“Jazz Monthly Feature Interview”
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 base 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 Cue 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-hold-bar 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 sure are my friend. 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 Lock. 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.
JazzMonthly: You know Gerald when you went to the University of Redlands I was astonished because I’ve know your work for many years and you were not a music major, you were a music minor… right? Tell everybody what your major was at college?
GA: Well, my major was Business Management actually. Going into college I knew I wanted to be a musician and that vocationally that would make me happy. But in an effort to have a degree to fall back on I went into the Business Management degree, which ironically later on turned out to be a wonderful marriage between the Management degree and music because I was able to learn how to read contracts, deal with business people on the “industry level” in music. That was the deal I made with my parents: I would go to school for business, get my degree and I can minor in music performance, which I did. Because at the time I just wanted to play. It wasn’t really about teaching music at that time – I just wanted to play my instrument. That was the deal that we made and I did four years at the University of Redlands and got my Business Management degree. Shortly after I went on the road with different artists, the first being Patrice Rushen in 1979, 1980.
JazzMonthly: We talked about squeaking jokingly and all that but then from the great sound that you are producing, and getting better and better, all of a sudden the bass guitar! I understand you saw Louis Johnson live at a concert and that is what did it for you… as far as the bass?
GA: Exactly, the Brothers Johnson, around that time period that was the apex of their recording career, touring career, and they were just hot. They were giving us hit after hit, of course from the wonderful efforts of Quincy Jones, being their producer. They were down the street at San Bernardino from the college; it was called the Orange Show, which was this big festival they would have annually. The Brothers Johnson were headlining on that gig, and this is my first time seeing them live. All of a sudden at a certain point of the show, Louis Johnson comes out, with his precision bass and does this incredible, incredible bass solo and my mouth just drop and I just said, “Wow… I want to do that.” After the concert, I promised myself that I would find a bass on campus… because I couldn’t afford one. College students are the poorest in the nation. But when I got back, I started putting the feeler out to see who might have a spare bass that I could at least learn a scale or two on it. There was a dear friend of mine named John Jorgenson, who had gone on to play with so many different pop artists. He was a collector of instruments and his father was one of the musical professors on campus. He said, “Yeah, I have an old bass, an old Hofner bass, the kind The Beatles used to play. I sat at my dorm room and just kind of taught myself scales, intervals, things like that and shortly there after I started working with bands for extra money around the college campus. We use to do little high school dances, weddings and things like that. That helped to pay for books. So the bass now has worked into being an integral part of my sound. I’ve been very blessed to play bass for Anita Baker for three years on her “Rapture Tour”. I recorded with Howard Hewett and The Holster Brothers on the bass. So it’s been a nice ride for me, on the bass as well as the saxophone. Very honored to be doing this still.
JazzMonthly: I also dig the way you play and it’s not just the slap bass, it’s your whole approach.
GA: Well thank you for the complement and you know the style of my playing is directly related to a lot of the bass players who really inspired me over the years like Louis Johnson, Stanley Clark, Anthony Jackson…
JazzMonthly: Probably Marcus Miller too I would imagine.
GA: Of course, Marcus Miller, and Freddy Washington… just a bunch of great electric bass players. When you have that kind of passion for those guys and you feed from those guys, good things come back to you. It prepares you to play different styles. I used to play bass with Willie Bobo back in the day. That was from the Latin side of things so I had to learn how to play electric bass with a Latin overtone, which is a whole other school of playing. So, I had these wonderful internships throughout my musical upbringing that allow me to sound like what I sound today.
JazzMonthly: Which is great! You know its interesting, because it’s not only a different ax but it’s a whole different set of chops man. A different way of thinking… between sax and bass you know?
GA: It really is. I agree, Joe and the cool thing is, I always wanted to be in the rhythm section, that is where the “meat and potatoes” are of being in an ensemble. You know it’s nice to play melodies on top and, I still enjoy doing that, and it’s also nice to get with a great drummer and just really enforce “that pocket” and create a nice foundation for the others to feed off of musically. I had some wonderful times with some great drummers through the years. It’s just been fun. Yeah, your point is well taken – two different schools of approach.
JazzMonthly: Good way of saying it.
Let’s talk about your latest CD. “Pushing The Envelope” and I tell you Gerald you know there is such “truth in advertising” and I don’t know who came up with the title of the CD but you deliver man.
