrice Rushen and Anita Baker as a bassist and do a lot of recordings in the Los Angeles area, where I used to live, for different artists like Herb Alpert and Howard Hewitt. So, a lot of people don’t know I play bass, but what you saw on the website is kind of a springboard to let people know that it’s one of the things I do, also. I love to play bass in the studio and in live settings; so, I’m looking to do more of that.  It’s really nice to be in the thick of the rhythm section as well as when I’m playing the sax. That gives me both options. It’s a real win-win for me and I enjoy both scenarios a lot.

TSJR: You’ve done quite a bit since emerging on the music scene some 20+ years ago now.  You’ve even appeared on some TV shows.  You appeared on Different Strokes and Melrose Place, as well as some BET jazz segments and some news programs.  Any desire to turn TV into the next career move when and if you ever decide to give music a rest?

GA: You know, giving music a rest would probably be the hardest thing for me to do. I’ll always be doing something in music. I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago, and we were talking about how some people can’t wait until they turn 65 so that they can retire and go fishing or something like that. To me, that’s so boring, and I just can’t see myself  putting down my horn or flute or keys and not being able to play in front of people and move them in a way. Like B.B. King who’s in his 80s and still doing 300 shows a year, I’m probably going to be that guy who’s constantly on the road and in the studio cranking out some new product for years to come. Still, to answer your question, I’m totally objective about doing some TV and film if my career goes that way. I had fun doing those earlier projects and would love to do more. It’s totally different from what I do regularly, but I love challenges.

TSJR: You’ve been involved in a lot of efforts to raise academic excellence nationwide.  Truly commendable. Are you currently involved in any specific efforts?

GA: Well, I play a lot for various fundraisers, I’ve done stuff for the American Cancer Society, for Alpha Phi Alpha (going into communities and helping kids and people as a whole), I’ve played a lot of colleges and done clinics, and so forth. I love doing this kind of stuff. I think you reach a point in your career where you have to give back and say thanks to all those folks who have supported you over all these years.

TSJR: What’s Gerald Albright doing now, and what’s next for him? Is there a new album in the works?

GA: Yes, I have a new CD that I just finished literally about three or four weeks ago.  It’s my 14th CD, and it will be out on June 15th of this year. It’s called “Pushing the Envelope,” and the music mirrors the title. We’re just pushing the jazz market to the edge with 10 strong tunes that I produced and wrote. We also do a couple of covers. For example, we do a Michael Jackson tune and a Carpenters tune. George Duke and Earl Klugh are on the project, along with Fred Wesley, the trombone player for James Brown for many years. I even have a tune that adheres to the James Brown sound, of which I‘m a big fan. The tune’s called “What Would James Do?” I’ve been a long-time fan of James, and the tune is a funky, upbeat piece that will definitely get you on the dance floor.

TSJR: Where can fans get more information on you and your activities?

GA: I’m definitely Internet-active. Besides my official website (www.geraldalbright.com), I have a MySpace page at www.MySpace.com/TheOfficialGeraldAlbright; I’m also on Facebook, and I’m also on Twitter (I’m tweeting or twittering or whatever you call it). (laughs). I’m out there on all the major sites, and people can feel free to contact me and interact with me.

TSJR: Finally, any parting words for your loyal fans in particular and new fans of smooth jazz in general?

GA: Absolutely. After 23 years, to have more fans than ever and to be able to sell as many records as I have over the past years, I just want to thank my fans for allowing me to fulfill my passion, and I hope I’ve brought smiles to faces and uplifted some folks as they’ve listened to my music or watched me onstage.  I will always try to give them the best music that I possibly can, and I look forward to seeing them all at my future concerts.

TSJR: Thanks so much for taking this time with us, Gerald.  I want to take this moment to wish you, your wonderful family, and your great career all the best for years to come.

GA: Thanks so much, and thanks for this interview. I enjoyed it.


Gerald, I hope you enjoyed it half as much as we’ve enjoyed your music over the years!


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