Born Brian James Culbertson on January 12, 1973, in Decatur, IL; son of James (a high school band director) and Carol Culbertson; married Michelle Culbertson (an opera singer and composer), 1997. Addresses: Management--Auntie M. Creative Consultants, Inc., 128 S. Palm Ave., Alhambra, CA 91801. Website--Brian Culbertson Official Website: http://www.brianculbertsonmusic.com.
A chart-topping smooth jazz musician and composer, Brian Culbertson gained recognition with his first album Long Night Out, which he recorded in his Chicago apartment and released in 1994. His next album, Modern Life, became one of radio's most played albums in 1995. By 2001 he had released five additional albums and firmly established himself as one of the bright lights of contemporary jazz.
Culbertson grew up in Decatur, Illinois, where his father taught him an early appreciation of jazz, particularly the work of Maynard Ferguson, the Brecker Brothers, and David Sanborn. Other musicians who were to become major influences on Culbertson's later work included Blood, Sweat & Tears and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Culbertson was seven when he began to study the piano. He described his first piano teacher on his website as "a typical 'old school' classical piano teacher that would press her fingers down on top of our fingers if we didn't play something right." Culbertson's parents strongly supported his musical pursuits, and this early start was no exception. "My mom," Culbertson continued, "had taken piano lessons when she was young and helped me out a lot with my lessons." Moving from group to private lessons in 1981, Culbertson's new teacher, Rose Marie Thompson, was to have a profound influence on his development as a musician. "I've always thanked her in the liner notes of all my records," he said, "because she really inspired me to play."
When he was nine, Culbertson began to study drums, then picked up the trombone when he was ten so that he could play in his school band--there are no pianos in a band, and the drum parts weren't enough of a challenge. Looking to do even more, Culbertson began to compose his own music when he was in junior high school. During his first year in high school he began to make his own recordings in his parents' basement using the new Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer, one of the first on the market, and a four-track tape machine. He also played in the high school band, which his father directed. In 1988, while still a freshman in high school, Culbertson made his professional debut, as a trombonist in the orchestra for his high school's production of the musical Mame.
Culbertson continued to compose, but his pieces soon exceeded the ability of his schoolmate musicians to play them, so out of necessity he learned to play all the parts himself, blending them on his four-track. He remained fascinated by synthesizers, and learned how to use Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) sequencing, a technology that allows multiple electronic instruments and synthesizers to be played simultaneously. By the time he graduated from high school and moved on to college, Culbertson had won eleven student awards from Down Beat magazine--six as a soloist, and five as part of a group.
Culbertson went to DePaul University in Chicago, where he continued his music studies. Here he also met the higher-caliber musicians that would help him advance to the next level in his own music. He still found the time, however, to play with the Decatur Municipal Band during summers away from school.
In 1993, at the age of 20, Culbertson landed a six-album recording contract with the Mesa/Blue Moon label. He recorded his debut album in the Chicago apartment that he was then sharing with three college friends. On his website, Culbertson said, "I always tell the story of having to stop recording so that the large truck could go past, or the ambulance siren would subside." The album, released in 1994, was called Long Night Out; it hit the charts immediately, and stayed in the adult contemporary top five for ten straight weeks. During that same year Culbertson met Michelle, the woman who was to become his wife; the two were married in 1997.
Since Culbertson had recorded his first album by himself, he wanted to bring in other players on the next one. Modern Life, released in 1995, featured many of the top jazz players in Chicago, as well as master saxophonist Gerald Albright. This album, too, made the charts, becoming one of radio's most-played smooth jazz albums in 1995. A third album, After Hours, followed soon thereafter.
During 1995 Culbertson took a job at Cliff Colnot Music, which creates music for television ads for McDonald's, United Airlines, Sears, and other high-profile corporations. He stayed with this company for more than three years, and, recalling on his website, "It was such a great learning experience for me because we did all styles of music from full 60 piece orchestrations to rock and roll, big bands, hip-hop and even polkas." Meanwhile, Culbertson continued to record his own music and to play concert tours. Secret was released in 1997, followed by Somethin' Bout Love in 1999.
Nice & Slow, released in 2001, marked Culbertson's return to solo performance. "I'm from that first generation of kids to grow up with keyboards and MIDI," he explained on his website. "So I was always my own band. I did everything because back then that's all I knew how to do. It was also a control thing for me; I wanted to play every single, little part--the drum programming, the bass, and everything else." Even so, Culbertson found room to include other musicians on this album, and even other composers, including Jeff Lorber, Herb Alpert, and Kenny Lattimore.
Culbertson described his composing process on his website: "My music is based on the groove and the feel; that's the basis for it all. I write melodies that get in sync with the groove; if they don't feel good that way, I don't use 'em." His future plans include work on television and motion picture soundtracks.
by Michael Belfiore
Brian Culbertson's Career
Released first album, Long Night Out, which made the top-five charts in the U.S., 1994; released Modern Life, which also charted, 1995; released After Hours, 1995; released Secret, 1997; released Somethin' Bout Love, 1999; released Nice & Slow, 2001.
Brian Culbertson's Awards
Third National Smooth Jazz Award for Best Keyboardist of the Year, 2002; Won several student awards from Down Beat magazine.
- Selected discography
- Long Night Out , Blue Moon, 1994.
- Modern Life , Blue Moon, 1995.
- After Hours , Mesa/Bluemoon, 1995.
- Secret , Atlantic, 1997.
- Somethin' Bout Love , Atlantic, 1999.
- Nice & Slow , Atlantic, 2001.
July 26, 2005: Culbertson's album, It's On Tonight, was released. Source: Billboard.com, /www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_4/index.jsp, July 29, 2005.
- Holtje, Steve, and Nancy Ann Lee, editors, MusicHound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1998.
- "Brian Culbertson," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 2, 2002).
- Brian Culbertson Official Website, http://www.brianculbertsonmusic.com (September 2, 2002).