Brian Culbertson began his quest in music at the age of eight on piano, adding drums at nine, trombone at ten, then bass at twelve. He grew up in Decatur, Illinois, loving genre-crossing jazz-pop artists such as Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, Tower of Power, the Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn, Yellowjackets and Maynard Ferguson. So naturally gifted was Brian, his seventh grade piano recital consisted of all original tunes. Brian flourished in high school bands with his father, Jim Culbertson, as the school’s award-winning jazz band director, moved to Chicago to complete his studies at private DePaul University, then went on to compose jingles for clients such as United Airlines, Oldsmobile, Sears and McDonald’s in the bustling city’s highly competitive advertising community.
In 1994, at age 20, Brian self-produced his debut, Long Night Out, followed in short order by Modern Life (driven by the hit single “Come To Me,” this 1995 album was his first album to top R&R and Gavin’s Contemporary Jazz charts), and After Hours (1996). With 1997’s Secrets, the hits kept coming with “So Good” and “On My Mind.” His 1999 follow-up, Somethin’ Bout Love, also sat high among the CJ Top 20 for nearly a year with the two Number One singles, “Back in The Day” and “Do You Really Love Me?”
In 2001, Brian released Nice & Slow (featuring special guest trumpeter Herb Alpert and singer/songwriter Kenny Lattimore), which spent six weeks at Number One on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart thanks to the Number One singles “Get It On” and “All About You.” Then came Come On Up (2003), highlighted by a blazing cover of Earth Wind & Fire’s “Serpentine Fire” and the beautiful “Our Love.” It’s On Tonight (2005) found him making the switch from Warner Bros. to GRP/Verve for a sensual-leaning project featuring the lead-off single “Hooking Up” plus “Let’s Get Started,” as well as special guests Patti Austin, Will Downing, Chris Botti, Kirk Whalum, Ledisi and Boney James. A Soulful Christmas, the 2006 holiday album, swiftly followed.
Culbertson blasted back in 2008, after two years with the all-star blowout Bringing Back the Funk, a salute to ‘70s soul music that he co-produced with the legendary Maurice White, and featured William “Bootsy” Collins and Phelps “Catfish” Collins plus members of the Rubber Band and the Horny Horns (all out of Parliament-Funkadelic), Larry Graham (of Sly & The Family Stone and his own Graham Central Station), Larry Dunn (of Earth Wind & Fire), Greg Adams (from Tower of Power), Tony Maiden and Bobby Watson (of Rufus), Michael Bland, Cora Dunham and Rhonda Smith (from Prince’s bands), Maceo Parker & Fred Wesley (from James Brown’s JB’s band), Musiq Soulchild, David T. Walker, Ronnie Laws, Gerald Albright, Tom Scott, Paul Jackson Jr., Perri, and many more L.A. session greats. This was an unprecedented assemblage of music royalty participating on the CD with its churchy standout “The House of Music” (which Brian co-wrote with Larry Graham) and his tenth chart-topper as a leader, “Always Remember.” In total, Brian has produced or performed on over 25 Number One records.
In 2009, Brian produced the ultimate concert souvenir with the dual DVD/CD package Live from The Inside, capturing for posterity what the experience of making music is really like. “It’s not just about the show,” he insists, “it’s about everything that happens before and after.” Far from a stodgy ol’ documentary, it’s a dynamically lensed feature that allows you to get up close and personal with all the action – backstage, on stage, on the road and in the studio – with ever changing angles and focal points. It features Brian, his band and another all-star assembly of friends/guests. The package is a brisk seller at Brian’s explosive concerts, affording fans a special way to take him home with them.”
The following year, Brian released his eleventh studio album XII. The album’s title made reference to a profound reoccurrence of the number twelve in Brian’s life. “I was born on January 12, I’ve been living in Los Angeles for twelve years now and have been married to my beautiful wife Michelle for twelve years,” he says. “There are twelve notes on the piano…and it was at the age of twelve that I knew I was going to be a professional musician. Also over the years, 1s and 2s have been in the addresses of all the places I’ve lived.” XII features an impressive cast of thousands, including vocalists Avant, Faith Evans and Brian McKnight, Go-Go music pioneer Chuck Brown, jazz guitar legend Earl Klugh, and revered recording artist Ray Parker, Jr. The album also finds Brian collaborating with co-producers Rex Rideout (Maysa, Ledisi, Will Downing) and Chucky Thompson (Mary J. Blige, Usher).
Brian performed the album’s lead single “Skies Wide Open” with Avant on BET’s The Mo’Nique Show. XII garnered Brian six Oasis Jazz Awards in the categories of Best Entertainer of the Year, Best Album of the Year, Best Song of the Year (“That’s Life”), Best Keyboardist of the Year, Best Collaboration of the Year (“That’s Life” w/ Earl Klugh), and Best Male Artist of the Year. In addition, the album’s single “That’s Life” became Brian’s twelfth Number One hit.
