Playing all the saxes: tenor, alto, soprano and baritone is only part of the magnificent picture. Albright also plays the flute, flute and electric bass. Being this versatile is quite a fete. To stay in demand across the country and around the world, year after year, is a dream most artists aspire to.
A very pleasant voice answered the phone for this interview-kind of mild and smooth like the instrument Gerald Albright plays.
JazzReview: Let’s talk about your new album, Kickin’ It Up. That’s such an appropriate name because this is such a lively album. Who named the album? Where did the idea come from?
Gerald Albright: Actually, I had the pleasure of naming the album. What I usually do after I finish a project, is drive around a little bit listening to the music to get a connotation of what the music brings to me emotionally. This album just brought a lot of energy to me. I know you noticed a lot of fast tempo tunes, a lot of funk and that name just came to mind. It employs a lot of energetic overtones and a lot of tones that will make people feel good the rest of the day, and just kind of want to dance. That’s what it was put together to do.
JazzReview: Right. How do you feel it differs from Groovology?
Gerald Albright: I think it’s broader. Groovology was more R&B with flute-jazz overtones. This one we employed a little bit of everything from funk, to select ballads to a John Mayer tune titled Why Georgia which is totally different from what I normally do, you know. Then, we did a Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes tune which went on the other side of the spectrum. I think what we were trying to do with this particular project was; broaden our listening base. Groovology was a little more focused in one direction. I think that’s the difference in the two projects.
JazzReview: I think you achieved that with this one. You’ve got some way old-school with Junior Walker. Then, you’ve got Brian McKnight’s tune, Condition of My Heart done so well by Shawn Stockman. He carries the song note for note. Then, on to Harold Melvin’s tune, so you do cover a very wide spectrum of music.
Gerald Albright: We went shopping in terms of the genre’. Hopefully, that will reflect in the sales and in my shows when we go live. I just want everyone to enjoy it. It’s geared towards being a global CD. I just want people to understand it and enjoy it at the same time.
JazzReview: Right. The opening song, 4 On The Floor, is upbeat and spunky with Chuckii Booker doing some pretty fancy finger work on the keyboard. Can you tell me a bit about Mr. Booker?
Gerald Albright: Yes, Chuckii and I have been friends for a very long time. Actually, he was in my very first touring band back in 1987-88. He’s gone on to be a wonderful R&B recording artist in his own right.
He had two number one records come out on Atlantic several years ago. He’s currently the musical director for Lionel Richey. And, he’s been that for at least three years that I know of. He does a lot of traveling, spending a lot of time in Europe, though he still lives in the states.
He’s doing very, very well. And, every time I do a project like this, I think of Chucky because it’s just such a wonderful marriage, musically between us. It just works.
You know, half the battle of making a great record is knowing who will compliment the work in the right fashion-in your vision. Chucky is just one of those people who compliments what I do, musically.
JazzReview: Yes, he really rounded out 4 On The Floor. You play four different saxes, flute and alto flute, plus electric bass. How did you become so rounded?
Gerald Albright: It’s merely a passion for the music, Nina. I ‘ve been playing since I was nine years old. At different stages, different instruments gravitated me.
Initially, I started out on piano. But, I really didn’t want to practice from week to week so my private teacher tried to find another instrument he thought I’d be interested in. That turned out to be the saxophone. I immediately fell in love with that because you can blow through it. You can press on the keys. It’s a totally different thing from the piano. I think at that stage, I was striving for a little independence, too. You know, you’ve got to do something other than what your parents want you to do.
From there I went on to Gomper’s Junior High, then to Locke High School. They both had some great music programs. And, that just musically nourished me to the point I became interested in other instruments, like the flute. Beyond that point, when I went to college, I picked up the bass. I did it just because I liked it. It wasn’t it terms of focusing on making a career out of it. I just liked the sound of.
My inspiration for that was Lewis Johnson. I went to a lot of concerts of the Brothers Johnson Lewis just blew me away on his bass chops and I just made a mental note that if I ever got a bass in my hand, I was going to play it to whatever depth I could. It’s turned out to be an integral part of my sound, which is a lot of fun.
