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"Jazz Monthly Feature Interview" Brian Culbertson
interview by Jonathan Widran

Brian CulbertsonIn 1993, Brian Culbertson was an introverted but enormously talented college student, putting the finishing touches on the recording which would become his hit debut album between classes at DePaul University in Chicago. A regular listener of the city’s smooth jazz station WNUA, he was inspired by many of the genre’s foundational artists, from Bob James and David Sanborn to The Rippingtons, The Yellowjackets, Spyro Gyra, Al Jarreau and Lee Ritenour. At the time, having no idea that his infectious tunes would someday make him a format staple and mega-popular touring performer himself, he was working his way through college writing jingles for United Airlines, Oldsmobile, Sears and McDonald’s. He quit just shy of graduating when his solo career took off after the release of Long Night Out in February 1994.
            Culbertson, who at the time could only afford a few live musicians in select spots to enhance his mostly keyboard generated sounds, celebrates the 20th anniversary of this seminal album by re-recording it the way he always wanted to -- with a rich, full scale production featuring a dynamic lineup of his musical friends, all of whom happen to be contemporary jazz stars in their own right. Featured guests on Another Long Night Out include Ritenour, Russ Freeman, Jeff Kashiwa, Eric Marienthal, Rick Braun, Candy Dulfer, Chuck Loeb, Steve Lukather, Ray Parker Jr., Paul Jackson, Jr., Jonathan Butler, Yellowjackets, Jimmy Haslip and Will Kennedy, David Benoit (string arrangements) and, in one of his last recordings, the late drummer Ricky Lawson.
            After years on major labels, Another Long Night out is Culbertson’s first independent release on his own BCM Records. For the first time in his career, he did a fan funding campaign on Indiegogo to cover some of the costs of recording and marketing the album. He is hosting his 3rd Annual Napa Valley Jazz Getaway with an exciting array of contemporary jazz artists June 11-15, 2014.


JazzMonthly: Congratulations on your first 20 years! I was always a fan of the original Long Night Out. What inspired you to revisit it this way?

BC: By doing this new recording of it, I’m not saying it was bad – in fact, I thought it was great for a first album. But because I had no budget then, it lacked certain elements I really wanted it to have. Creating a whole new production of it was an idea I had for a long time. I’ve always liked the songs and thought it would be really cool to redo them with some of my favorite players I grew up listening to. So much of that album was inspired by guys like The Ripps, and Will and Jimmy, and on a lot of those grooves I had Will in mind. I programmed the drums to sound like him. So after getting to know and work with so many of my heroes over the years, I thought, this would be a great time. I brought it up to some of the labels I was signed to and they always wanted me to do more original material. So when I decided by mutual decision to leave GRP and go independent, I finally had the opportunity.  

JM: When you listen to the original today, what do you think of your production?

BC: I think the songs still hold up today but that the production doesn’t. What I bring to the new version is 20 years of producing experience, not only on my own recordings, but also those of many other artists. I’ve also become a much better piano player. Back then, I wasn’t really a piano player at all. It’s all synthesizer piano, using a Roland D70 with a sequencer and I did a lot of editing to make me sound better. 

JM: When you were recording those early songs, did you have any ambition about becoming a successful recording artist?

BC: Not at all. I was thinking I might get into film scoring or write songs for other people, but I never set out to be an artist. But after living in Chicago for a few years and going to DePaul, where I listened to WNUA all the time, I thought, maybe I should try writing songs like that. So I came up with a three song demo and sent the tape to the one person I knew in L.A., Bud Harner, a former touring drummer who was working at Mesa/Bluemoon Records in radio promotion. He said he heard potential in “City Lights,” “Long Night Out” and “Changing Tides” and then let Jim Snowden and George Nauful, the guys who ran the label hear them. A few weeks later, they signed me to a 6-record contract!

One of the interesting things about all this was that I was so naïve about everything. I wasn’t trying to write anything commercial, I just wrote tunes I thought were interesting to listen to. And when I listen to them now, I think these were some cool chords you don’t hear much in today’s music. Every song is creative and has twists and turns that I wrote because nobody was telling me I couldn’t. That’s been one of the things I have liked most about my career since, that I don’t stay in any single box too long and don’t write the same types of songs over and over.

 


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