Ranking Brian Culbertson’s CDs 7 through 12

By Phillip Martin

Below, I continue my ranking of 12 CD albums by Brian Culbertson. I lead off with my No. 7 pick, Another Long Night Out:

7. Another Long Night Out (2014)

Culbertson celebrated his 20-year career milestone two years ago by remaking his first CD album with a title aptly named Another Long Night Out

Due to several artistic limitations in 1994, Culbe could not produce his first album, Long Night Out, with professional-grade sound. Twenty years later, the artist collected numerous awards and nominations and enjoyed chart success within the smooth jazz community. He also reached a point in his career where he could produce albums independently. Heading his own production label, BCM Entertainment, Inc., and utilizing his past success allowed him more flexibility to invite other known artists to play real instruments on this 2014 recording. Special guest artists included Eric Marienthal, Rick Braun, Chuck Loeb, Candy Dulfer, Lee Ritenour, Jonathan Butler, “Patches” Stewart, Russ Freeman (from The Rippingtons), and Steve Lukather (from Todo). 

Of the remade pieces, “Fullerton Ave.” stands out, thanks to some supreme guitar playing by Loeb. Loeb’s nice vamp in the middle of the track along with Culbe’s bass short licks gave this track some extra pop.

City Lights” is another track I fondly enjoy the revival of. When I hear the song playing in my car, I often imagine school bands, especially near Decatur, Ill., someday replaying the piece in Culbe’s honor. 

In all, Culbe finally produced and played his original debut songs the way they were supposed to sound. Although I had already liked the original tunes, Another Long Night Out allowed me to appreciate his first ever recording. It also makes sense that the remake would sound better than the original. 

8. Long Night Out (1994)

Long Night Out is arguably Culbertson’s most ambitious album, given the limitations the musician dealt with in 1994.

While attending DePaul University, in Chicago, Culbe recorded the album in his apartment above a costume shop. Due to expenses and little exposure, he could neither afford professional studio space nor assess top-notch session musicians. So, his apartment became the makeshift studio for his first CD album.

In fact, the second track, “Fullerton Ave,” is named after the street his apartment windows overlooked.

My favorite song from his original recording is “Alone With You.” In his remake, 20 years later, Culbe slowed the tempo to create a more intimate mood for the piece. Chuck Loeb created an effect with a guitar solo to open up the remake as well. Despite the changes later on, I actually like the original song more.

For these and the other tracks, Culbe recorded keyboard, bass, percussion, syn, and other sounds for with the help what was considered cutting-edge technology for musicians 20 years ago. A few of his colleagues did also lend their supporting instruments on this record. Given his artistic restraints, but dogged determination, Culbe produced a respectable first album. Long Night Out earns top-ten credit for that.

9. Nice & Slow (2001)

Nice & Slow features more R&B and slow jam tracks by Culbertson. Like Somethin’ Bout Love, the album before this, these pieces shows the pianist’s flexibility of playing styles. The record is also a nice departure from his heavy-funk-sounding pieces, for those who like the smoother side of contemporary jazz.

Culbe’s sixth recording also features vocals on a few tracks. However, I am more particularly fond of his instrumental pieces, like “Without Your Love.”

I Could Get Used To This” is my favorite on the album. Dave Koz joins Culbe on this soft track. In fact, Culbertson earned his shortened nickname “Culbe” from Koz. Early in his career, the pianist appeared on a radio show Koz hosted. The duo eventually toured together a few times later on.

Koz also plays his sax on “All About You,” which is another great soft piece by Culbe.

Another successful jazz artist named Jeff Lorber helped Culbe with the opening track, titled “Just Another Day.”

The same year this album came out, 2001, Culbe won a National Smooth Jazz Award for Best Keyboardist.

10. Dreams (2012)

Dreams is a departure from Culbertson’s Bringing Back The Funk record four years before it. He said he wanted this album to feature more slow jam and soft groove tracks. As it is titled, the album features the theme of dreams and compassionate late-night vibes. Culbe earned two award nominations for this completed project in 2012 — NAACP Image Award’s Best Jazz Album and Soul Train Award’s Best Contemporary Jazz Album.