GA: (Laughing) Thank you very much. Well, I came up with the title and the concept behind this project. This is number fourteen for me. I’ve done fourteen career CDs. You know when smooth jazz came around… fifteen or so years ago, there was some limitations that were applied to it at that you know it was kind of disheartening, you know you couldn’t play funky, everything that you did you know had to do within three minutes and thirty seconds if it was going to be a single on the radio. You know you couldn’t scream on the horn, you couldn’t do this, you couldn’t do that, and you know there were all these limitations. And the format really changed from when the Ronnie Laws and the Grover Washingtons and all those guys came about. These were freedom guys they would play until they felt like they didn’t want to play anymore. (Laughing) They had five, six minutes tunes on their records. They would just jam and jam until they told their story.
JazzMonthly: More like the way Straight Ahead Jazz artists would play?
GA: Exactly, a direct hybrid from Straight Ahead Jazz, so with this project I wanted to get back to that. And I titled it “Pushing the Envelope” because I didn’t want any limitations, you know. I wanted it to be a Global record. We have South African music on it, we have Latin, we have Funk, we have some Love Ballads, kind of like “all of the above” on this. And we have some great players that you mentioned before like Fred Wesley and George Duke and Earl Klugh, and a host of wonderful studio musicians. My daughter is also singing background on a couple of songs as well; her name is Selina Albright. We have some tunes that are like five, six minutes long,.. you know we really didn’t think about format so much, we just wanted to tell the story. Sometimes, I believe, an artist needs to stick to his guns and really be true to his sound, his production, song writing and execution of his instrument. I just found out this project was nominated for a Grammy.
GA: Yeah it’s my fifth nomination and I think it’s because you know I had an allegiance to my sound, I really haven’t tried to copy anyone else. Obviously, as musicians we borrow things from other musicians that inspire us but – no deliberate copying. You know we just try to stay as unique and fresh as we can and I tried to do that on this new record. So I am very proud of this record. I am glad you mentioned it.
JazzMonthly: Well you should be. I think Gerald, when I listen to this CD… you know the whole “Pushing The Envelope” thought behind it, I think it’s almost like… an archer. A guy with a bow and arrow. He has his bow and arrow, and he takes the string and he stretches… almost to the breaking point. That’s what I think you did musically!
GA: Well, thank you and hopefully the arrow is going in the right direction. (Both Laughing)You know trying to get to the listening ear of our fans and hopefully we’ll continue to do that.
JazzMonthly: You know, speaking about your sound, I remember a few years ago that my kids were playing with their friends on a video game and I am listening in the background as dads do, and I’m listening and I say, “wait a minute that sounds like Gerald Albright.” You played on a video game?
GA: Yes, I did. I played on it with my son who was very young at the time and my daughter who is eight years older, we were all on the studio together, they have these little vocal chants they did during the course of the video game. It was for Sony. It was a nice change of events for me. It is a totally different recording process and you kind of have to shift gears depending on what you are doing on a given course of your career. This was my first experience doing a video game and it was refreshing and fun. It was nice they had my children there singing; it was a great experience for them as well.
JazzMonthly: And the larger point that I am making is… look I am here listening half heartedly with kids and noise in the background, and I’m hearing this sound and I said, “Wait a minute, that sounds like Gerald Albright. You do have a distinctive and great sound.
GA: Well, thank you very much. It’s something that we work on as a life long venture. You are always trying to reinvent yourself. I’m really into artists who are really unique and are really have a kind of “fingerprint stamp” on their sound – whatever it might be… be it vocally or instrumentally. I think , and I’m speaking generally, that we kind of gotten away from that in recent years. You have a lot of “cookie cutter” music out there. Everyone is trying to follow sounds of the previous hit. That is all well and good, the industry needs to make money and everything, but when you listen to a Nat King Cole or Ella Fitzgerald or Nina Simone or any of these people, you cannot deny that sound. I mean, I feel like I’m short changed if I don’t hear Nat king Cole during the Christmas season, you know. It’s just something that you have to have. He made such a statement; I would really like the industry to get back to that uniqueness again. I think the music listeners are really starving for that as well, they’re looking for something new and fresh that they can reach out and touch.
JazzMonthly: Great point, great point.
let’s talk about some of the cuts. I wish we could talk about all of them. You know when I first picked up the CD, Gerald I’m reading the title “What Would James Do?” I said, “Oh man, he is doing a little tribute to James Moody – whom you know we just lost. Then I said, “Wait a minute, I know this man’s (Gerald’s) influences and of course there were Cannon Ball and Mr. Parker from James Brown and I thought it has to be a tribute to James Brown. Guess I was right, right?
