Gerald Albright Pushing the Envelope Interview
|By Art Jackson 02/12/11
SJM: So Gerald you have a handful of nominations now, is 2011 the charm?
Gerald: Please give me the trophy! I am going to beg for it. In all seriousness, the nomination for me is really the reward as the guys and I was talking about it last night. With all the behind the scenes leading up to the actual award show, there is a panel of Who’s Who, listening to all these CDs over a two day period and they decide from that listening session on who will be nominated, so when you are nominated based on your peers liking you and they feel that you have something to say that is a great compliment.
SJM: Do you have your speech already written?
Gerald: Believe it or not I am not going to the GRAMMYS tomorrow. I will be in the studio doing some horn arrangements for Andre Crouch. And since we are on a time sensitive schedule right now, with recording on Monday, I have to make sure that everything is tight. This will be the first GRAMMYs out of the five nominations that I have not attended, but my integrity will not let me bow out of my responsibility to him, as I am honored to be apart of his project.
SJM: Are you thinking about doing your own Gospel CD?
Gerald: I’d like to eventually, as well as a Christmas CD which I have not done yet. Also I want to do a solo bass CD and at some point maybe a Blues CD since I love the Blues. So you can say this is my assembly line of projects that I want to ultimately do.
SJM: How would you describe the Gerald Albright sound?
Gerald: I strive to have a unique sound so when a lot of guys was listening to Michael Brecker and David Sanborn I kind of took a different route to do something away from the rest of the pack of musicians that sounded alike, so Maceo Parker and Cannonball Adderly are the ones that I gravitated to. Maceo was one of the first guys that I listened to at a young age like 8 and 9 years old. My brother who was 8 years older than me had all of James Brown records that he is playing in the house and this is what I am absorbing everyday, and I hear the saxophone player and of course it’s Maceo who really caught my ear. The way that he played, the clarity of his sound, he almost sounded like a drummer playing the saxophone because he is so percussive, so rhythmic with it and it immediately caught my attention and for several years I tried to immolate him. Then in high school I was introduced to Cannonball Adderly who basically just changed my life musically so my sounds is a fusion between Maceo and Cannonball with some added unique stuff that I learned and developed into my own style. I think my fans can feel it’s genuine, it’s honest, I think you can hear the passion when I am playing. I feel like a big kid every time I pick up that horn. I feel like I am just getting started, even though I am 53 now, a very young 53, I feel like there is so much music to make, music to learn and I think it’s really about being honest with the music.
SJM: So picking up the sax as a young kid in South Central L.A., it has taken you to a lot of places, what was it like being one of 10 sax players to play and meet President Clinton?
Gerald: It was heavy. That was one of the main times in my life that I will never forget, something to tell the grand kids about. First of all Quincy Jones and Tom Scott were selected to hand pick the musicians for the presentation of the inauguration, so I was on stage with Grover Washington Jr., Kenny G, Dave Koz, Kirk Wahlum, David Sanborn, Michael Breaker among others, and these were guys that I truly admired and mentors and to be on that stage to play for the President and first lady was just the greatest compliment. And after that point I actually befriended the President, we got Christmas Cards every year, and every time I performed for a democratic function we would go off to the corner and talk about saxophones and things. There was at one point in Philly the living Presidents came together both democratic and republican for the President Summit and the whole thing was to clean up the city of Philadelphia and there was Jimmy Carter, President Clinton, and Ronald Reagan and they literally went around the city in their over-alls painting graffiti off the buildings. Later on that night we did a big gala and President Clinton who was known for doing things on his time and rhythm and when it comes to a function like that, he is suppose to align himself with the Secret Service and they are suppose to know everywhere he is going to be at any given point but he would come over and talk to musicians unannounced, and that’s what he did, talking to me and Grover and a couple of other guys and just started talking shop, finally one of the Secret Service guys come over and says, “Mr. President the first lady would like to leave now”. We got that deep into it; it was a very memorable night. The thing about President Clinton is that you forget you are talking to “The Man” the leader of the free world, he is just a regular guy who is brilliant in his own right, and he’s is Bill to me, I mean he is President Clinton but he is just Bill to me and you just lose yourself in his personality and he is so cool and so down to earth.
