By JACKIE MOE
It is rare to experience jazz like a Las Vegas rock concert, but Brian Culbertson has spent over two decades making his show feel like one.
The award-winning multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer has invested in everything from giant LED video panels to large screens to custom films of guest artists that are synced up to his live music. While many artists pocket the money made from touring and record sales, Culbertson has put most of it towards developing his show, so that every night feels different.
“I could’ve easily just gone out and done the same show and pocketed a whole lot of money. But you know what? I’ve felt great every night doing my shows and that is worth way more to me than making a load of money,” said Culbertson, “When I’m on stage, I don’t want to feel like I compromise, ever. I mean, there’s no pyrotechnics or anything like that. But I want to push and do as much cool stuff as I can.”
In the past year alone, Culbertson and his band have traveled throughout the entire country, playing 77 shows in various cities, including the Newport Beach Jazz Festival in June. The band will return with its “Colors of Love” tour to the intimate Newport Beach Hyatt’s Back Bay Amphitheatre for the annual summer concert series on Friday, Sept. 21.
The Newport show will be unique for two reasons, says Culbertson: the 1,000 seat outdoor venue is so intimate that the night will focus more on the music and intimacy than the “rock show” feel of the band’s larger concerts. And a new lineup of musicians will be featured, including saxophone artist Marcus Anderson.
“Marcus is an artist in his own right. He recently played sax with Prince during the last three years before Prince passed away. He’s incredible and so awesome to see,” said Culbertson.
Also joining the band will be instrumentalist and singer Stanley Chance Howard, who has performed alongside notable artists such as Prince and Candy Dulfer. The Newport show kicks off the band’s first tour together and Culbertson ensures the Orange County audience will experience a “high energy, funky night” of old and new jams.
Just like most jazz artists, Culbertson said his music does not fall into one or two genres. He describes his sound – which has been influenced by the likes of band Earth, Wind & Fire, saxophonist David Sanborn, pop artist David Foster and jazz artist Marcus Miller – as a combination of funk, jazz and R&B.
“For lack of a better word or description, I’d say it’s a good mix of those three. When I tell that people that, they sort of go like, ‘Oh OK, I sort of get it.’ When you just say I’m a jazz artist, people have no idea what that means, because it’s so broad these days. They ask questions like, ‘Oh, is that the stuff that I can’t stand to listen to?’ (laughs) And I’m like, ‘No, it’s melodic, but it has a beat.’ So, yeah, if I just give those three descriptions, people get it.”
The 45-year-old Chicago-based musician may shudder an “oh my god” when reminded that his music career already spans over 25 years, but his 18 album catalogue, which includes over 30 Billboard No. 1 singles, proves that the past two-and-a-half decades have been a success. He has also performed and recorded with major artists such as Michael McDonald, Barry Manilow, Herb Alpert, Chuck Brown, and is the founder of the Napa Valley Jazz Getaway, in which he continues to serve as artistic director.
Culbertson has spent over 20 years touring incessantly all over the world with no plans of stopping any time soon. The band has a fairly heavy schedule ahead, including stops in South Africa, Hungary, and jazz festivals throughout the U.S. In addition, Culbertson is currently working on producing a live Blu-Ray and 2-Disc CD of his latest tour, titled “Live in Las Vegas: The Colors of Love Tour,” set to be released in mid-fall.
Staying connected and continuously growing his fan base is Culbertson’s main objective, and so he’s stays active on his social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. He said that he is often recognized from his social media by fans throughout the world.
“I was actually on a little holiday in London recently and throughout the time I was there, I got stopped by several young people in their early 20s who recognized me from following me on Instagram. I didn’t even mention on my social media that I was in London,” said Culbertson, “I’m like in a chocolate shop and the girl working there was like freaking out getting pictures with me… it was so bizarre and cool to see young people accessing me and my music this way.”
Culbertson said he plans to continue to change up and develop his show as long as he is playing so that his fans will always experience something different from him.
“I want to continue to thrive in the industry. It’s important to do as much touring as possible. For many, many years, I honestly didn’t make money or lose money in touring because I was quote unquote investing in the show,” said Culbertson, “I really felt strongly about taking any and all money that I make and put it towards putting on the best show that I possibly can… I have been able to build up this dedicated fan base who come out because they know we are always going to put on the best possible show we can.”
Where: Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, 1107 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21
More info: series.hyattconcerts.com