Jazz musician, saxophone player
Gerald Albright may not have invented the concept of smooth jazz, but few artists have defined the genre with as much class and distinction. Tastefully blending the R&B soul of Maceo Parker into the evocative be-bop of John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly, he created a sound that is expressive and uplifting. A multi-instrumentalist with a deft knack for finding a sensual mellow groove, he has been a presence on contemporary jazz radio for over two decades.
Born on August 30, 1957, in Southern Central Los Angeles, California, young Albright first dug the sounds of gospel singers James Cleveland and the Edwin Hawkins Singers, famous for the 1969 hit "Oh Happy Day." At age seven, the youngster admitted that he was bored with piano lessons, but when his teacher presented him with a used alto saxophone, it changed his life. The first time Albright remembered noticing the potential of the saxophone was when he heard Maceo Parker's work behind the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Parker's tart, aggressive phrasing and expressive attitude on "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "I Got You (I Feel Good)," and a host of others opened the door for the funk sax trend of the late 1960s and early 1970s. "I always gravitated toward his sound because of its clarity and percussive nature," Albright was quoted as saying in Peak Records' PR material. "Every time I see Maceo in person, I tell him I'm in the presence of royalty!"
While in high school, Albright, along with contemporaries Patrice Rushen and Ndugu, was fortunate enough to be part of a program that encouraged advanced students. Not only did teachers expose him to the works of Thad Jones and Gerald Wilson, they brought in guest speakers such as Yusef Lateef of Earth, Wind & Fire to conduct seminars and lectures. In this creative milieu, Albright began appreciating the work of Julian "Cannonball" Adderly, whose recordings with the Miles Davis Quintet and with brother Nat Adderly's group featured Cannonball's soulful improvisational jazz. For young Albright, it all came together as funk, but in time his own taste would smooth out the influences to forge a more intimate, personalized sound.
While studying business administration at the University of Redlands, Albright developed an interest in playing bass guitar after seeing Louis Johnson in concert. This skill came in handy after graduation. Touring as a saxophonist with former classmate jazz pianist/r&B singer Rushen, he filled in when her road band's bassist abruptly departed. Adaptable and versatile, Albright continued to tour with Rushen for five years and his sax work was prominently featured on her hit "Forget Me Nots" (1982). Always busy, he also replaced the departing Kenny G in the Jeff Lorber Fusion Band, forging a relationship with Lorber that continued throughout his career.
Signed with Atlantic Records
When not gigging, Albright earned a sizable living playing at recording sessions for such stars as Anita Baker, Nina Simone, Ray Parker Jr., Barry White, The Temptations, Nancy Wilson, Stanley Clarke, and Olivia Newton-John, among others. "I was on a constant campaign to get my sound and style in as many places as possible," he recalled on the FAQ webpage. "I played with several artists over the years and gained much knowledge. Finally, after writing and performing my entire demo tape, I presented my works to Atlantic Records in 1987."
Albright's tenure with Atlantic made his career as a solo performer. Straight out of the box he recorded the album Just Between Us, which yielded the solid hit single "So Amazing" (1987). From that point forward, Albright's recordings became a staple of Contemporary Jazz radio playlists. Warming to the smooth jazz trend, Albright followed up with Bermuda Nights and Dream Come True. Appreciation of his smooth, intimate style resulted in two Grammy Award nominations in 1989 and 1990 respectively, but Albright was determined to expand his horizons.
One of Albright's finest pure jazz moments came with the departure album Live at Birdland West. Dedicated to Cannonball Adderly, the sax man laid down a solid core of post hard bop that thrilled true afficionados. Alex Henderson, writing for the MusicHound Jazz Guide, claimed that "Albright's crowning achievement, Live at Birdland West showed just how commanding an improviser he can be. Albright truly burns on John Coltrane's ‘Impressions,’ and ‘Georgia On My Mind’ exemplifies his ballad playing at its most heartfelt and moving." Yet, Atlantic wanted the radio-friendly style he had established earlier, and soon Albright had returned to softer jazz with the release of Smooth, Giving Myself to You, and Live to Love. All were successful on the jazz charts; however, Albright, who valued artistry over monetary concerns, left Atlantic with the completion of his contract.
Soloist and Sideman
As his renown in the music industry spread, Albright found himself increasingly in demand for high profile gigs as both a soloist and sideman. He appeared on such television programs as A Different World, Fire & Ice, Melrose Place, several Black Entertainment Television (BET) jazz segments, and The 8th Annual Walk of Fame Honoring Stevie Wonder. In 1993 he was a featured performer at President Clinton's inauguration ceremony and performed at several private functions for the saxophone playing Chief Executive.