You’ll understand Culbe’s concept of the late-night love mood by hearing the first track titled “Later Tonight.” Grammy-award-winning saxophonist Eric Marienthal reinforces the pianist’s melody with layers of clean brass. In a video blog, Culbe said he “took all the low end and the body out” of Marienthal’s takes of saxes to simplify the chorus on this song.

Another refreshing instrumental I enjoy is “Your Smile.” I’m guessing that Michelle, Culbertson’s wife, inspired the pianist with years of displaying her happy expression to him. The song sounds more like instrumental pop to me, which is different than Culbe’s signature sound but still good.

The groove picks up a little bit with a later track titled “In The City.” Then, a slower, lazier song titled “Madelena” features a soft acoustic guitar track by Spanish jazz player Marc Antoine.

A vocal I do like features Stokley Williams on “No Limits.” Singing this beautiful lyrical song, he reminds his lover that wherever they go his love is there, and he wants to “fall deep in it, love with no limits.”

Culbe closes the album out right with a very new age-sounding track titled “The Journey.”

Finally, I find the cover of Dreams (pictured above) to be one of the most interesting of Culberton’s records.


11. Somethin’ Bout Love (1999)

Just falling out of my top ten, sits Somethin’ Bout Love. Ignore my bias of seemingly favoring Culbertson’s high energy, funk records over those that feature soft vibe and slow jam. Forget my ranking here. His fifth album is one of his classics.

Culbe didn’t let us wait long for the title track. “Somethin’ Bout Love” features provocative, but clean, lyrics by Donnell Spencer, Jr.

Two of the keyboardist’s hits also appear on this record. “Do You Really Love Me” and “Back In The Day” are the two songs, which Culbe has performed on tour.

In addition to the two popular songs, one the first songs I heard by Culbe is on this album. Titled “Sittin’ Back,” the song is a soft, light jazz piece.

Another song you have to hear on this album is Culbe’s cover of “The Secret Garden.” Originally, written and composed by Quincy Jones, the song appears in both instrumental and vocal versions. Although this may not be an original piece by Culbe, the instrumental is probably my favorite piece on this album.

Finally, I must share what I recently discovered about track No. 7, titled “It’s Only You.” I never knew Culbe played with the late Wayman Tisdale until I saw the credits for this particular track. Tisdale was an NBA power forward-turned smooth jazz bassist, who tragically died of bone cancer. The bassist’s upbeat style pairs well with Culbe’s signature soft jam.


12. Modern Life (1995)

Modern Life was Culberton’s second recording. Like his first album, Long Night Out, a few limitations restrained his ability to produce certain sounds essential to his core music. However, he did feature more live instruments and earn exposure through friends at DePaul University and on Chicago radio.

Possibly the only song considered a hit on this early album is “Come To Me.” Culbe has played a slower version of this song on tour and on his Live From The Inside, 2008, compilation DVD/CD album.

A few other songs might pique your interest into the artist’s early discography.

The opening track, titled “Tomorrow’s World,” features a soft, but upbeat, keyboard melody.

Two tracks later is “Without The Rain.” Culbe plays the keyboards and piano on this very low tempo song. You will hear the accompanying sounds of a nylon and a steel string guitar in this track.

Later on, popular saxophonist Gerald Albright plays along on “Take Me Home To You.”

Despite Culberton’s second album sounding close to elevator music, it is interesting enough for relaxation.

So, there are my rankings of CDs produced by Brian Culbertson. Maybe those of you who listen to smooth jazz might have a different opinion. Perhaps those of you who just now heard of the popular keyboardist may have some feedback as well. I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Contact me through email at philmbg14@gmail.com with the subject line “Brian Culbertson CDs.”

Also, keep checking out MoundCityJazz.com as I continue to share news and more music reviews.


Ranking Brian Culbertson’s CDs: My Top 6

By Phillip Martin

A few weeks ago, I accomplished the feat of collecting copies of each of the 15 CD albums released by Brian Culbertson. As a collector of smooth jazz albums, I feel it’s a great honor to reach this milestone as I follow one of my most-listened-to artists.

