Cover Story

Brian Culbertson recruits veterans and one newcomer for his second annual Soulful Christmas tour while preparing for a new funk CD featuring original songs and some surprising covers.

By Brian Soergel

Last year, Brian Culbertson released his first holiday CD, A Soulful Christmas, to coincide with the debut of a 21-city tour of the same name. Later this month, he'll embark on the second edition of the popular tour. So does Culbertson remember how he caught the holiday bug while growing up in Decatur, Illinois? Why yes, he does, and it naturally involves his father, Jim Culbertson, a teacher who doubles as a trumpeter and often joins Brian on his tours.

"You know, you wake up Christmas morning as early as possible. Run into your parents' bedroom and wake 'em up. Come on, hurry up. Although, check this out. My dad, before he would let us go downstairs, he would have to take a shower and get ready. No just throwing on a robe and slippers and running downstairs. No. We'd have to sit at the top of the stairs and wait for him to take a shower, shave, brush his hair. Meanwhile, we're sitting there at the top of the staircase and just can't stand it. But I guess he wanted to build the excitement,” Culbertson said.

Culbertson laughs a lot when recalling the indelible moment, but it's a good bet that plenty of fans nationwide are just as anxious to relive their holiday memories while waiting for the second edition of Brian Culbertson's A Soulful Christmas show. And Culbertson is just as anxious to help create some memories with his lineup of saxophonist Gerald Albright and guitarist Nick Colionne, along with vocalists Howard Hewett and Victoria White.

Fans are no doubt familiar with smooth jazz stars Albright and Colionne, along with veteran vocalist Hewitt, a co-founder of the R&B group Shalimar who sang vocals on Culbertson's version of “The Secret Garden” from his 1999 CD Something' Bout Love.

White is a newcomer, however, and bills herself as an alternative-folk-R&B vocalist and guitarist. Culbertson was introduced to her through Sheldon Reynolds, guitarist for the holiday show who is also producing White's upcoming CD.

“He came to me and said he wanted me to play piano on one of her songs,” Culbertson said. “OK, well let me hear it. A lot of times you hear new artists and it's like, this is nice. But this one was like wow, this is really good. So I thought it might be cool to bring out a whole new face for our audience for something different.”

Although White should fit seamlessly into the tour that begins Nov. 23 in Indianapolis, Culbertson says it's preparation that spells success for any package tour.

“I spend a lot of time working on the show's flow, what song goes into the next and what we're going to talk about at a particular moment. We've learned what works and what doesn't. And, of course, we'll try new things and see if they work. They'll no doubt be a point in the show where Santa hats make it to the stage, and there be will lots of Christmas trees, wrapped presents and snow.”

Culbertson put together a set list in early September so he could get them to the band, which features Reynolds on guitar and vocals, Chris Miskel on drums, Eddie Miller on keyboards and vocals and Maurice Fitzgerald on bass.

“They have to nail it when we go into rehearsals in mid-November,” explained Culbertson, “So when we start a week of rehearsals in L.A. most of the prep is done beforehand. Of course, there are always new things that happen that we don't plan for. That's the exciting thing about music.”

As for the finished show itself, Culbertson says the format is really a collaboration, with each artist on stage at the same time for the majority of the show...

**The complete story can be found in the November edition of Smooth Jazz News.  Subscribe today. Receive 11 editions of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (February through December), for $35.