The year 1998 proved a banner year for outside projects. Besides collaborating on a strong-selling disc with vocalist Will Downing, Albright began touring the world, including Europe, the Middle East, Beirut, Tele Aviv, Romania, and Croatia, behind pop icon Phil Collins. "I call it the cream of the crop tour," Albright told Jazz Monthly. "I mean, that's one of the tours that you wanna be on because Phil is very, very into selecting the right people for, you know, the tour in terms of not only their musical proficiency but their personality, so it's one big happy family on the road."
For the Record …
Born Gerald Anthony Albright on August 30, 1957, in Los Angeles, CA; son of William Dudley and Mattie Pearl Albright; married Glynis, December 21, 1981; children: Selina Marie and Brandon Terrell. Education: University of Redlands, B.A., business administration, 1979.
Jazz musician, played bass, piano, and programs percussion for self-produced recordings; did studio session work for Anita Baker, Lola Folana, Olivia Newton-John, The Temptations, and Ray Parker Jr. Toured as a musician and supporting act for Teena Marie, Quincy Jones, Phil Collins, Chaka Kahn, and many others; has appeared on television series such as A Different World, Melrose Place, and Fire and Ice; made television pilot with Meshach Taylor of Designing Women, late 1980s; recorded for Atlantic Records, 1987-97, and GRP Records, 2002-04; signed with Peak Records, 2006.
Awards: Black Radio Exclusive, Best Jazz Artist Award, 1988; Boys' Club of America, Recognition Award, 1991.
Addresses: Booking—Bob Engel, Variety Artists International, 1924 Spring St., Paso Robles, CA 93452, phone: 805-545-5550, fax: 805-237-4283. Record company—Peak Records, 100 N. Crescent Dr., Suite 250, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, phone: 310-385-4050. Management—Ron Moss, Chapman Management, 14011 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91423, phone: 818-788-9577.
Albright's GRP debut, Groovology, featured the artist as composer, arranger, producer, and multi-instrumentalist—he played all four saxophones heard on the disc. "The top picks are ‘Old School Jam’ and ‘Groovology’ because of their memorable hooks and grooves," observed Paula Edelstein for All Music Guide. His 2004 followup titled Kicking It Up featured such guest stars as Boyz II Men singer Shawn Stockman, Jeff Lorber, and a rotating crew of musicians. The disc covered some of the same ground as his earlier albums for Atlantic, but displayed skills that even jazz traditionalists could admire. David Jeffries at All Music Guide commented, "The jazz elite will refuse to recognize him until he delivers another Birdland West, but they're missing his new voice, and judging by how comfy he sounds here, he probably shouldn't go back. Since going with GRP, Albright [has] finally added comfortable and freewheeling to amiable, smooth, and relaxed."
In 2006 Albright moved to the California-based Peak label and released New Beginnings, which featured longtime friends/collaborators Lorber, Rushen, and Chris Botti. As usual, jazz purists weren't ready to wholeheartedly embrace the pop aspects of smooth jazz, but they felt compelled to admire Albright's communicative skill. "Albright's version of the Whispers' R&B hit ‘And the Beat Goes On’ does veer more toward the Muzak side of the meter," wrote Gail Patrick for Billboard. "But he immediately commands attention with his mesmerizing version of ‘Georgia on My Mind,’ an encore staple of his live shows… Albright does not just play the sax—he makes it talk." New Beginnings rose to number one on the Top Contemporary Jazz charts.
Not content as a respected musician's musician, Albright also raises funds for the NAACP, the American Cancer Society, and the Institute for Black Parenting. In 2003 he began recruiting his jazz colleagues to play Groovin' for Grover, annual tours that donate a portion of the proceeds to Grover Washington Jr.'s Protect the Dream Foundation. As a sideline, he helps his wife Glynis, a cancer survivor, market low fat, reduced sugar desserts under the Just Sweet Enough brand name. Albright told Billborad, "It brings happiness to myself and our children that she's fulfilling her passion and helping others."
After playing on over 200 recordings and touring the world repeatedly with the greatest players of his generation, what fulfills Albright? "I find the most gratification in the simple but powerful reactions of people in the audience when I play. I'm doing a lot more than just blowing heavy on my horn, because it's really a way of life for me," he said on his Peak Records website, before concluding, "With every note I play, I really want to move people."
Just Between Us, Atlantic, 1987.
Bermuda Nights, Atlantic, 1989.
Dream Come True, Atlantic, 1990.
Live at Birdland West, Atlantic, 1991.
Smooth, Atlantic, 1994.
Myself to You, Atlantic 1995.
