JazzMonthly: Well we are so happy to be visiting with long time friend to Jazzmonthly.com, a man whose art we have enjoyed and admired for many years… Mr. Gerald Albright. Calling Gerald Albright just a saxophonist is like calling Sammy Davis Jr., just a singer. Yes, Gerald is a brilliant saxophonist but he also is a fabulous bass guitarist, flautist, keyboardist, composer, arranger, producer, drum programmer and he is even a fine vocalist. Mr. Albright is a shinning light of Rhythm and Blues, Smooth Jazz, Contemporary and even Straight Ahead Jazz.
For many years Gerald has been a favorite of other musicians, which is truly the highest complement that you can get. Gerald has performed with artists, ranging from Anita Baker, Ray Parker, Atlantic Star, The Temptations, Tina Marie, Morris White from Earth, Wind and Fire, Whitney Huston, “The Q Man” Quincy Jones, and so many others. He’s had a string of highly regarded Jazz albums that we’ve loved over the past twenty-five years. Gerald’s latest CD “Pushing the Envelope” on Heads Up International is a no holds barred balance of fine musicianship featuring special guest performances by Fred Wesley on the Trombone, Earl Klugh on acoustic guitar, and George Duke on acoustic piano. Well welcome back to Jazzmontlhy.com Gerald.
GA: Thank you Joe, I appreciate the introduction too, that was great!
JazzMonthly: And you richly deserve it my man, and you richly deserve it.
GA: Thank you very much I appreciate that.
JazzMonthly: You know Gerald in my intro, I said a string of great CDs for almost a twenty five years or so. Can you believe it’s almost a quarter of a century?
GA: You know, I was actually doing the numbers on that a while back, I’ve actually been a recording artist for about thirty-three years and it is nice to do something that you love to do. I started recording back in 1987 with my very fist CD called “Just Between Us”. And at that time I was on Atlantic Records. And it was an exciting time for me. You know all the dreams I had of being a recording artist prior to that and all of a sudden it comes to full fruition. Here we go recording album after album and CD after CD. So, it’s been a nice ride and we are still putting out music that people love – and that is quite a blessing for us.
JazzMonthly: You know Gerald, describing you I said to our publisher Joe Kurasz, of Jazzmonthly, I said that Gerald Albright is kind of like a musical Boy Scout camping knife. It’s got everything! (Laughing)
GA: (Laughing)I’ve never been described that way Joe, but that is a wonderful analogy.
JazzMonthly: Yeah, you know Gerald like the Boy Scout camping knife has the corkscrew, bottle opener, the fork, the file, even the little pair of scissors. Of course, you know it is my fun way of saying that you truly multi-dimensional. You wear many hats. Now, has that always been important to you?
GA: It has. Music is my passion and I didn’t just want to be a saxophonist, I wanted to be able to explore music to the fullest of my ability. That’s why I started to investigate other instruments like the flute, and the bass guitar, and a little bit of the keyboard and some vocals here and there… because I have this perpetual, ultimate passion for what I do. I am always exploring and trying to find new things. So that is how I wound up being a multi-instrumentalist and even at this young age… well we won’t talk about that. (Laughing)
GA: Yeah, but even at that age, I feel like I am just getting started. There is still so much to learn and so much to refine. It’s a life long task for me.
JazzMonthly: That’s sweet of you to say that in such a humble way. You know it really all began for you in LA in south central neighborhood. I guess it was the Watts district. Right Gerald?
GA: Yes I grew up in south central and we had a very close family. It was just basically me and my older brother, William and our parents – Just the four of us. Even though we lived in the ghetto, we didn’t feel like we were in the ghetto because Mom and Dad did their absolute best to make sure that we pretty much had everything that we needed at the time. Which, for a kid at that age it wasn’t that much. Maybe, you know some food on the table would be nice. (Both Laughing)
We didn’t miss any meals and there was a lot of love in the house. My parents at an early age, I guess I was about eight years old, introduced me to the piano. At that point I wasn’t really interested in piano, but I had weekly lessons with a gentleman named George Turpou, who I deemed as kind of a catalyst behind everything that’s happening with me musically now. I practiced from week to week but I really wasn’t interested so I wasn’t that prepared, so he decided to put me on the saxophone and low and behold I found an instrument that I truly loved! At the age of nine for you to be able to blow through something and press the keys and you know it just looks like this very unique instrument that you can make these tones out of. It was more of an interest to me. When I made the first squeak, (Laughing) I’ve been squeaking ever since. (Both Laughing) Hopefully squeaking better these days.
JazzMonthly: You know it’s funny because you mentioned that actually the saxophone was a used sax. Was it his saxophone, your piano teacher’s?
GA: Yes, he was in the army for several years and he played in the army band. And this was the saxophone that he played you for many years, and it just sat in his garage for many years. He mentioned to my parents, “Well Gerald doesn’t seem like he is interested in the piano, so let’s try something else, I’m going to surprise him and bring another instrument to the next lesson.” It happened to be this old, silver key saxophone in an old case… and you can see the history on it. When I saw the case I said “Mr. Turpo” what is going on, he said “ we are going to try something different today and he proceeded to put the horn together and the mouth piece on the horn and shortly there after I made my first squeak and here we are. (Both Laughing)
JazzMonthly: Still squeaking… but doing great squeaks, man, over the years! The squeaks that we all love! Then, of course you went to Locke High School and that really did it for you. That is when you really found your mentors right?
GA: Yeah, actually I was very fortunate to be a part of a music program… it actually started at Gompers Junior High School, which was right up the street, but we had the same teachers, musically, that taught at both schools… Gompers and Locke. Their names were Don Dustin and Frank Harris. They’re still around, still doing their thing. They’re retired now but they still seem to keep their hands on the music department at those two respective schools. They were the ones that really shaped us as musicians and allowed us to ripen our passion for the music. You know, I never had a PE class in high school because I was in marching band – which satisfied my PE credits. But, I guarantee you that with the dedication we had as a marching band, the energy that we exerted on the football field when we worked out, marching on the sand at the beach in full uniform and instruments… that was a lot more work out than doing PE at school. (Both Laughing) So you know everybody was dedicated and the marching band and the concert band was the pride of the high school. We took it seriously.
Some great musicians came out of it, like Patrice Rushen, Leon Ndugu Chancler great drummer, Gary Bias my best friend from high school, who was also a saxophonist, he’s been with Earth, Wind and Fire for several years, Reggie Young who’s also with Earth, Wind and Fire, playing trombone, even Rickie Minor who’s musical director for the Jay Leno Band. I believe he went to Freemont, but he spent a lot of time at Locke High School. Freemont was kind of like a sister school too. We combined the bands sometimes. So you can tell the breeding ground of this particular era and I was glad to be a part of it. It was great.