To celebrate, I have ranked each CD album from my most to least favorite. This fun challenge was not easy at all, due to Culbe’s vast discography all sounding great. (I only ranked 12 out of the 15; please see my explanation below the rankings.):

1. It’s On Tonight (2005)

My number one CD by Brian Culbertson features a very well-conceived album that expresses the excitement of romance. It’s On Tonight includes a diverse cast of jazz and R&B artists, such as Ledisi, Chris Botti, Boney James, Kirk Whalum and Patti Austin.

Right away Culbe starts off strong with two hits “Let’s Get Started” (my favorite song of his) and “Hookin’ Up.” These two songs exemplify his signature sound, fusing elements of funk with jazz and R&B.

Along with some interesting instrumentals are a few exceptional R&B vocals. There is the nice title track, “It’s On Tonight,” featuring Will Downing on vocals. Later on, Patti Austin’s soulful singing teams well with Kirk Whalum’s sax on Culbe’s “Love Will Never Let You Down.”

Another song comes with a mild warning: If provocative lyrics bother you, you might want to skip through “Wear It Out,” with Marc Nelson. Still, this song features spectacular piano playing by Culbe.

Speaking of his piano, that’s what I find very pleasing about this album. From the two hits at the top to his classical-sounding “Reflections” at the end, Culbe’s piano sounds very polished and sharp. Also, I cannot forget to mention “Dreaming Of You,” which is the first ever song I heard by the artist. Clearly, It’s On Tonight is a winner for me, for its musical concept of love and Culbe’s signature sound.


2. Bringing Back The Funk (2008)

Bringing Back The Funk could arguably be the outright No. 1. It is definitely one of Culbertson’s most ambitious recordings. Throughout this album, the artist digs deep into his roots of funk, which he avidly listened to during his childhood in Decatur, Ill. A photo of the pianist as a child on the album’s cover illustrates his retrospection of his musical upbringing.

Culbe enlisted the help of Earth, Wind, and Fire founder, the late Maurice White, which you can see more about in a YouTube video. White oversaw much of the project as Culbe’s executive producer.

The pianist also collaborated with Sheldon Reynolds on “Always Remember,” which seems to sound like an anthem that pays tribute to all the old-school funk and psychedelic bands. Reynolds said he intended the song to be happy-sounding, like many E. W. & F. hits.

Other star personnel on the album include Bootsy Collins, on “Funkin’ Like My Father,” Gerald Albright, with saxes on “Hollywood Swinging,” and Larry Graham with Ronnie Laws, on “The House of Music.”

Ledisi also returns to sing vocals on “The World Keeps Going Around.” She had provided her singing on the hit “Let’s Get Started” from It’s On Tonight, three years prior.

3. Come On Up (2003)

Come On Up also prominently features Culbertson’s distinct jazz and groove sound.

On my third most-liked album of his, you’ll hear several upbeat songs. Within these songs are various sounds from the Hammond B3 Organ, Wurlitzer, Clavinet, and Rhodes keyboards, which is essential to Culbe’s old-school jam. These feel-good songs make me imagine Culbe throwing a party with the musicians on this album, like Steve Cole, Rick Braun, Marcus Miller, and Norman Brown.

The second track titled “Say What” really sets the tone for the funk and groove jam throughout the rest of the record. The track features Steve Cole on the sax. Culbe follows Cole’s solo with his own improv before resuming the upbeat melody of the track.

Other songs of similar moods I like are “Playin’,” “Midnight,” and the title cut, “Come On Up,” with Brown on guitar.

Fly High” also falls in line with the groove of this album, but this song’s mood is different. To me, the track sounds slightly depressing and confusing. Rashaan Patterson sings “Fly high up and away from this tainted world,” which I connote as sad lyrics. But, at the same time, Culbe’s playing of the keys along with the words sound quite opposite of the dark and somber. That’s why I feel conflicted as to whether I like the track or not. It’s quite bizarre, but something about this song sounds oddly pleasing to me.

Balancing out the album’s flow are a few slow tracks. “Last Night” is one I fondly like. Accompanying Culbe’s melancholy piano melody is Braun with a trumpet solo. I would listen to this track often on my mp3 player whenever I walked around my college campus four years ago to try to help calm myself down on rough days.

Another feature of this CD album I like is Culbe’s use of three brief tracks — the intro, one interlude, and the outro. 

Intro” starts off the album with the sounds of what seems like a party or the nightlife. This track leads into the tone-setting “Say What.”