JazzReview: This is a pitiful question: what is the difference between a keyboard bass and a regular bass?
Gerald Albright: Well, the bass sound actually comes from a synthesizer. A keyboard synthesizer merely plays different sounds. You can get drum sounds-- Make keyboard sounds out of the bass, Technology has become so sophisticated, you can even employ the human voice through it. You can sing through it and play chords where your voice is in perfect harmony. There’s a whole plethora of options now
When we employ the keyboard bass, it simply means I called up the keyboard bass sound and played that as opposed to the guitar-a bass that looks like a guitar that you’re use to seeing on stage.
JazzReview: Thank you. That was a great answer. I have another question. What’s the difference between an acoustic piano and a regular piano? I see George Duke plays acoustic piano on your album.
Gerald Albright: Acoustic simply means there’s no cords or wires plugged up. Acoustic piano and piano are synonymous with each other. It’s like saying sax as opposed to saxophone. It’s simply another term.
JazzReview: Thank you so much. I’m so techno-deficient.
A lot of people don’t understand jazz can be more than a sophisticated, stoic performance, or that jazz isn’t necessarily bop.
Many performers are going back to the Motown sound because it reaches out to the audience. Kickin’ It Up has a funky, Motown warmth to it.
Gerald Albright: I’ve done a lot of Motown sound in my work because it makes me reflect on some wonderful times in my life. You hear a Temptation song, it takes you back to where you were when you heard it the first time. It’s such a wide, user-friendly genre, speaking of the Motown sound, that it’s just a no-brainer to employ in today’s tunes. It’s such a great formula There’s a lot of Motown material to choose from. And, there are so many Motown artists to choose from in terms of styling, in order to enhance what you’re doing in today’s music.
JazzReview: You wrote some of the songs on this album. What inspired these particular songs? You even did one to your father.
Gerald Albright: Yes, that’s right. Last September we lost him at age 87. I wanted to make a song to him because to me, he was the greatest father. He was married to my mom for 64 years and it was the type of relationship you dream about. They were very supportive of each other. They stuck it out and raised their children correctly.
I think my brother and I came out great. (a little chuckle). My mother is still with us and my brother is doing very well. So, I’m saying they gave us the right type of teaching and the right amount of support. It makes you want to give back. My father was over and above what you ask for in a father. My dedicating a song to him on the CD was merely a token of the love and respect I have for him. I’m wondering now if I’ll even be able to perform that song on stage because it brings so much emotion with it. But, I’m going to take a stab at it.
JazzReview: That is a very strong area of feeling.
You’re also doing some tunes written by Brian McKnight, on this album. How did you decide on him for this project?
Gerald Albright: Well, I’ve loved Brian’s song writing for a long time and I appreciate him as an artist as well. The CEO of Verve Music suggested I do this song. I had never heard the song so he sent me a CD. I said ‘ my goodness, this is a great tune’ however, not everyone can sing a Brian tune.
Brian has such a fingerprint voice. He has a wide range-how well he sings high and low. Not everyone has that type of range. In our mission to find the right vocalist, we found Shawn Stockman from Boyz to Men and I thought he was just the right candidate.
Shawn did such a stellar job, I’m just really, really happy with his performance.
JazzReview: Shawn’s voice is right for that song. He carried the emotion through his voice.
Gerald Albright: I’ll pass that along to him. We’ve gotten such a positive reaction, I’m really pleased.
JazzReview: Tell me a little about your relationship with Jeff Lorber. You’ve been with Jeff for a while, haven’t you?
Gerald Albright: I joined his touring band right after Kenny G left the band, who was then Kenny Gorlick. Jeff and I went on a tour and from there we became close friends. We’ve been able to work on certain projects together. He was the great writer and producer on my last project. He also did three songs on this new one. And, I appreciate his keyboard playing, his knowledge of how to produce songs. He’s great for making a fun musical and for making it sellable as well.
