Cover Story

Gerald Albright

By Melanie Maxwell

Throughout his 20 year career, Gerald Albright has sold more than 1 million albums. His life and career have been racing at full throttle since he became a recording artist in 1987 with his first record, Just Between Us, on Atlantic Records. This month, he releases his 12th CD, Sax for Stax, on Peak Records. Today, Albright’s popularity and successes (professional and personal) continue to soar as he juggles dozens of concerts as part of the 2008 Guitars & Sax ensemble with solo shows. He also has his own Gerald Albright Signature Saxophone line through Cannonball Musical Instruments.
     
I caught up with Albright last month backstage at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Jazz Festival presented by Bank of the West after his Guitars & Sax performance––his fourth consecutive concert that week. He was quite excited about his new project, Sax for Stax, scheduled for release June 24, which features his daughter, Selena Albright, Will Downing, Ledis, Philip Bailey and Kirk Whalum.
   
“It’s a well-rounded project. We have live strings on this one. It’s lush. I call it classic funk because it’s got a real sheen to it, but you feel that funk underneath it, that real R&B flavor, which that’s all I know, that’s what I live,” Albright said.
    
This project, envisioned by Mark Wexler from Peak Records features covers from hit songs on the Stax Record label in the ‘60s, along with three original songs. Artists signed to Stax Records during that era included Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, the Staple Singers, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Johnnie Taylor, Isaac Hayes and the Dramatics.       
    
Reminiscing about those great songs sparked conversation about Albright’s career path in music.
    
“The only nonmusical job I had was when I worked at Woolworth’s department store. I was an assistant manager trainee. This was in ‘79 and I was fresh out of college. I worked there for about eight months, and my job was to learn the whole lingo about being a manager. The boss liked my voice, so she had me do all the ‘We have four-ply polyester Wintuck yarn for 99 cents,’ announcements. I was that guy. I hated it. I was working 48 hours a week, making chump change. That’s when Patrice Rushen called me and said ‘Hey, I’m going on this tour, would you like to come?’ I said ‘Absolutely.’ Freddie Washington, who was her regular bass player on the tour, got this great big production gig and had to leave the tour and she needed a fill in. I auditioned at one of the sound checks and got the position on bass. I told my boss at Woolworth’s, ‘I can’t even give you two weeks' notice, I’ve got to go.’
     
“So I was on a tour bus going from city to city learning her show with my little headphones on and my guitar plugged in. I played both saxophone and bass on one of the tours. I went on the road with Patrice for about five years. That was when her big hit ‘Forget Me Nots’ was heavy on the charts. I did the sax solo on that single. Then after that run of the tours, my name started getting out there and I started working with different people like Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, folks like that. I got my record deal in 1987 on Atlantic. I did seven records for them. From that point on, things got pretty good and the rest is history,” Albright recalled.
    
Albright is also a talented songwriter and composes most of the songs on his CDs.
   
 “I have a studio at the house. I’ll go down there and close the door and my family knows not to mess with me. Just slide the food under the door,” he said laughing. “Once I get in there, and it’s not all the time, I have to really be in the mood to write. It’s a seasonal thing for me. I have to really want to write it. I have to feel it. But when the creative juices do flow, I can be in the studio for two weeks straight if it feels good. Sometimes I don’t go into the studio for a month or two, just because I’m not feeling it at the time. If I’m feeling upbeat and everything is wonderful, I can write a nice, happy, funky tune. Or if I’m feeling a little melancholy, something else will come out. But, I don’t sit at the piano and try to devise this formula like saying ‘OK, I’m going to write a Latin tune today, or I’m going to write a hip hop tune today.’ I just put my hands on the keyboards or the bass or the sax and whatever comes out at that time, that’s what I write. That’s the most honest approach for me to do it that way. When we did the Sax for Stax project, it was a really good time for my creativity,” Albright said.
  
Although Albright is still enjoying his third consecutive Guitars & Saxes tour, he’llbe taking his own band on the road in support of his new CD. His touring musicians include Tony Moore or JJ Williams on drums (depending on the region), Darlene Moreno on guitar, Dwayne “Smitty” Smith or Melvin Davis on bass, and Tracy Carter (who is also musical director) on keyboards. He’ll book these solo dates in markets that Guitars & Sax won’t be performing in.      
   
Albright describes touring with his Guitars & Sax co-headliners, Peter White, Jeff Golub and Jeff Lorber as ”Fun, a real unique experience.”
    
**The complete story can be found in the June edition of Smooth Jazz NewsSubscribe today.  Receive 11 editions of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (February through December), for $35.
   
For more information on Albright, visit www.geraldalbright.com.

June 15 (with Guitars & Sax)
Playboy Jazz Festival
Hollywood Bowl
2301 N. Highland Ave.
Hollywood, California
www.playboyjazzfestival.com      

Aug. 8 (with Guitars & Sax)
The WAVE’s Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Summer Jazz Series
1107 Jamboree Road
Newport Beach, California
www.summerjazzseries.com, www.jazzconcerts.com
(949) 729-6400

Sept. 7 (with Guitars & Sax)
Jazz on the River
Johnson’s Beach on the Russian River
16241 First St.
Guerneville, California
www.omegaevents.com
(949) 360-7800

Oct. 19
Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival
Avalon Casino Ballroom
1 Casino Way
Avalon, California
www.jazztrax.com
(866) TRAX-TIX

Jan. 18-25, 2009
Smooth jazz-themed cruise hosted by Wayman Tisdale
Full-ship charter to the Caribbean
Aboard Holland America’s ms Westerdam
Embarkation/Debarkation: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Ports of Call: San Juan, Santa Barbara De Samana, Santo Domingo, Half Moon Cay
www.jazzcruisesllc.com
(877) 330-5299