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
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
**The complete story can be found in the June edition of Smooth
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For more information on Albright, visit www.geraldalbright.com.
June 15 (with Guitars & Sax)
Playboy Jazz Festival
2301 N. Highland Ave.
Aug. 8 (with Guitars & Sax)
The WAVE’s Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Summer Jazz Series
1107 Jamboree Road
Newport Beach, California
Sept. 7 (with Guitars & Sax)
Jazz on the River
Johnson’s Beach on the Russian River
16241 First St.
Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival
Avalon Casino Ballroom
1 Casino Way
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