Then, the track “What Up B?” functions as an interlude between the softer “Days Gone By” and Culbe’s cover of “Serpentine Fire,” originally by Earth, Wind, and Fire. Just like in the interlude, Culbe lays down some great blows from his trombone in the outro, titled “Funky B.”

I am very fond of these transitions. While I may not know much about music composition, I feel that these brief tracks give the album great balance between the two tracks around it and others that have different tempos and moods. 

4. After Hours (1996)

To me, After Hours is a underrated album by Culbertson. Despite the lacking of hits, the album is literally a hidden treasure of songs that exemplify the core to Culbe’s sound and smooth jazz. The album also shows how well he can write and play slower and soothing songs.

Allow your ears to catch his case in the title cut “After Hours.” I consider this a prelude to his future funk and groove sounding tracks that come later in his career.

My favorite track on this album in the first one, titled “Take Your Time.”

Then, Steve Finckle plays the sax to reinforce Culbe’s melody on “Close To You.”

Also, check out “And The Night Comes,” and “Daydreams.”

While After Hours may not be one of his popular recordings, Culbertson produced enough interesting pieces to make this sound very solid. 

5. Secrets (1997)

It was hard, but somehow I listed Secrets right at No. 5. The CD album clearly stands out as the breakthrough for Culbertson’s discography and chart success. This 1997 release is also the first one of his to feature a supporting cast of known session musicians. On select songs in this recording, you’ll hear Gerald Albright on sax, Jeff Golub and Paul Jackson, Jr., on guitars, Lenny Castro on percussion, and Paul Brown on additional keyboards.

So Good” and “On My Mind” initiate this album. (“On My Mind” is my favorite on this album.) These two hits also are familiar pieces Culbe plays at his many shows throughout the year.

After checking out the two hits and “Backstreet,” you’ll want to also hear “You’re The One.” This penultimate track is one of the great slow tracks by Culbe.


6. XII (2010)

Culbertson aptly named his twelfth CD recording with the roman numerical symbol, XII. This album features a number of songs I have enjoyed over the past six years.

One such song is “It’s Time.” Culbe released a funny music video to accompany this playful tune. For me, the song and its video seems so lighthearted it could turn a bad mood upside down for a moment. 

That’s Life” is another track I thoroughly enjoy. Earl Klugh, a Sirius XM Watercolors Hall of Fame inductee, joins Culbe to lay down some great acoustic guitar. Because of the duo’s collaboration, the track won the 2011 Oasis Smooth Jazz Best Song of the Year Award.

Another must-hear track is “Stay Wit It.” Steve Lu helped write the nasty funk track that Culbe plays his piano melody to.

Two other tracks on this album defy typical sounds of smooth jazz. One of them is “Forever,” which Sheldon Reynolds helped Culbe write. The other is “I Don’t Know,” which features The Floacist (also known as Natalie Stewart from English R&B duo Floetry).

While these songs feature Culbe’s piano, they both, at least to me, sound like they include elements of new age and light rock. I also feel these songs feel like they have more serious moods to them than the feel-good songs I mentioned above.

In addition to the instrumentals, this album earns my nod for No. 6 for its vocalists.

One vocalist that stands out to me as  very powerful is Faith Evans on “Don’t U Know Me By Now.”

Don’t forget to check out the singing by the following:

Kenny Lattimore on “Another Love

• Avant on “Skies Wide Open

• Brian McKnight on “Out On The Floor

• Ray Parker, Jr., on “I Wanna Love You

See the rest of my rankings, albums 7 through 12, of Brian Culbertson’s discography linked below. 

Ranking Brian Culbertson’s CDs 7 through 12

Here is how I have made these rankings:

• First, I have excluded three of Culbertson’s 15 CD albums. 

Live From The Inside (2008) and Brian Culbertson Live – 20th Anniversary Tour (2014) are both compilation albums. This means that most of the songs are renditions from Culbe’s discography. Nevertheless, the songs “Go” and “Think Free” are two great pieces he co-wrote with Sheldon Reynolds.

• His Soulful Christmas (2006) album I also excluded because you can really only listen to the CD appropriately during one season of the year.