GA: You are right on the money. Absolutely Joe. It is a tribute to James Brown. James, a lot of people don’t know, his music has been a thriving force in my production since I started recording records. I grew up listening to James Brown; my older brother had pretty much every James Brown record in his a collection. We use to play this stuff in the house like everyday, I would pretend that I was James Brown. I’d grab up a broomstick and perform. (Both Laughing) I would be on the hard wood floor trying to do the James Brown and all that stuff. I was really into James; I’m still into James.
On a couple of occasions I got a chance to meet him and I was like a little kid in the candy store. I’m meeting one of my mentors! He was very gracious; spending time with me… just made my whole day. So you know, thinking about James and loosing him a couple years ago, you know I wanted to pay tribute to him for the wonderful music that inspired me and of course the array of other people in the music industry. You can hear James’s influences in all different genres of music – one way or another. It’s kind of uncommon as a Jazz person who’s under the Jazz category to be inspired by somebody way on the other side of the fence… the Soul & R&B world. But man, it’s just, I can’t deny his music. I mean it’s funky, it’s rhythmic, controversial. It was uplifting, you know “Say it loud I am black and I’m proud.” He was trying to lift the moral of black people. It’s just that very important music you know in our history and I wanted to pay tribute to it on the record.
JazzMonthly: Well you sure did. It speaks of your eclecticism too, that you are a Jazz performer but could also draw forth from all categories. You know, someone once said to Duke Ellington, “Duke what do you like, you like Jazz, you like swing, you like Latin, Funk music, what do you like?” He said, “Man, there are only two kinds of music. Good and Bad.”
GA: That sums it up.
JazzMonthly: How about as far as saxophonists, James Brown’s saxophonist, Mr. Parker?
GA: Well Maceo was my very first influence on the saxophone, and you know we are good buddies today. We keep in touch all the time and I always remind him, “You know Maceo you are responsible for a lot of my sound,” and he said, “Gerald, get out of here.” But I have to constantly remind him because he is a very humble, humble guy to. He’s just a real sweet heart of a guy. Another of those “fingerprints sounds” when you hear it. You know its Maceo Parker. He’s gone on to do some wonderful things as a solo artist on his own merit. Very, very popular in Europe, Japan, places like that and of course here in the United States and one of the greatest sound on alto that I’ve heard. Percussive, very clear… ultimate authority… and he can be melodic and sensitive as well. You know so just a well-rounded player.
JazzMonthly: Your playing on this track “What Would James Do?” is very much like… I thought of a drummer, or a tap dancer, or like kind of… really hip sax bursts. That’s what you were striving for right?
GA: Exactly, and then when you are partnering on that particular tune with Fred Wesley – who spend some thirty something years with James Brown, you know you have to dance with the trombone. (Both Laughing) That is what we decided to do.
JazzMonthly: Yeah, he took a great solo on the bone.
How about, “Get On The Floor” from the “Off The Wall” album. A tribute to Michael of course.
GA: Of course, Michael Jackson another influence of mine, who literally change the face of Music… change the face of Video. He just put things on a new plateau in terms of taking an idea and just… no pun intended… pushing the envelope!(JazzMonthly Laughing)Another one who pushed the envelope.
I look back at some of his videos and I go, “Wow, this guy was really dreaming, was really reaching for something.” That is what I try to do with my music. Try to reach the roads less traveled… reach for the unknown… for the unheard of. I think you short change yourself if you don’t take that mission. If you just do the same thing everyday musically you are not really nourishing yourself basically growing.
I always say to professionals and students that, “I am a professional musician, I’m a recording artist, but I’m still a student, I’m always learning I never get comfortable in saying ok I know it all. And there is nothing else to learn; there is always something else to learn in music.” But getting back to “Get on the Floor” one of my favorite tunes that actually with a bit of irony. Both Michael Jackson and Louis Johnson, my favorite bass player…
JazzMonthly: The guy who inspired you.
GA: Who inspired me. They collaborated and wrote this particular tune together in the studio, along with Quincy Jones, who produced it. So it wasn’t a major hit for Michael but it was an “Off The Wall” project, big on selling. I just took the song as one that I really, really loved and I always wanted to record it. I finally got the chance to on this new CD.
JazzMonthly: And you mentioned your daughter Selina?
GA: She is out on the road right now with David Benoit; he is doing the “Charlie Brown Christmas Tour.” My daughter is the principle vocalist., along with thirty other children that are singing behind her. So she is getting some good experience on the road. She is very excited about it and I talk to her everyday.
JazzMonthly: I know she is on another track too, “Close To You”, by the Carpenters. Let me ask you this as a guy who is a daddy of three daughters. Did Selina take daddy’s directions as well Gerald? You know, directing her in the studio?