Live to Love, (with Will Downing) Atlantic, 1997.
Pleasures of the Night, Verve, 1998.
The Very Best of Gerald Albright, Atlantic, 2001.
Groovology, GRP, 2002.
Kickin' It Up, GRP, 2004.
New Beginnings, Peak, 2006.
Holtje, Steve, and Nancy Ann Lee, MusicHound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink, 1998.
Oblender, David G., and Shirelle Phelps, editors, Contemporary Black Biography, Gale Group, 1999.
Billboard, April 5, 2003; April 1, 2006.
"Gerald Albright," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com. (September 29, 2007).
"Gerald Albright," Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com, (September 29, 2007).
Gerald Albright Official Website,http://www.geraldalbright.com, (September 29, 2007).
"Gerald Albright," Peak Records,http://www.peak-records.com, (July 6, 2007).
"Jazz Monthly Feature Interview: Gerald Albright," Jazz Monthly,http://www.jazzmonthly.com/artists/albright_gerald2/interviews/al, (September 30, 2007).
"Albright, Gerald." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 15, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/albright-gerald
"Albright, Gerald." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved January 15, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/albright-gerald
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Albright, Gerald 1957–
Gerald Albright 1957–
Highly respected and popular among the public and other musicians, Gerald Albright easily straddles several styles of music: rhythm and blues, ‘smooth jazz,’ straightahead jazz, and instrumental pop. In addition to issuing eight solo discs, Albright has appeared on nearly 200 albums by others artists—primarily as a saxophonist, but some times as a bass player, vocalist, or producer.
Albright was born in 1957 in Los Angeles’ South Central/Watts district, which remained his home through high school. He was the second of William and Mattie Albright’s two children, with a brother eight years his senior. Urban problems were rampant in the neighborhood, and when racial tensions reached the ignition point throughout the United States during the mid-1960s, Watts was one of the communities that exploded. The riots that broke out in Watts in the summer of 1965 left 34 people dead and massive destruction in its wake. As Albright described to Contemporary Black Biography in an extensive interview, “I saw the community fall apart, which was very traumatic. But there were plusses as well as minuses. The whole idea of family became especially important, the need to monitor one another. And I did see the community eventually come back together as well.”
The Albright household was always filled with music—primarily gospel and soul. Albright’s childhood and teen years encompassed a time of astounding originality across a spectrum of musical styles, and he absorbed all these influences from the albums around the house. As he told CBB, “There was a lot of gospel—the Hawkins Singers, James Cleveland, that sort of thing. And then there was James Brown, Motown, the Philly International Sound, and so forth. It just felt good to be hearing these great sounds, digesting it all the time. Now everything is categorized, but back in the day, it was more about what you felt. And this combination turned out to be integral to my playing style.”
One musician who had a huge impact on Albright was Maceo Parker, the legendary sax player who was a central figure in James Brown’s band. As Albright recounted to CBB, “I’ve listened a lot to Maceo, checking out his sound and his rhythmic ability. I hear him as a sax player imitating a drummer. He’s so pure and honest and rhythmic. And the marriage between he and JB was irreplaceable.”
Born Gerald Anthony Albright in Los Angeles, August 30, 1957; son of Mattie Pearl Albright and William Dudley Albright. Married Glynis, December 21, 1981; children: Selina Marie, Brandon Terrell, Education: University of Redlands, B.A., business administration, 1979.
Career: Studio recording musician, alto and tenor saxophone, bass, vocals, and record producer, 1980-; Atlantic Records recording artist, 1987-99.
Member: Institute for Black Parenting, honorary spokesperson, 1989-; Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, 1978-.
Awards: Chosen to Perform at President Bill Clinton’s Inauguration Ceremony, 1993; Two-time Grammy Award Nominee, 1989, 1990; Black Radio Exclusive, Best Jazz Artist Award, 1988; Boy’s Club of America, Recognition Award, 1991.
Addresses: Office —2265 Westwood Blvd., PMB #130, Los Angeles CA 90064.
Albright became serious about playing music when he attended Locke High School, where he was fortunate enough to have several superb teachers. “They were like my musical fathers,” Albright told CBB. “When they saw that a student was a little more advanced than the others, they would spend more time with him. They’d show the student a future in the field, and help him focus on a direction—both musically and career-wise.” These teachers sometimes hired accomplished musicians—such as the visionary reedman Yusef Lateef or the arranger for the musical group Earth Wind & Fire—to conduct seminars and lectures. “That was like what you’d expect to see on a college level, not high school,” Albright remarked to CBB. “It was another step in my opening as a musician. Also, I wanted to be a multi-instrumentalist, so seeing Yusef was a big inspiration.”