• Finally, I did not include his Breathe – Piano for Relaxation, which was recently released. This album is currently available, exclusively, for digital download.

• Secondly, I ranked each album based on music quality and concept. 1 through 5, I thought really exemplified Culbertson’s signature sound of jazz, R&B, and funk throughout his discography. As I said, ranking all his CDs was really hard because all of his music sounds great and well-arranged.

Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead Receives Mixed Reviews

Don Cheadle portrays famed trumpeter Miles Davis in Miles Ahead.
Featured image from Google Images, labeled for reuse.

By Phillip Martin

Miles Ahead, a film in which Don Cheadle portrays legendary trumpeter Miles Davis, debuted in theaters two Fridays ago. The film, directed and co-written by Cheadle, received mixed reviews.

You can find one example of a mixed review in Angelica Jade Bastien’s reaction on rogerebert.com. Overall, she rated the film at four and a half stars.

Bastien praised Miles Ahead for it “turning a light into the darkest corners of [Miles Davis’] soul while still giving him added complexity with dashes of lurid humor and the flashbacks that show him at better times.”

However, Bastien said she didn’t like that some camera shots captured scenes out of focus at times. She also criticized the plot and the writing, adding, “There’s one too many fired guns, car chases, overcooked moments overloaded with machismo, and bloodied fist for it to stay grounded emotionally.”

In a separate review, Michael Phillips, of the Chicago Tribune, also mentions about the main plot. Phillips summarizes that Cheadle as Davis, with his drug problems and issues at home, recklessly tries to retrieve a stolen demo tape and develops a relationship with a fictional Rolling Stone reporter, portrayed by Ewan McGregor.

“A lot of this is made up, even more than usual for a musical biopic,” Phillips said of the plot. “I don’t have a problem with that, but you might.”

The Chicago Tribune columnist later said he liked the film because of Cheadle’s performance. 

“The reason I like “Miles Ahead,” despite its problems, has everything to do with Cheadle both behind and in front of the camera,” he said.

“He treats this chapter of Davis’ life like a page or two torn out of the late-blaxploitation era, with car chases and drug deals. Those pages are shuffled, intriguingly, with pages from a very different part of Davis’ life, the “Kind of Blue” part,” he adds. Kind of Blue by Davis, which Phillips referenced, is considered one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time.

Bastien and Phillips both pointed out the plot that seemed to be loosely based on Davis’ life.

Cheadle earlier told The New York Times that the film would not be a typical biopic. “If you make a movie about Miles Davis, it’s got to be gangster, it’s got to be a heist movie, it’s got to be crazy … It’s got to be as creative and varied and visceral as all of his music is,” said the Golden Globe award winner.

Other media sources endorsed Miles Ahead, including the popular aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. At last check this Friday evening, 70 percent of Tomatometer critics gave the film a positive review. The website has tallied a total of 80 reviews. Additionally, the film received an average rating of 6.3 out of 10.

I have yet to go see the film, and now after seeing numerous reactions, I think I’ll wait ’til it goes on DVD.

To learn a little more about the film’s premise and about the real Miles Davis, check out the article I wrote two weeks ago.

Also, look out next week as I rank 12 of the 15 CD albums by jazz, funk, and R&B pianist Brian Culbertson.

Radio Contact by English Ensemble Great for A Long Car Ride

Radio Contact
Acoustic Alchemy
Higher Octave Music, 2003

Album Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

CD Design / Art: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 

By Phillip Martin

Only a few select smooth jazz CDs have the highest honor of earning a spot in the sleeves of my booklet for my car.

Radio Contact by Acoustic Alchemy is one such staple for any of my long commutes.

I enjoy this CD album because the tracks feature what I consider bona fide smooth jazz. After experimenting with eclectic sounds from other music genres in the band’s previous two albums (The Beautiful Game in 2000 and AArt in 2001), Acoustic Alchemy produced 13 more traditional-sounding tracks. A. A.’s signature guitar sound continue with Greg Carmichael playing the nylon strings and Miles Gilderdale playing the steel strings. Because of this album’s relaxing sound, I would often play the CD during my three-hour drive to college after a break home from classes.

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Major changes to the English ensemble in 1998 lead up to the making of Radio Contact.