SJM: Who are some of the people whom you would like to play with?
Gerald: Wow, a lot of the people who I really want to play with are not here anymore, like a Cannonball Adderly, like a James Brown. In a lot of my music especially on the R&B side he has a very deep influence, if you listen closely to the production you can hear a hint of a lot of James Brown. In fact on my new record “Pushing The Envelope” the very first song “What would James Do” is totally paying homage to him. He is a big part of my sound. I would have loved to have done a duet with Pavarotti, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie are people that I just truly adored and continue too, I would like to have just played one song with them, that would have been great.
SJM: I am friends with you and your daughter Selina on Facebook and she posted some pictures of your time on the Smooth Jazz Cruise, what was one of the highlights on the voyage?
Gerald: Nina Simone daughter “Simone” was also there performing, and my wife is a big fan of Nina Simone which she has a lot of her music on the computer and I got to play on one of her songs, but Simone was phenomenal, with just an ultimate poise. She comes from that theatrical/broadway side and she sang great with a bundle of energy, you can see her Mom in here but less serious, unlike her mother Nina who was political, controversial and Simone is more fun loving and a oneness with the audience she wants you to be entertained.
SJM: Let’s talk about your current record “Pushing The Envelope”. One of my favorites is “Capetown Strut”, were you inspired by going to South Africa?
Gerald: Yes, I have had the pleasure of going there two or three times for private events and for Capetown Music Festival a few years back. I just really love it there, the people are festive, it’s a beautiful place to be. Of course there is a very serious history in South Africa which reels you in with the whole Mandela thing. But I wanted to make this record a more global presentation. A lot of our previous records stays into the R&B and love songs, but we wanted to take it to the Latin world, to South Africa, we have a little bit of everything on this record. That’s one of my favorite cuts too, all the cuts are close to me, they are my babies, I have to nurture them.
SJM: I noticed that you produced all the tracks.
Gerald: I did, I produced and played all the bass tracks. I wrote most of the songs except for the cover tunes. It was a fun record to start on the ground floor and watch this embryo develop into what you hear now.
SJM: On this one record as you said you have all these different sounds from kicking R&B to love songs and Latin how does that process come about?
Gerald: I have 14 CDs now, and each CD is a chapter of my life, it kind of reflects what I was doing during the course of that recording and this record I just felt more free. I live in Colorado, the mountain, the pine trees, the deer, the rabbits, its like “Coming To America” and I wanted to do a record that had no limits and that’s why we titled it “Pushing The Envelope”. I didn’t want to think about if they are going to play this on radio, I just wanted something to come out of me that was genuine and transparent and spontaneous and what felt comfortable at the time was to do a record that was global and once again that was honest and had no limits. So I didn’t worry about if I played a lot of notes verses a few notes, so whatever came out of my horn is what I wanted to record. It was nice that the record company allowed me to do that. I had a very in-depth conversation with Mark Wessler of Heads Up International Records he is one of the very few remaining old school exec’s that really understand the music, and he said, “Gerald just bring us you, we want genuine Gerald”. It was nice that he gave me that freedom to do the record that I wanted to do.
SJM: With the two cover tunes on the CD you went from Michael Jackson to Burt Bacharach how did you sit down and select those?
Gerald: As far as “Close To You”, I was in Nyrobi, Kenya over a year ago and woke up one morning at 6am singing this song, and I am wondering why am I singing this song since it is very un-characteristic of me, cause I am a jazz artist, so “Close To You” / Jazz it’s a 180’ but I couldn’t get this tune out of my mind, so I got up and was going through the whole grooming thing, brushing my teeth and this song is still there and I thought wow, this would be a cool thing to do as an instrumental and so as soon I got back from Africa it was the first tune I record on the record, but I didn’t want to do it like the old version, I wanted to bring it up to date to the new millennium and put some fresh ingredients in it and its not until you hear the initial melody of the verse that you go ahh ok that’s it. And as far as Michael, I have always been a fan of Michael, I am good friends with a lot of his siblings, but I never met Michael. But I was very close, speaking about 3 or 4 days before he died. I was about an hour away from meeting him. He was supposed to come to a rehearsal in leading up to his big tour in London. But Jackie, Marlon and those guys are good friends. I just love what the Jacksons have done and what Michael has done for the industry, on the music side, movies side and video, great song writer and producer and he is the man and I wanted to pay tribute to him. “Get On The Floor” was one of my favorite tunes, it was never like one of the major singles for him but I just always loved the groove and with bassist Louis Johnson who collaborated with him on it by writing and producing the tune it was just one of those tunes that had that infectious type of groove for me. And I always said if I ever had the opportunity to cover one of his songs that would be the one I would do, and I finally did it on this record.