A lot of radio stations love Jeff Lorber music, so we put our ideas together and it seems to work. It’s very easy to work with Jeff. We’ll sit down and pass ideas to one another and all of a sudden, here comes this great tune.
JazzReview: Do you find that after working with someone for a while, you get a feel for what they are doing when you play?
Gerald Albright: Absolutely. I’ve had the pleasure this whole year, of the two of us doing a tour called Grooving For Grover. We’re looking at the Grover community basically and making people aware of what a wonderful influence he was both to us, as musicians and to his wonderful audiences that he accumulated over the years as he played.
Jeff is a musical director, and sometimes we go out and play, and we’ll start doing this improvisational thing between the two of us. It’s like a column-response sort of thing. It’s like we’re having a conversation right on stage in a spontaneous fashion. Sometimes, it happens so accurately that we just start laughing. We get the same idea sometimes. It’s because we’ve worked together in so many kinds of settings.
JazzReview: It’s nice when that happens. It gives added energy to your performance.
I’ve heard about your project, Grooving For Grover. You’ve already kicked it off?
Gerald Albright: Yes, we’ve already kicked it off. We began touring in late February. The most concentrated part of our tour was in April and May. Now we’re just doing isolated tours during the summer months in the areas of ---we just did Philly this last Monday. We’ll be doing outside of Oakland California on Saturday.
So, we’re just going to play together and run the tour as long as promoters will have us. We’re just going to let the tour run as long as we can.
JazzReview: I understand you played with Anita Baker.
Gerald Albright: Yes. I played as her bassist for two or three years back in 85-86, shortly before I got my record deal. And, I played bass on her new record, a single just released to radio. The album comes out in a couple of weeks. And, I’ve been touring with her last year and this year. It’s good to be back with her. She’s sounding better than ever. She seems to be content and to be enjoying life, so I’m glad to be back with her.
JazzReview: You’re also doing a tour with Phil Collins?
Gerald Albright: I’m really excited about this. We just did a seven-week tour in Europe. We did France, Germany, Belgium, the U.K., and Austria. We did Sweden. We wee pretty much all over the place. It was fun. There was choreography involved in the show, so I found myself dancing on stage, and I just walked out with my horn and talked to the audience. It was like being on Broadway or something.
I like new experiences. I actually enjoyed this. Phil’s energetic on stage and it makes you just want to get into it. It gives you more energy. It’s a great experience.
We’re taking a little break. Then, at the end of August, we’re going back out, touring the States.
JazzReview: This sounds exciting. I hope you make it to Florida.
Gerald Albright: Well, actually, we are going to be in Florida. The 28th of September, we’ll be in Orlando. Wednesday, the 29th, we’ll be in Tampa. Thursday, the 30th, we’ll be in Fort Lauderdale.
JazzReview: Could we talk about the Diabetic Association? You play a song on the tribute to Luther album. Plus, I see your wife has a business Just Sweet Enough. Do you have a personal experience with diabetes? Is that how your wife decided to begin her business?
Gerald Albright: My wife actually had an experience with cancer. Coming back from that experience made her want to spread the word about nutrition and healthy eating.
Just Sweet Enough is a gourmet mail order business focusing on low sugar, low fat desserts. We have cookie dots, which are lemon and shortbread cookies designed with the idea: people can have treats-just don’t eat a lot of them. It’s primarily smart eating. And, along with the menu, there’s an explanation of every ingredient.
One of my favorites is sweet potato pound cake, which is nutritious. Many people don’t know sweet potato is high in beta-carotene, which helps prevent cancer. We get a lot of customers who have diabetes or health related issues. But, we also get people who aren’t ill, who just want to eat healthier. It’s doing very well.
JazzReview: Yes, Gerald Albright is a sensitive, articulate, gentle man with staying power. He has lasted through the years as a world-class musician. And, now, he’s supporting his wife’s endeavor while being an involved father. That takes a grounded discipline, a sense of commitment and a feel for balance.
Albright’s new album, Kickin’ It Up is as lively, energetic and outreaching as the artist himself.