Brian Culbertson Jazzes Up Fraze

Posted on 2015-07-09.

Brian Culbertson
ON THE BEAT by Jim Bucher
Dayton City Paper, July 7, 2015

Culbertson and Abair… sounds like a law firm right?

But what I’m actually talking about is jazz.

I’m talking about pianist Brian Culbertson and saxophonist Mindi Abair’s performance at Fraze Pavilion Thursday, July 16 at 7:30 p.m.

“I love the Fraze,” Culbertson says. And he’s played there at least 10 times to prove it.

This is sort of a musical homecoming for Culbertson, being that Dayton is home of the funk sound that inspired him early on.

“I loved it because of the horns, the horn sections,” he says. “Every band, every funk band, had a horn section. You don’t see that nowadays. It was part of the sound. Being a horn player myself, I just loved that thing and I try to continue that throughout my music and on stage. You’ll always see me with a three-piece horn section. Parliament, Ohio Players, you name it, they had it back then.”

Culbertson just wrapped up three weeks in Napa Valley for the annual Napa Valley Jazz Getaway, which he founded.

“I had done a lot of events over the years and realized people love these kinds of experiences in addition to just concerts,” he says. “I think people who like this music want to be immersed in however many days of the music and with like-minded people. So, Napa Valley was a natural place to do this because people want to go there anyway, and there wasn’t any jazz going on in the area. I met a few winery owners and in talking to people—here we are over four years later.” (By the way, the fifth-annual event is already in the works.)

“Wine and jazz: the perfect pairing,” Culbertson adds.

Meanwhile, back at the Fraze, he has nothing but nice things to say.

“In the summertime, it feels great to be outside especially in the Midwest when you wait the whole fall, winter, spring for that warm weather, right?” he says. “Everyone’s out having a good time, smiling and laughing, drinking. Of course you’re dealing with potential weather. Too hot or cold, rain or whatever it is, but hey, it is what it is.”

On top of the getaway and touring, the jazz great just released a double album, 20th Anniversary Tour (Live).

“Just came out this past January, and it’s doing well,” Culbertson says of his latest project. “People are enjoying that. I’ve never done anything like it, felt like the right time, you know the 20th anniversary tour. I’ve been doing this more than half my life now. I don’t know anything else but what we do.”

Speaking of, if you read my interview with “Weird Al” Yankovic a few weeks back, you’ll remember that Al studied to be an architect. Brian did the same.

“I really wanted to be one, but unfortunately you had to take math,” he says. “Like pre-calculus and all that—oh hell, not my bag. Loved drawing and drafting bridges, houses and all that fun stuff. Once you get into the actual mathematics thing I’m like, ‘Nah, better stick with this music thing.’”

But he says his parents were supportive.

“My folks were cool about the music thing,” he remembers. “Lot of kids go and get a music education degree to be a band director or music teacher you can fall back on. Either you want to be a teacher or a musician. I just didn’t want to do that.”

Any advice for up-and-comers?

“Younger kids get kind of snobby about only listening to one type of music,” he warns. “[They say,] ‘I’m a jazz guy so I just listen to jazz or I’m into classical so I hate jazz, pop and hate this or that.’ You know what, just be a musician and listen to everything because you never know what you’ll be inspired by. Get it all in there and soak it in.”

Finally, his thoughts on teaming with another jazz great Mindi Abair…

“She’s a bright bundle of positive energy—that’s her. Anytime she steps onto that stage, she has a gigantic smile. Her music is happy. It’s fun. It’s great to be around her, her vibe, and it definitely translates to the audience.”

Now, what’s Abair’s take on playing with Culbertson at Fraze, after appearing last year for “Summer Horns”?

This is called a “cliffhanger” (or keeping with the musical theme, a “clef-hanger”?).

Sorry, couldn’t resist, but you’ll have to stay tuned for next week’s Dayton City Paper for Mindi.


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