SJM: With this being your first release on your new label Heads Up and a GRAMMY nominee, they must be bouncing off the walls?
Gerald: Yes, everyone is really excited; it’s a good place to be. With music being a very youth base industry, as musicians get older you don’t hear about them as much, more of a cyclical thing that happens and labels are looking for the new up and coming sax player or vocal artist but it’s a blessing to be a mainstay and to have the following I have had for the last 33 years and people are still buying the music even with the plethora of sax players out there they still buy Gerald Albright music which is the greatest compliment.
SJM: With this being the 20th year anniversary of “Live at Birdland West” are you planning on doing another Live CD again?
Gerald: Yes, I would love to do another live record. I have been asked to do another several times by my fans. I am about do for another traditional jazz record. If I do one it will be my third, “Giving Myself To You” which was a in studio traditional record, but this time I think I would like to do it with an orchestra. Maybe go over to Europe and get one of those famous recording orchestras over there and make it nice and lush.
SJM: With the advent of Facebook, I get fans of yours from all over the world asking about you, are there any plans for touring overseas?
Gerald: One of my up-hill battles for me is getting across the water. I have been able to do it with other artists like Phil Collins and Whitney Houston early on in my career but as a solo artist, I am not sure if it’s generally that the domestic record companies have the relationships to get artists over there. Obviously there is quite a cost to bring musicians there, putting them up and paying them. With every label I have been with, it’s been me trying to convince them that we need to spread our wings and take the music over there. I have been able to do a little of Europe and a lot of Japan but that’s only a small part of the world since I never been to South America or Australia, so I am still on a mission to get there.
SJM: Any surprise tonight with “Guitars and Saxes”?
Gerald: Lots! A lot of people think that Guitars and Saxes is just four major artists who do their things separately, one guy comes up and do his set, but its not like that, its an ultimate comradery. We do have points in the show where we do our own songs, because people want to hear certain hits from the artist, but we really do things together, mixing it up and being spontaneous, basically it’s just a party for an hour and a half or two hours. We like to get the audience into it and participate so it’s not one of those sit down and listen to shows, we want you to get into it. Like a lot of our shows respectively, it’s gonna have some different moods, it’s gonna have some funk, some blues, some love songs and stuff you can dance to. And no two shows are alike, we have a blue print of knowing what we gonna do but then, the definition of jazz is free music so the keyboard player tonight may play something that will inspire me to do something totally different than what I did last night in Las Vegas. That’s the beauty of the music, it just builds and evolves and allows it to speak. I like to think of us as being messengers and what the creator gives us just transcends to the audience that brings a oneness second to none.
SJM: So what other special projects are in the works for Gerald?
Gerald: My daughter Selina sings and she has been coming on really strong the last couple of years, so we are going to put together a solo CD for her, which is in conceptual talks now, which is very interesting in talking to your daughter from watching her growing up, to background singer to now putting out a CD. I think eventually in a few years from now I will be going from being a dad to a bodyguard. But she is really getting a good name for herself and I am just so proud of her. She just finished singing with David Benoit on his Charlie Brown Christmas tour as a lead vocalist. On the Smooth Jazz Cruise she sung with Me, Candy Dulfer, George Duke, Marcus Miller, she did the gospel hour with Jonathan Butler and a host of other artists and four of her own shows as well. She is so passionate about it and we just want to take it to another level. That’s the first order of business and then I will start on CD #15 for me.
SJM: Well Gerald it’s been a pleasure and I look forward in seeing the show tonight.
Gerald: I had a great time as well.