Want to know what your favorite musician is doing outside the spotlight? In 2010, it's easier than ever to keep fans updated with Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, personal websites and, of course, YouTube.
But smooth jazz keyboardist Brian Culbertson is venturing into uncharted territory for his upcoming CD, XII, which is scheduled for release on July 20. He's posted more than 50, and counting, videos showing the creative process behind the new music. You see famous musicians. You see what kind of espresso machine he has. And you hear some of Culbertson's music before it's released even to the media. To keep fans returning, Culbertson has held weekly contests for prizes based on what's in the videos.
“So many people don't really know what it's like to make a record,” Culbertson said. “If people really see what goes into it they'll have a different perspective and a higher appreciation of what we go through and the hard work that goes into it.”
The video blog that he did chronicling the making of the whole record can be found online at www.youtube.com/brianculbertson.
Of course, all this might also help drive sales when the CD is released. But Culbertson says today's technology and its ease of use makes fan interaction a no-brainer.
“It doesn't take that much time,” he said. “We do a session, and at the end create a video recapping what happened over the past few hours. It's just a taste of what went down. You load it onto YouTube and five minutes later people are viewing the video, so it's almost like being in the studio with us as it happens, which I think is pretty exciting.”
It's so immediate that one fan posted the following message on Culbertson's Twitter account referencing his 2009 DVD and CD project, Live From the Inside: “This is the real live from the inside.”
If you're wondering why Culbertson is naming his new CD XII, wonder no more.
“Twelve is a significant number for me,” he said.
It's his 12th album, including nine studio CDs, a Christmas CD, and Live From the Inside. XII will have 12 songs. He was born on January 12. He's been married to his wife, Michelle, for 12 years. There are 12 notes to a scale. At age 12, Culbertson knew he wanted to be a musician, and at that age he was introduced to MIDI synthesizers and computers. And here's where it just gets spooky.
“Every address where I've lived has had 1s and 2s in it,” Culbertson said. 1120. 1220. 211. Dorm room number 210.
Culbertson says XII is half R&B and half instrumental, with an overall R&B bent. There will be horn sections and live strings on several songs as well. The CD is packed with an all-star cast, including Ray Parker Jr., Paul Jackson Jr., Nate Watts, Lenny Castro, Oscar Seaton Jr., Randy Bowland, Eric Marienthal, Dan Fornero, Greg Boyer, Charlie Bisharat, Randy Jacobs, Sheldon Reynolds and many more. Guitarist Earl Klugh is featured prominently on one song, as well as vocalists Kenny Lattimore, Brian McKnight and Chuck Brown.
“Chuck Brown is the godfather of go-go music,” Culbertson said. “The style is known really well in the Washington, D.C., area. He can sell out stadiums. His big hit in the ’70s was 'Bustin' Loose.' We do an original song together with the go-go beat, a particular beat with a constant kick-drum pattern. I saw him on the Capital Jazz SuperCruise III. I called him up and told him we had to do something together.”
The mix of styles, singers and sounds on XII is something you'd expect from Culbertson, who doesn't like to stay in one place musically for long. His previous CDs were the high-energy Bringing Back the Funk and the romantic It's On Tonight.
“I'm always trying to expand and reach people,” he said. “If you stand still, you're never going to grow as an artist or a musician. Why should people buy the record? I want to make music that's new and challenging while bringing my fan base with me. I'm not doing anything they're not going to like. It's just a natural progression of where I'm heading musically.”
Keeping things interesting is why Culbertson took on the challenge of Live From the Inside, released in November. Filmed live at Capitol Records in Hollywood in June 2009, the DVD features 17 songs, in addition to documentary-style vignettes in between each song. Among the vignettes' titles are "Life on the Road," "Chicago" and "Decatur." The project has many of Culbertson's best-known songs, including “Always Remember,” “Back in the Day,” “So Good,” “Holden' Up” and “Let's Get Started.” The who's-who of musical guest on Live From the Inside includes Parker, Marienthal, Reynolds, Dave Koz, Michael Lington, Eric Darius and Jim Culbertson, his father. The band consists of Castro, Chris Miskel, Lamar Jones, Eddie Miller, Michael Stever, Rob Schemer, Nick Lane, Wayne Bruce and Marqueal Jordan.
In addition to the live tracks, Culbertson recorded a new studio song, “Go,” that is another in a long line of smooth jazz hits. It's co-written with Reynolds, a former member of Earth, Wind & Fire, who also co-wrote Culbertson's No. 1 smooth jazz single, “Always Remember,” on Bringing Back the Funk. Culbertson calls it a sequel to that song, but the inspiration for its title came from somewhere else. Culbertson played the song on his tour last summer with Koz, but never had a title for it.
“It drove Dave nuts,” Culbertson said. “One day we're flying somewhere on AirTran, my tour sponsor, and he picks up the magazine. The slogan says 'Go,' which was also the name of the magazine. Now if you call AirTran and get put on hold, you can hear that song.”**
**The complete Brian Culbertson story can be found in the May issue of Smooth Jazz News. Pick up your free copy at our radio station affiliates (see radio station page for listings), various concerts, festivals and select Southern California outlets. Or you can subscribe and receive 11 issues of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (except January), for $35. Click here to subscribe online today.
For more information on Culbertson, visit www.brianculbertson.com.
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