Albright—who considered himself primarily a “funkateer” at that time—was first introduced to jazz in this rich high school environment. “In the teachers’ Msingi Workshops (Msingi is the Swahili word for “foundation”), we played a lot of Thad Jones, Gerald Wilson, that sort of thing,” Albright told CBB. “That’s when I started to learn how to blend. It was pivotal.”
Besides Maceo Parker, another sax player who proved nearly as influential on Albright was Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley. This altoist is considered a pioneer in the ‘soul jazz’ idiom, because of his rhythmic propulsion—a joyous, ‘funk soul’ quality on top of his straightahead bebop skills. Adderley’s playing was a great example of how funk textures could be incorporated into jazz.
During college, Albright continued to work on developing a distinctive style and tone. “I’ve always strived for something unique,” he explained to CBB, “and would listen to those kinds of guys who had that going for them—such as Stanley Turrentine and Grover Washington. I also made it a point not to listen to who everyone else was into.” Albright added, “But you know, developing your own style doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years until it dawns on you, ‘oh yeah, that’s my sound.’ It’s like a nine-to-five job—you do it and hope you continue to get better.”
At this point, Albright also picked up another, quite different instrument. As he said in a record company flyer, “During college I began playing bass after seeing Louis Johnson of Brothers Johnson. Listening to players like Anthony Jackson, Stanley Clarke, and Marcus Miller gave me a lot of incentive to learn the instrument.”
Soon after graduating from college in 1979, Albright was hired by Patrice Rushen for an extended phase of playing bass in her band. Rushen, a jazz pianist turned R&B singer, was red hot at this point in her career, and the gig was an obvious turning point for Albright. He spent five years with Rushen, enjoying the connection with audiences and other players. “The money was pretty good for that time, and it was consistent,” Albright explained to CBB. “I would also get horn solos on the side—drop a couple of notes on people’s albums. So I was doing all right. But my love and commitment to the music meant I wasn’t focused on the monetary stuff anyway. If you’re aligned spiritually, if you’re able to feel what you’re hearing—that’s what matters.”
Albright had established a strong enough reputation to keep him occupied with studio appearances, and he toured with numerous musicians. However, when he landed a record deal with Atlantic Records in 1986, Albright finally felt free to strike out on his own. In 1988, he released his first album, Just Between Us, the first in a succession of well-received, popular discs. Albright silenced the ‘jazz snobs’ with his 1991 offering, Live at Birdland West, on which he demonstrated the ability to improvise, creatively and forcefully, as well as the straightahead jazz players. He dedicated that album to Cannonball Adderley. Albright was twice nominated for Grammy awards, in 1989 and 1990. He not only has written the majority of his material, but he has played multiple instruments, and produced or co-produced nearly all of his albums.
While Albright’s recorded work has been romantically inclined in tone and content, that should not limit its usefulness. In an Atlantic Records promotional piece, Albright suggested various images to describe his 1994 album, Smooth: “Some of the music … has that latenight love vibe going. But the tunes work in a variety of settings: driving down the highway with the convertible top down; working late at the office; or whiling away a rainy Sunday afternoon at home.”
Albright was selected to be one of 10 saxophonists to play at President Clinton’s inauguration ceremony in 1993. This was a tremendous honor for Albright. As he said in the record company flyer, “That was a real special moment. I was standing side by side with a lot of the players I grew up admiring, like Grover Washington, Jr., Gerry Mulligan, and Michael Brecker. After we finished playing, the President gave me the thumbs-up, and that certainly made my day.”
Due to his popularity and his vast range of musical relationships, Albright has the freedom to move in many different musical circles. In 1998 Phil Collins asked him to front a Big Band, which enabled the British pop star to fulfill a long-cherished desire. Albright described the European leg of the tour to CBB: “It was great. Phil’s a nice, laid-back guy, someone who’s witnessed it all. He would preface each gig by saying to the audience that he’s wanted to be a big band drummer since 1966. It was not about the pop side of Phil. And the album that came out of the tour [A Hot Night in Paris, Atlantic, 1999] is truly fine, the sound quality and everything; we were all pleased with that one.”
Another 1998 project of Albright’s fared extremely well. His collaboration with vocalist extraordinaire, Will Downing, on the album Pleasures of the Night (Verve/Forecast) received lavish praise. More importantly, the album occupied the number one spot on Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart. The duo had hit upon a commercially viable, musically sophisticated blend. Downing and Albright have been friends for the better part of 20 years. As Albright told CBB, “Working with Will is wonderful. I’d say the best word for it is “comfortable.” We know each other so well, and we have so much in common—we’re both family men, for example—plus, we’ve worked together in different settings over the past eight or nine years. So one day we decided to document our collaboration and put it out. And it turned out to be very successful.”