GA: She did. You know she’s been coming to the studio for years. She would come and hang out with me and ask questions: what am I doing? What is that? How do you make that sound? Sometimes I would just let her, just for fun, let her get on the mic and record her. So we both have found a comfort zone in the studio. When we officially started working together on some of her music and then she on some of mine, it was just a natural, cohesive, scenario for us to create. Selina listens very well and she’s very open to new ideas. Then I, in turn listened to her as a producer because she is well versed with that young sound. She is listening to the Christina Aguilera’s, the Brandy’s and all of those artists. So she will shoot you some ideas and I go, “Wow that’s fresh you know.” So between the two, the coupling between the old and newer music really makes a nice blend. You also have this across the board production of something that is really fresh. We’ve done some wonderful, incredible things. As a solo artist, Selina is going to be coming out hopefully next year. We are going to produce a record on her. It will hopefully be a blend of that real deep substance of the older music and then the fresh seasoning of the newer music. I’m really excited about that.
JazzMonthly: You know the next cut “Bobo’s Groove” is a salute to the great percussionist, Willie Bobo. You mentioned him earlier. You were a kid at that time playing bass with a Willie.
GA: I was a young kid playing bass and sometimes saxophone… depending. Willie had this revolving band and sometimes guys would show up, depending on who was available. Sometimes he needed me on bass, sometimes he needed me on saxophone but you talk about going to school. I mean he was one of those guys who, was a mentor, a teacher, a friend, a confidante, you know he kind of took me under his wing. I was so appreciative of that and at that time he knew I was not one of the greatest bass players in the world but I really loved to groove. So we concentrated on the Latin Groove, which is a whole other flavor. The Latin feel that you hear in my records today stem from my experiences I learned from Willie Bobo. So we had to pay a tribute to Bobo on this new record.
JazzMonthly: That’s so nice to hear. You know, I mentioned “Close to you” earlier. The Carpenters I guess, first hit from around 1970 and it’s interesting, tell us Gerald how you, you were in Kenya when it all happened for you mentally?
GA: Yes actually it was my first visit to Nairobi, Kenya. I did a Jazz Festival over there. It was about six o’clock in the morning, and I was in bed sleeping and all the sudden this phone woke me up singing “Close To You.” “Close To You,” a very uncommon song for me because it was not a song that I visited throughout the years. I always heard it and appreciated it, but for some reason this particular morning it hit my like a brick that I should do this on the new record and I just loved the melody. The melody is just undeniable; it’s really conducive to how I could express it on the saxophone in a positive way. Actually “Close To You” was the first tune that I recorded on the project once I got back to the States. I wanted to put a unique spin and arrangement from the original… we wanted to bring it up to date and add some different rhythms, and seasonings to it. Both my daughter and myself sang all the background to it. That was fun to stack all the vocals and make it more of a “choir effect” on top of the soprano saxophone. We think we really got a unique production out of it, that’s one of my favorite tunes that I do in my live show.
JazzMonthly: You did it great! The song is originally is like a slow shuffle on the Carpenters’ recording. Gerald, you created a definitely deep, deep pocket groove… the strings you mentioned… and the thing I really, really like is that there’s just enough background vocals to kind of carry you off in there.
GA: Well thank you, we always try to find that balance. I think music is at its optimum when it’s balanced. If you have too much ingredient over the other, than it kind of takes away from the vision. But, thank you for saying that. We were going for that balance between the vocals and the sax and all the rhythmic things that were happening around both of those elements.
JazzMonthly: Here is another one man, I love the pun, tell everybody about “I Found The Klugh”.
GA: Well it goes without saying that Earl Klugh is one of my favorite acoustic guitarists. A year ago or so we were on a cruise an annual Jazz Cruise that we do, we were just shooting the breeze and I was in the process of putting the components together for my new record and I said, “Earl, man you know, I would love for you to be on this record,” and he said, “I would be honored. Just let me know when and where.” As soon as he said that I started to develop this tune, “I Found The Klugh”. He was very, very amenable to being a part of it and he just did a stellar job. You know again, the uniqueness and the freshness. He had that fingerprint sound that only Earl could deliver to us and this could very well be the next single in the project. It’s getting a lot a buzz on radio and people are embracing it. I got a chance to play with him live in Colorado Springs, the early part of this year. It’s a very special tune for me.
JazzMonthly: You know not only is it a very catchy title but it’s a very catchy melody man.
GA: Thank you, Earl had some wonderful things to say about the tune too. I was trying to get a melody that is like a comfort zone for him, I wanted him to come in and feel like he could just spread his wings on the track and just do the ultimate Earl Klugh on it. He really gave me a two hundred percent and I’m so appreciative. We are long time friends… hopefully I’ll get to play on one of his records some time soon.