Ever since Carmichael and Nick Webb founded Acoustic Alchemy in the 1980s, songs typically featured elements of contemporary jazz and some new age here and there. However, the band endured major transformations after the release of Positive Thinking in 1998.

One major change came with Webb’s untimely death during the production of the ’98 album. The band would play on with Carmichael and his former understudy, Miles Gilderdale. With other changes to personnel, A. A. experimented with other sounds in their next two albums on the Higher Octave label. Dance beats, pop rhythms, and samplings from Latin and Middle Eastern music shaped these albums in 2000 and 2001.

Some of the band’s new style is also found in Radio Contact, but I still hear mellow and pleasant low-tempo melodies that define the core sound of smooth jazz. The first five tracks exemplify the genre’s sound and A. A.’s signature guitar arrangements.

Of the first five songs, I’ll point out three.

First, “No Messin‘” starts the album with an upbeat sound. “Milo” follows as a softer song that features a nice guest improvisation by Chuck Loeb on the electric guitar. (Loeb also produced the first four songs.)

Then, there is the fifth track, titled “El Camino del Corazon.” If my four years of high school Spanish has not yet failed, I believe the title means “The Path of the Heart” in English. For some reason, this is my favorite track on the album. I like how the song opens up soft in the first minute. Between the first and second minutes, the song builds up to a nice improv with Gilderdale on the electric guitar. The track slows down to a calmer mood again until the 2:40 mark. At this point, the track builds up again with a Latin-inspired improv by Carmichael, followed by Jamie Norton on the keys. The song plays out soft again for the final two minutes. Overall, I find the track to be one of those relaxing songs I might listen to when I’m cruising on a long ride (like my current one-hour commute to work).

Another typical A. A. song I enjoy is “Shoestring.” The track features a soft melody with Gilderdale adding some accompanying vocals (with no distinguishable words).

A. A. reached a milestone with their sixth track, “Little Laughter.” At this time, the song features the only vocals with lyrics in the ensemble’s vast discography. Jo Harrop is the singer.


Finally, the album ends with the band continuing its sampling of dance beats on “Venus Morena.”


Next week, look for a special post on Brian Culbertson.

I recently got his Secrets. Now that I finally own each of his 15 CD albums, I’ll be ranking several of them, beginning with my favorite. This also comes in anticipation of his new funk record, due out near this coming fall.

Don Cheadle Directs, Stars in Depiction of Miles Davis

By Phillip Martin

In a time when Adele, Gaga, and Bieber dominate popular music, the life and success of a jazz legend can quickly settle in oblivion. Despite jazz enduring a recent downswing in public appeal, Golden Globe-winning Don Cheadle retells the story of trumpeter Miles Davis.

Not only does Cheadle star as the famed trumpeter in Miles Ahead, but he also makes his directional debut.

Jazziz Magazine changed its profile photo in March that features Don Cheadle posing as legendary trumpeter Miles Davis. Screenshot by Phillip Martin.
Jazziz Magazine changed its Facebook profile photo in March that features Don Cheadle posing as legendary trumpeter Miles Davis. Screenshot by Phillip Martin.

The film may not follow a typical format for a biopic, according to the actor. “If you make a movie about Miles Davis, it’s got to be gangster, it’s got to be a heist movie, it’s got to be crazy … It’s got to be as creative and varied and visceral as all of his music is,” Cheadle told The New York Times.

Miles Ahead will hit theaters tomorrow. Social media and news sources, like the Rolling Stone, have already shared the trailer for the film.

Whether or not Cheadle’s direction embellishes Davis’ actual life, the film will bring to light the story of the jazz legend.

Miles Davis was born in 1926. Although he died 25 years ago, he left a remarkable impression in American history. He was an innovator of bebop and helped shape the sub-genre jazz fusion. The trumpeter was also a pioneer for African-American musicians. Today, he also remains an influence for modern-day performers, like Chris Botti.

Davis won nine Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1990. Another major accomplishment he made is by releasing the largest-selling jazz album of all time. Released in 1959 and considered one of the best jazz albums ever, Kind of Blue, sold more than 2 million copies, according to biography.com

Davis played with other legends during his career. Throughout his career, he teamed up with performers like Charlie Parker, Chick Corea, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Branford Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver, Marcus Miller, and Quincy Jones.

