Brian Culbertson, Cooking Up Smooth Jazz

Jazz master Brian Culbertson talks about his new album, It's On Tonight. The sweet and sultry tracks off the album are purposely designed to be a kind of auditory aphrodisiac.

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ED GORDON, host:

Keyboardist Brian Culbertson's new CD, "It's On Tonight," hits stores today. The new project features collaborations with some contemporary jazz greats while maintaining that sensuous Culbertson groove that's very much his own.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: During a recent conversation, I wondered if he was surprised with the growing popularity and audience of the smooth jazz genre.

Mr. BRIAN CULBERTSON ("It's On Tonight"): I don't know if I'm amazed, but you know, I'm definitely thankful. Hey, you know, it's the kind of music that I just naturally did, and I mean, they always say, `Oh, anybody could do this,' but that's not really true. You hear straight-ahead jazz guys trying to do this kind of music, they can't play it.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CULBERTSON: And I think that's one of the things that the jazz police, you know--they didn't like it because it was mainly called jazz.

GORDON: The new CD, "It's On Tonight"...

Mr. CULBERTSON: Yeah.

GORDON: ...is much of what Brian Culbertson fans are used to, and that is you're going to have some great instrumentals, but you--like many, but you, to a greater degree, I think, find a way to marry the vocal to your music and with some great, great people over the years who've been on your other albums, and you've not let us down this go-round.

Mr. CULBERTSON: Right.

GORDON: You know, you've got a preeminent lady with you on this album, Patti Austin.

Mr. CULBERTSON: Yes, I do. Patti--I just spent a month on the road with Patti over...

GORDON: Funny lady.

Mr. CULBERTSON: ...Christmastime. She is so incredible, and it was definitely a pleasure to have her on this record.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. PATTI AUSTIN and Backup Singers: (Singing) Just when I was going to turn it down, love came and knocked me right on my knees. They say that love will end, love lets you down...

GORDON: And you also bring Will Downing to the table...

Mr. CULBERTSON: Yeah.

GORDON: ...another great voice.

Mr. CULBERTSON: Yeah. Will is a label-mate of mine now on Verve.

(Soundbite of "It's On Tonight")

Mr. WILL DOWNING: (Singing) Come on, come on...

Mr. CULBERTSON: Will is just a guy that I've always admired over the years. He's just such a unique-sounding voice, and I've always been into featuring, you know, other artists during a song or a lot of a song, just to give a little break, you know, a little different taste, a little change in pace.

(Soundbite of "It's On Tonight")

Mr. DOWNING and Backup Singers: (Singing) If you come home with me, baby, it's on tonight. Soon as you walk through the door, it's on tonight...

GORDON: What about influences for you?

Mr. CULBERTSON: Yeah. Oh, man, tons of influences growing up. Like I said, Earth, Wind & Fire, big influence, Chicago, Sting. In the jazz realm, Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn and Marcus Miller. That duo in the '80s was just--I mean, it killed me. Loving that. Yellowjackets, Jeff Lorber, Chick Corea, of course.

GORDON: Sometimes I talk to musicians and they talk about--and it isn't necessarily their favorite song on the CD, but it was their favorite song to perform, to put together, to compose.

Mr. CULBERTSON: Yeah.

GORDON: Was there that on this CD? Did you have fun with one song more than the others?

Mr. CULBERTSON: Well, sometime--believe it or not, I have the opposite thing. Sometimes I'll have a song that is really, really tough, and it's just this arduous task of just going over and over and over it. So one of those songs on this record was the title cut.

(Soundbite of "It's On Tonight")

Mr. CULBERTSON: Just took a long time to really get together and formulate into the final version, and we, you know, mixed it a couple different times, and you know, hey.

(Soundbite of "It's On Tonight")

GORDON: So what's upcoming for you? Now this is coming out...

Mr. CULBERTSON: Yeah.

GORDON: ...so will you tour with this, and...

Mr. CULBERTSON: Yeah. We're on and off the road. I like to kind of go out for the weekend and be home during the week. I spend a lot of time recording in the studio other projects. So, you know, I'll pretty much be out every weekend for the rest of this year and hopefully do a Christmas tour. I don't have any complaints.

GORDON: Well, we're happy you're turning it out. I'm a big fan. The new CD is called "It's On Tonight," and we'll leave that to people's interpretation...

Mr. CULBERTSON: Yes, indeed.

GORDON: ...what exactly that means.

Mr. CULBERTSON: Well, we know what it means. No. It's on.

GORDON: It's on. Brian Culbertson, thank you so much for coming in.

Mr. CULBERTSON: Thank you for having me.

GORDON: Appreciate it.

Mr. CULBERTSON: All right.

(Soundbite of music)

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