JazzMonthly: Both on his comping… just beautiful, tasteful comping while you were playing and then his solos…his intonation… his tone. Just beautiful!
GA: Unbelievable perfect. The closest thing to perfection that I heard. He takes his instruments seriously. You could here all the history in his playing. You know the passion in his playing and that is what I really appreciate about him.
JazzMonthly: You know I was reviewing one of your CDs maybe five, six years ago and I said that “very good” is not good enough for Gerald Albright and I really believed that!
GA: Wow, that’s special man, that’s actually special Joe.
JazzMonthly: One of the ten saxophonists picked to play at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration ceremony, in early I guess 1993 was Gerald Albright. When you were there… and you were a young man… well you are still young, you are still young, let me get that out…
GA: Still a baby… (Both Laughing)
JazzMonthly: When you were there thinking about being one of ten saxophonists picked for President Clinton’s Inauguration, when you were on stage did you think to yourself, “Wow, from a kid in South Central to this?”
GA: Yeah, a lot of that I was saying to myself, and the biggest part was that it was just a blessing to be amongst my contemporaries. A lot of my mentors you’re talking about: Gerry Mulligan, Grover Washington, Dave Koz, Michael Brecker was there, David Sanborn was there, Kenny G was there, Kirk Whalum was there… it was just an array of who’s who of saxophonists that I truly appreciate through the years. Then to be asked to do it, it could have been a whole set of other ten saxophonists up there that could’ve been chosen but Quincy Jones and Tom Scott – who were given the duty to put all of us together – they chose this ten for President Clinton. It was an honor and something that I would cherish for the rest of my life. It was definitely the place to be. You know, whenever you get to perform for an inauguration, I mean that’s historical. This was President Clinton you know one of my favorite Presidents in history and it was just a place to be, you know. I get kind of emotional thinking about it now.
JazzMonthly: You should be and it was richly deserved. You certainly deserved to be on that stage with all those great legends. I understand President Clinton, after the performance gave you a thumbs up right?
GA: Yes, he gave me a thumbs up and later on, I got a chance to meet him and actually on a couple of occasions I was at Kenny “Babyface” Edmond’s house and they were doing a democratic fund raising and President Clinton was there and he sat at the front row and was sitting next to a lady and I kind of noticed he said, “You know that is Gerald Albright one of my favorite horn players.” I could here him in a distance. I was on stage just putting my horn up. After the show he comes straight up to me, and President Clinton was known for doing things against the plans of the secret service. After the show he was suppose to go straight to the limo and go to another affair but he came straight over to me because I was playing these saxophones with the gold keys, they were unique looking at that time, they were Selmer saxophones. He inquired he said, “Gerald what kind of saxophone is this ?” I said it was a Selmer, and it had white enamel paint on it and as I’m describing the horn he picks it up and kind of looks at it and I said, “Wow the President is actually holding my horn. (JazzMonthly Laughing)
Then seconds later he grabs the neck strap and puts the strap over his head and positions the horn to play it. Now the secret service is freaking out because he’s suppose to be in the car and they are on their microphones saying, “The President is not ready to leave yet... the President is not ready to leave yet.” So now he is playing some old Jazz standard on my horn…and mind you I just had finished playing this horn! It’s not like my mouth piece was sterilized or anything. I just finished playing a show. So he’s basically playing a horn that I finished playing and he sounded good on it too! He picked up the tenor and I in turn picked up the soprano and as we’re playing together all the musicians that just finished the show are coming back on stage to play with the two of us. It was such a wonderful, wonderful experience. I have pictures of it in my recording studio at home. But that shows you how personable President Clinton was and continues to be.
JazzMonthly: Wow, I hear it in your voice…the passion. Even now as you are speaking you are a kid again. I love hearing that.
GA: Oh man, yeah that is something I will never forget. Consequently after that He and the first Lady would send me and the family Christmas cards every year. We got them for several years after that. He invited me, along with my wife to the White House for a big White House dinner… it really became kind of a thing. When my wife got sick, he sent a personal message. If you hear the excitement in my voice it’s because it was a high point in my life.
JazzMonthly: Well, President Clinton gave you a thumbs up, we are giving you a double thumbs up for your latest release, “Pushing The Envelope”and it’s on Heads Up International. We advise everyone to go out and get it and again truth in advertising, Gerald Albright really “Pushed The Envelope.” Thank you for visiting with us Gerald.
GA: It was a pleasure. Nice to talk with you.
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