Cheadle got the Davis role in an interesting fashion. When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Davis in 2006, people asked his nephew, Vince Wilborn, Jr., if a biopic was oncoming. “Yeah. And Don Cheadle’s going to play him,” the nephew said.

As part of playing the role of Davis, Cheadle had to learn the trumpet. He told The NY Times that his old friend Wynton Marsalis, a Grammy-award-winning performer, helped.

Cheadle has appeared in a number of popular films, including several biopics. One notable film is Hotel Rwanda, in 2004, which he starred as Paul Rusesabagina and earned an Academy Award nomination. He earned his Golden Globe award after starring as Sammy Davis, Jr., in the Rat Pack, in 1998. If you’ve been following the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, you’ll probably recognize him as James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Iron Man’s close friend (a.k.a. War Machine). Finally, I remember Cheadle promoting the NFL Playoffs in commercials in the early 2000s.


TBT: Chris Botti’s National Anthem Moves NFL Player to Tears

Image of Chris Botti above is from anthony_goto on Flickr.

By Phillip Martin

This past week, I shared news about Brian Culbertson performing the U.S. National Anthem at a public event for his first time. Today, on this Throwback Thursday (TBT), I’d like to follow that up by looking back on Chris Botti’s evocative rendition of the anthem nearly 18 months ago.

On Nov. 3, 2014, Botti had performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a Monday Night Football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the New York Giants. There, at Metlife Stadium, now-retired star Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne cried to the performer’s delicate trumpet notes. Wayne’s tears garnered national attention among various media outlets and also caught my attention the next day.

ABC News later captured Wayne speaking with the press after that game. The receiver, 35 years old at the time, said he cried because he was thankful for all of his years playing in the NFL.

Although ESPN cameras caught Wayne’s unbridled tears, Botti later told an Indiana news station he too felt moved by his performance. Upon opening the link to the station’s website, you can hear all the trumpeter had say about the experience. You can also discover that he attended Indiana University’s music school over 30 years ago before dropping out and touring with Frank Sinatra. (I am not sure if Botti is rooting for the Hoosier’s men’s basketball team in this year’s ongoing NCAA Tournament. I am equally unsure if he is a Colts fan.)

The story especially caught my attention because I have listened to some of Botti’s music on Spotify and on YouTube videos. The trumpeter mainly plays a traditional style of jazz. Some could even classify his style as more of a jazzy twist on classical music. (You’ll know more of what I’m talking about here if you listen to his version of “Gabriel’s Oboe” or watch him performing with the Boston Pops on YouTube.)

Although Botti performs a more old-school style of jazz, he has played on smooth jazz songs, such as “Secret Affair” by Culbertson and “Work Song” by Eric Marienthal. The trumpet player has also performed a few nice-sounding contemporary jazz pieces, such as “Regroovable” and “Blue Horizon.”

One final thing to note about Botti is that he won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2o13. He has earned four other Grammy nominations during his career.

Grace Kelly and Brian Culbertson Reach Milestones

By Phillip Martin

Grace Kelly gets a gig on late-night television and discuses her career as an Asian American artist.

Saxophone player Grace Kelly recently joined Stay Human, the house band that plays on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Check out the NBC News article released about Kelly. In the story, she discusses the gig she got and her solo career. She also talks about how she hopes to pave the way for other young Asian American women who play the saxophone or clarinet.

Kelly shares a photo of her excitement on the set of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, via her Instagram account. Screenshot by Phillip Martin.


Now-defunct online radio station Smooth Jazz Chicago wishes Kelly well on her new gig. Screenshot by Phillip Martin.

Brian Culbertson plays the National Anthem at an NBA game.

Smooth jazz, R&B, and funk pianist Brian Culbertson played the National Anthem at a Charlotte Hornets NBA game this past week. 

Culbertson showed off his multifaceted musical talent by airing out his trombone on his rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.

Culbertson tweets about his gig playing the National Anthem at an NBA game.

It was the first time he had the honor of playing the U.S. anthem in his career, according to his website’s blog. 

Lindsey Webster Sets a New Billboard Record

The still above features Lindsey Webster from her music video for “Fool Me Once” on YouTube. Screenshot by Phillip Martin, using a smartphone.