The two musicians then had an inspired time touring behind the album. In the New York Amsterdam News, Albright commented on how he and Downing sometimes ‘switch places’ during the shows, when he vocalizes on his instrument as Downing intones saxophone-like sounds: “It’s not likely that people would pay to hear me sing, but we inspire one another to do different things on stage when we perform together. Will may sing a riff that would make me play something different than I normally would if he wasn’t there, and vice versa. So it’s a nice camaraderie on stage.”
Albright plans to expand his professional repertoire. He will continue to compose music, record and produce his own albums, appear as a guest musician for other artists, and tour with his own band. However, as he told CBB, “I also want to broaden my portfolio, by doing film scores and, eventually, starting a record company. And I want to offer seminars, lectures, for young people—you know, give back to the community.”
Albright views the emergence of online technologies in a favorable light. As he asserted to CBB, “The Internet is our friend. With respect to musicians, MP3 and all the other Net stuff is still embryonic. A lot of things have to be worked out; the loopholes that are out there will need some troubleshooting. But to connect directly with the listener, cut out the middleman—that should be a great opportunity for players. And listeners will be able to customize—take just the cuts he or she digs. So I see this as a real win-win situation.”
Nevertheless, many musicians are concerned about the sheer unpredictability of new technologies, and the fact that record companies seem to be more bottom line-oriented than ever. Albright takes a higher view. “The most important thing, always, is that with my love and passion for the music, I know everything is going to be fine,” he told CBB. “I’ll get my sound out there, by whatever means. Another blessing is my fan base. With any directions I choose, I won’t be starting out from scratch.”
The smooth jazz sound is highly popular on the airwaves, and it keeps advertising revenues flowing into radio stations throughout the country. But album sales do not necessarily reflect this tendency. “In terms of airplay, smooth jazz is taking off, but not record sales,” Albright said to CBB. In a New York Times piece, Peter Watrous quoted the manager of a consulting company that specializes in the smooth jazz format: “Advertisers love this demographic because the audience is willing to spend money. They have sophisticated, really high-end stereo systems, and they’ll go into a record store … and walk out with a stack of 10 CDs every month. Kids can’t afford that.” This popularity cuts across the racial divide. In the same article, Watrous noted that “A recent sold-out concert at [New York City’s] Carnegie Hall … featuring the singer Diane Reeves and the saxophonist Gerald Albright was surprisingly interracial, even in a city where races mingle more freely than in many other parts of the country.”
Just because the ‘smooth jazz’ players choose to create a mellow groove on their albums, no one should forget that these musicians can ‘set it off’ whenever they are so inclined. In a different New York Times article, Peter Watrous described a Jazz Explosion show he attended at Carnegie Hall that featured Albright, Will Downing, Diane Reeves, guitarist Doc Powell, and keyboardist Alex Bugnon. According to Watrous, the first half of the show was professional and formal. “But something happened backstage during intermission, and the second half became a different concert…. The evening finished with Mr. Albright, a mainstay on soft-jazz radio. He opened his house-wrecking stint with a purely orna-mental question, ‘Is it all right if I take you to church?’ In ‘Georgia on My Mind,’ his saxophone produced vocalisms. Then he went into a medley that included pieces by James Brown. He had the audience, split in half between women and men, sing, ‘Talking about the ghetto.’ The crowd, singing perfectly in time and in tune, brought on Sunday morning a few days early.”
Whatever magic descended on New York City that evening presented an ideal opportunity for Albright to enlist all of his gifts and influences: gospel, funk, jazz, and dynamic showmanship. When everything comes together, a musician can experience gratification unlike any other form. As Albright affirmed to CBB, “it’s the greatest compliment you can get—spiritually moving the people.”
Just Between Us, Atlantic Records, 1988.
Bermuda Nights, Atlantic, 1988.
Dream Come True, Atlantic, 1990.
Live at Birdland West, Atlantic, 1991.
Smooth, Atlantic, 1994.
Giving Myself to You, Atlantic, 1995.
Live to Love, Atlantic, 1997.
Pleasures of the Night, (with Will Downing), Verve/Forecast, 1998.
The New York Amsterdam News, January 7-13, 1999, p. 19.
The New York Times, January 18, 1997, p. 21; June 5, 1997, p. C13.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from an interview with CBB in September of 1999; and a promotional biography flyer from Atlantic Records, 1994.
"Albright, Gerald 1957–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 15, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/albright-gerald-1957
"Albright, Gerald 1957–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved January 15, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/albright-gerald-1957