In the gentle lull of sleep, we’re often enraptured in a vivid sequence of thoughts, images, and sensations. A lifelike realm where radiant colors, sounds, and illusions intersect, creating the most vibrant experience. This spring, prolific R&B/Jazz musician Brian Culbertson invites you to close your eyes, open your ears, and fall deep into a lush world of musical fantasy with his breathtaking thirteenth album, Dreams (2012). With the help of lauded guest vocalists Noel Gourdin, Vivian Green, and Stokley Williams of Mint Condition, Dreams masterfully melds jazz sensibility with an R&B flair in a wondrous melange of enchanting grooves.
“Last summer, I just started having these really vivid dreams,” Culbertson says. “I started waking up inspired to get into the studio and write songs - songs that made me feel like those dreams. It’s really strange for me, because I’ve never written songs about being inspired by dreams. That’s why this record is quite different.”
Having worked with an array of stellar R&B artists such as Faith Evans, Ledisi, Brian McKnight, Kenny Lattimore, and Avant on his past albums, Brian forges full steam ahead in that tradition on Dreams. Brian brought together a group of “who’s who” in music including: R&B producer and longtime collaborator and arranger Rex Rideout (Angie Stone, Ledisi, Luther Vandross, Lalah Hathaway, Will Downing, Kem); four of R&B’s top session players to help round out the sound - bassist Alex Al (Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones); and guitarists Michael Thompson (Babyface, Toni Braxton), Rob Bacon (Beyonce, Raphael Saadiq), and John Jubu Smith (Frankie Beverly & Maze, Whitney Houston).
The result is a stunning collection of ten mesmerizing tunes, including the extraordinary lead Urban Adult Contemporary single “Still Here” - featuring the soulful rapture of Vivian Green. Co-written by Green, the song tells the passionate tale of how taking a risk on love can have a happy ending.
“Sometimes your past experiences and all your friends are telling you to stay away from someone because it seems too good to be true,” explains Brian. “But there’s something different about this person - almost like you’ve met before in a dream. Because of this, you have a strong feeling that it will work out so you go with it and amazingly, they turn out to be the one.” “Still Here” will also be the first music video from Dreams.
“Your Smile,” the album’s lead jazz single, is an exquisite rhythmic excursion underscored with an undeniable buoyant groove. The song was inspired by a dream featuring his wife’s radiant smile. “In the fogginess of a quickly evaporating dream, I only remembered one thing: Michelle’s smile. As I opened my eyes, I saw her smile and realized how lucky I was.”
Brian recruited the R&B vocal prowess of singer Stokley Williams to enhance the melodic elegance of “No Limits.” “Even though we’d never met each other, by the end of the day we felt like we’d known each other for a long time.” The song’s romantic lyrics accentuate the thrill of actualizing an altruistic union. “You can dream about love with no limits, an unconditional love beyond all expectations,” Brain explains. “Sometimes, those dreams become reality.”
On “You’re My Music,” singer Noel Gourdin pours his thick, soulful vocals over both Brian’s shimmering piano chords and bass guitar licks. Brian was instantly bowled over by Gourdin’s 2007 hit “The River,” prompting his inclusion on Dreams. “He has such an old soul voice. It was sort of channeling Ron Isley. You don’t hear that kind of sound that much these days. He really brings that old soul vibe with a contemporary feel to it.”
Though he helmed the lion’s share of the album’s production, Brian shared production duties on “Still Here” and “No Limits” with esteemed R&B producer and longtime collaborator Rex Rideout (Angie Stone, Ledisi Luther Vandross, Lalah Hathaway, Kem).
With his last album XII (2010), Brian began an in-depth series of video blogs that gave fans an exclusive sneak peek at his the creative process in the studio – one of the first jazz artists to utilize this revolutionary mode of online social outreach. With Dreams, he picks up where he left off with a new series entitled BCXIII. A member of the GRP Records family since 2005, Dreams marks Brian’s official induction to the Verve Records roster of artists. “Just to be on that label is astounding. GRP is of course incredibly legendary. But with Verve, we’re going all the way back. As a jazz musician - to be part of that legacy with artists like Ella Fitzgerald and John Coltrane - is unbelievable.”
With Dreams, as with his previous efforts, Brian proceeds to keep the genre of jazz alive and viable by consistently injecting a fresh approach into his own unique sensibility. To his point, Dreams definitely proves that jazz and groove fit hand-in-glove – especially on cuts like the funky “In the City.” With the assistance of Alex Al’s strutting bass line, Brian crafted the tune after having a dream about walking the downtown streets of a city.
The year 2012 is certain to be a pivotal turning point in Brian’s amazingly illustrious career. Dreams brazenly holds the keys to a new dimension of the jazz listening experience by effortlessly combining elements of R&B and soul with spellbinding melodies and the marvel of inner visions. “We all have dreams in life, whether it be to write a book, have a beautiful loving family, travel to a far away destination, or simply to learn to play an instrument. This album is for those who are keeping those hopes and dreams alive and not giving up. Hopefully people will dig it.”