Gerald Albright brings his jazz expertise to Richmond to make them move and feel better.
By Kirk Maltais
The Richmond Jazz Festival is set to return to Maymont Park next week, August 13th and 14th, gracing Richmond with the sweet sounds of today’s best in jazz, soul, and R&B. Included on the bill are big names such as Aaron Neville, Fourplay, and Los Lobos, along with other national and local acts.
One featured performer on the bill is Gerald Albright, gifted saxophonist and jazz veteran. With 25 years in the business, Albright has made a career touring the world, selling over 1 million records in the United States alone. He has loaned his musical talents to recording artists such as Anita Baker, Ray Parker, Jr, Phil Collins, and the Temptations. He even was one of ten featured saxophonists at President Clinton’s inauguration in 1992.
Albright, who refers to his style of music as “contemporary jazz,” plays with an upbeat, high-energy style, which differs from the popular conception of “smooth” jazz. While it’s easy to classify the modern jazz genre as soulless elevator music, designed to be an unobtrusive companion to your local forecast on the Weather Channel, there is no doubt that Gerald Albright is an accomplished musician, and dismissing his body of work would be pure folly.
“I bring a genuine presentation of my music,” he says of his live show, which relies on his love for audience participation. Albright is not into gimmicks, and not interested with being “overly theatrical,” instead crediting much of his success as a performer to the focus of being true to the music. And despite what some think of when they picture a modern jazz show, Albright assures that “It’s not one of those ‘sit down and eat’ kind of things, I want [the audience] to be more involved than just listening.” It’s something that he takes seriously.
“Me and the guys that I work with, we’re kind of like conduits to making people feel better,” says Albright. “It’s our responsibility for that 75 minutes to an hour and a half, our job is to make people feel better and get up on their feet, and groove to the music.”
The passion Albright injects into his performances also translates into his recordings. Over the course of his career, he has released 15 albums, the latest being 2010’s Grammy-nominated Pushing the Envelope (Telarc). He refuses to adhere to the stringent rules and formats of smooth jazz, which has lead him to encounter some opposition in the industry.
“I’ve been told ‘the rhythm can’t be too funky, you can’t put a lot of growling on the horns,’ you can’t do this, you can’t do that. Everything that you do has to be within three minutes and 30 seconds. When you limit to formats like that, it’s kind of like taking chapters out of a book that’s being written.”
Instead of limiting himself to any one format, Albright chooses to let his music go where it wants to go. He takes influence from the way he’s recorded jazz with others, as well as the other styles he has played over the years.
“We’d be in the studio, and we just played whatever felt good. We didn’t think about whether the notes were too pretty, or too high, or too smooth or too hard, we just played what we felt was right at the time. And that’s the way I like to do it in the studio.”
Albright, who hails from Los Angeles, took a lot of influence for his music from the old masters of jazz, soul, and R&B, such as James Brown, Charlie Parker, and Grover Washington Jr. Albright credits the start of his career in the late 80’s to the patronage of Anita Baker, who he was playing with at the time.
“I was pretty much discovered on her gig,” says Albright. At the time, he primarily played the bass guitar, but did guest spots on sax. His talents did not go unnoticed, and after telling Baker of his interest in getting his own record deal, Albright was courted by Atlantic Records, who eventually released his first record, Just Between Us, in 1987. Despite being told of Atlantic’s interest in hearing his demo tape, he was doubtful of it amounting to anything.
“You hear that from a record company, you go ‘Yeah right, this is like too good to be true.’ But I actually got the call.” As the saying goes, the rest is history.
As for the future, Albright is like any other professional musician, grappling with the challenge of a limping economy, sagging CD sales across the board, and the continued reign of illegal downloading. However, he recognizes the need now to market to his niche, the people who truly care about his music. Albright’s discography is available online, at ww.geraldalbright.com. Despite the hardships of current times, he maintains a positive outlook, seeing the need for himself to continue evolving as a musician and a performer. It will take a lot more than tough economic times to quell his passion for the contemporary jazz he creates.
At the end of the day, Gerald Albright’s pure musical instincts have guided him to this point, where his talents will meet the ears of concertgoers at this year’s edition of the Richmond Jazz Festival. He is able to sum himself up in a simple, yet defining, statement.
“We’re very honest with the music, and that seems to be our successful approach.”