By Phillip Martin

Lindsay Webster is about to set a new record.

Her fully vocal-led single “Fool Me Once” will become the first of its kind — ever — to lead four consecutive weeks on the mostly instrumental Billboard “Smooth Jazz Songs” chart. The single will reign as the top song through March 19.

Three weeks ago, Webster’s song first achieved a rare milestone. The single became the second vocally-led song to lead the chart all-time. (Sade’s “Soldier of Love” was the first, in 2010.)



Below is Webster’s reaction on her Facebook page this past Monday:


After earning two rare achievements for a vocalist on the contemporary jazz chart, Webster also shared on Facebook her appreciation to her followers:



Jessy J Appears on Magazine Cover; Lington Promotes New Record

By Phillip Martin

Saxophonists Jessy J and Michael Lington shared images of their recent happenings through their social media accounts this past week.

First, Jessy J shared that magazine Saxophone Life is featuring her on their front cover for the month of March.

This past Tuesday, she shared the cover photo as well as her reaction on her Instagram account:



Saxophone Life is a monthly magazine that covers the lifestyles of professional sax players and offers tips for amateur players. The magazine typically features images of professional saxophone players each month and also includes an interview with the selected artist inside the month’s edition. Boney James appeared on the front cover this past Feburary.

Aside from appearing on the front cover of the magazine, Jessy J is touring around the country after her most recent release My One and Only One. The Latin jazz performer also recently announced her engagement to her boyfriend. She also celebrated the eight year anniversary of the release of her first CD album Tequila Moon, for which she earned Billboard’s Smooth Jazz Song of the Year in 2008 for the album’s title track.


Finally, Danish-born sax player Michael Lington announced this past Thursday that his new album Second Nature is available for pre-order.

He said on his Instagram account, lingtonsax, that fans can pre-order the new album by accessing a link in his profile bio. By doing this, fans will receive the new album a week before the release date, which is set for April 22 (also known as Earth Day in the U.S.).


Below is a photo of what appears to be the front cover for Lington’s new album:


Lington’s most recent album was his 2014 album Soul Appeal. The single “Uptown Groove” from this album peaked at No. 4 on Billboard’s “Smooth Jazz Songs” chart in November of that year. He also is known for his song “Show Me,” from his Stay With Me album in 2004, which received a lot of airplay at that time.

Another Jazz Vocalist Makes History on Billboard Chart

The still above features Lindsey Webster from her music video for “Fool Me Once” on YouTube. Screenshot by Phillip Martin, using a smartphone.

By Phillip Martin

If you have never heard of Lindsey Webster, chances are you’re in good company. But, now that the jazz vocalist has made history with her debut on a Billboard chart, chances are we’ll be hearing more from her soon.

Two weeks ago, Webster became the second artist to reach No. 1 on Billboard’s “Smooth Jazz Songs” chart with a fully-led vocal song. *With her song, “Fool Me Once,” she is the first to achieve this feat in the traditionally instrumental chart since Sade did in 2010 with her “Soldier of Love.” Gordon Murray of Billboard first reported Webster’s rare achievement.

Graphic above is from Webster’s Facebook post. Screen capture by Phillip Martin.

In the article, Webster shared her thoughts with Billboard about her accomplishment.

“The fact that I’m on a Billboard chart, let alone at No. 1 … let alone in a mostly instrumental format, has been a huge turning point for me,” she told the national magazine.

As of March 3, Webster leads a second week on the chart with “Fool Me Once.” This week’s reigning No. 1 smooth jazz song comes from the vocalist’s You Change from 2015. The hit is also set up to lead through the week ending with March 12.

If “Fool Me Once” continues to chart high for Webster, followed by future songs by the vocalist debuting on Billboard, one could validate her success as more than achievement by chance.

The music video for her song is available on YouTube, where one can hear her soulful voice and watch her arousing performance.

*A third vocal-driven song did also top the contemporary jazz chart in the past. George Benson and Al Jarreau’s “Mornin'” led for five weeks back in 2006, Murray noted in his article. However, this rendition of Jarreau’s original 1983 “Mornin’,” featured a mix of instrumentals and what Murray called “scat-singing from Jarreau.”