Moving to the US from a successful touring career in his native Denmark was risky. Over 13 years later, saxophonist Michael Lington has graduated from being a working musician to being a performing artist on tour with jazz fireball Brian Culbertson. Lington is well on his way to becoming a major influence in the smooth jazz world.
His most current album, Everything Must Change, is produced and collaborated with Brian Culbertson and Gregg Karukas. Pianist Jeff Lorber also contributes by co-writing and performing on a couple of songs. Lington thrives on interaction from other artists. “I love to collaborate . . . when you go and write with someone else, it gives it a whole new twist. [It’s] a whole lot of fun to collaborate with people.” However, it takes a good relationship to co-write with someone. “Writing is so personal that if you are sitting in a room and you have no chemistry, you won’t get anything done.”
Released in 2002, Everything Must Change is combination of R&B with smooth jazz undertones from off the beaten path. Songs are a sensual mix of playable melodies. Lington takes great care in choosing the songs for each album. “One of the things that is most important is to have high quality songs. I take a bit longer to do albums than other artists. I find it is so important for the songs to be correct,” said Lington. Lington admits that he doesn’t necessarily write for radio format, either. “I just do what I do and hope the people like it.” Audiences are receiving Lington well. In April 2003, Everything Must Change went Top 5 on both national smooth jazz radio and internet charts.
Touring with pianist/trombonist Culbertson wasn’t a big style leap for Lington. Having already worked together on Everything Must Change, they have a great relationship. Lington has a lot of respect for Culbertson as a bandleader, composer and producer. “Brian is such a great showman. There is so much for me to learn from that,” said Lington before a recent Chicago show. Tapping into Culbertson’s audience has enabled Lington a chance to broaden his own fan base. “This tour is a rich blessing for me.”
Lington is currently writing new material for his next album that is expected to be released in 2004. The style will be freer with less structured songs than in the past. Going for a more edgy sound, Lington would like to experiment with an improvisational style and possibly do something “off the wall.” However, Lington doesn’t plan on following the current movement towards chill, but it will be a sound all his own. Remaining true to his personal musical vision is important. “Music is just the universal language. If you portray emotion and honesty in what you do, people will pick up on it,” reflected Lington.
Making his home in Los Angeles, Lington still finds the time to relax in several ways. “I go water skiing every chance I can.” Lington will frequently meet friends in his speedboat out on the water. After skiing for a bit, everyone will help create a gourmet lunch on the lake. An avid cook, Lington loves to experiment with Italian dishes. However, not all his friends are as well versed. Lington laughed as he shared a story about a time when one of the guys tried to cook with a blowtorch. Scuba diving is his biggest hobby with a passion towards investigating shipwrecks. While touring, Lington has enjoyed diving in such places as the Caribbean, Catalina and Hawaii.
Currently under new management, Lington is looking forward to launching a tour of his own. Being on the road with Culbertson in 2003 has limited his ability to perform as a solo act. However, he has managed to fit in quite a few independent gigs while working with Culbertson. When asked where he would like to be in five years, Lington humbly reflected that he would like to “be an artist that is recognized and respected for what I do.” Being true to his own vision and keeping a realistic outlook appears to be two of his greatest strengths. After all, “Everybody has to change in order to keep on growing,” said Lington.