Brian Culbertson: Bringing Back the Funk


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I decided that if I was going to do this album and make it authentic, then I needed to get the cats that were really making this kind of music.
Brian Culbertson Keyboardist extraordinaire Brian Culbertson has a style that is a mixture of inimitable funk and suave grooves. Growing up, Culbertson was heavily influenced by the work of Maynard Ferguson, Dave Sanborn, the Brecker Brothers, Blood Sweat & Tears, James Brown, and Earth Wind & Fire. Bringing Back the Funk (GRP Records, 2008) employs outstanding musicians to accompany him on the exploration of his funk music roots, many of whom were a part of the very acts that influenced him. The album—and the fact that the sessions were recorded live just like they were in the time of these great funk bands—ensures that the vibe of the album and the song selection stays true to the authenticity of the genre.

Culbertson's first single, "Always Remember," has burned up the charts and the album debuted at number one on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Chart. Maurice White, founder of Earth Wind & Fire, acts as executive producer on the project, with Culbertson producing all tracks except "Funkin' Like My Father," which was co-produced by Bootsy Collins and "Always Remember," produced by Sheldon Reynolds. Also featured on Bringing Back the Funk are guests including the incomparable Larry Dunn, Sheldon Reynolds, Tom Scott, Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Greg Adams and Musiq Soulchild.

All About Jazz: Maurice White has said of this project: "This record is going to touch the soul of people because it's musicians playing together and sharing a feeling." Having grown up listening to funk music, especially bands like Earth Wind & Fire, what was it like to work with such an iconic figure as White and to have him act as executive producer on this project?

Brian Culbertson: I am still in disbelief. I have learned so much from him and he actually said that he learned a lot from me. It was incredible to work with him.

AAJ: It must have been such an inspirational experience to work with someone who has been a major force within one of the greatest funk bands of all time.

BC: We had a release party and he brought Larry Dunn with him and it was like a reunion.

AAJ: It is quite a feat to have united musicians from nearly every signature soul band to be a part of this project.

Brian Culbertson BC: It was great to get everyone involved.

AAJ: When you first decided that you wanted to do this project, did you know exactly who you were to call upon to be involved? The entire album was recorded in five days. Everything must have come together rather quickly, like one huge jam session.

BC: I definitely had an idea of who I wanted to ask, but it evolved on its own. I was on tour and I decided I was going to do this album. I then decided that if I was going to do this album and make it authentic, then I needed to get the cats that were really making this kind of music. Sheldon Reynolds was instrumental in making this album happen. He made the call to Maurice White to be involved. I was just so grateful. Even if I could get Maurice to be involved for one day—I would have been happy. Maurice ended up being the executive producer and it was great.

AAJ: The album really is a homage to your funk music influences. Your music has always contained that element of funk—even on the slower, smoother songs.

BC: Absolutely. With this album I wanted to take it to the next level.

AAJ: Did you record more than the ten songs included on this project?

BC: We did a total of fifteen songs. The way that the industry is now is that everything is very singles-driven. An artist can have a couple of good singles and then they have to fill up the rest of the album with not-so-great songs. I didn't want to do that. I feel that the ten songs on the album have a really great flow and so I didn't add the other five, because I didn't feel that they fit with that flow. That is why I hope that the fans buy the whole CD and not just the single.

AAJ: The art direction is spot on. There is a perfect balance of the classic feel of the music and the current times that we are in.

BC: Yes, the art direction is great. It looks strangely familiar yet contemporary.

AAJ: It is indicative of what one can expect to hear on this album. You must be excited to play this new material to new audiences.

BC: We will definitely be touring as much as we can. We have done a couple of shows and they have been great.

AAJ: You recently toured with Barry Manilow—that must have been quite an experience.

BC: It really was. We still do a couple of gigs here and there. It was a great opportunity to reach new audiences who perhaps haven't been exposed to my music. If I can interest a new audience by one of my concerts then I think that is great. Or to even get people to look into jazz, maybe another artist in this genre, that is great, too. That is why I have been so happy to see an artist like Chris Botti cross over into such a broad audience; it is always great to see that.

Brian CulbertsonAAJ: I think that people are really becoming interested in jazz again. Jazz in all of its sub-genres has an expanding fan base, which is really something to behold, with people who had not previously been exposed to the genre coming to it. All the effort on the artists' part has not been in vain. Also, the fans within the Contemporary Jazz community are extremely loyal. You, as well as other artists, have a definite following.

BC: Yes, they are. It is great.

AAJ: You have toured extensively with your father and he has been a major source of inspiration for your music. It was your father who first placed the headphones on your head so that you could listen to great funk bands like Earth Wind & Fire. He must be so thrilled with this album.

BC: Absolutely. In fact I remember playing some of the early demos from him and he would say, "Now this is what I'm talking about!"

AAJ: I would imagine so. What a great opportunity to make an album like this. Throughout the years you have made it a point to always take the time to speak to your fans, whether at a meet and greet or at a fan club event. It is really nice to see an artist take the time to speak to the fans, and I'm sure that they are all appreciative. Do you feel it is important for an artist to maintain that level of accessibility in order to relate to the fans?

BC: I definitely believe it is important. The last thing that you want to do is turn a fan off or somehow dismiss them. It is all about the fans. If an artist turns off a fan, then they are going to tell their friends and then it has a negative effect. I love to talk to the fans and to hear stories about how the music has affected them.

Selected Discography

Brian Culbertson, Bringing Back the Funk (GRP Records, 2008)
Jimmy Sommers, Sunset Collective (Gemini, 2007)
Brian Culbertson, Soulful Christmas (GRP Records, 2006)
Brian Culbertson, It's On Tonight (GRP Records, 2005)
Richard Elliot, Metro Blue (Artizen Music Group, 2005)
Brian Bromberg, Choices (Artistry Records, 2004)
Various Artists, Forever, For Always, For Luther (GRP Records, 2004)
Brian Culbertson, Come On Up (Warner, 2003)
Michael Lington, Everything Must Change (Three Keys Music, 2002)
Various Artists, Golden Slumbers: A Father's Lullaby (Warner, 2002)
Brian Culbertson, Nice & Slow (Atlantic Records, 2001)
Richard Elliot, Ballads (Blue Note Records, 2001)
Steve Cole, Between Us (Atlantic Records, 2000)
Brian Culbertson, Somethin' 'Bout Love (Atlantic Records, 1999)
Various Artists, Funky Jazz Party (Atlantic Records, 1998)
Wayman Tisdale, Decisions (Atlantic Records, 1998)
Rick Braun, Full Stride (Atlantic Records, 1998)
Brian Culbertson, Secrets (Mesa/Bluemoon, 1997)
Brian Culbertson, After Hours (Mesa/Bluemoon, 1996)

Photo Credit
Courtesy of Brian Culbertson

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