My Favorite Chicago Jazz Cats: Brian Culbertson

My Favorite Chicago Jazz Cats: Brian Culbertson

Jazz pianist Brian Culbertson was actually born in Decatur, IL but came to Chicago to attend DePaul University for music. He was a senior and just getting started professionally when I started at DePaul as a freshman in 1994, I did not know him personally but there was talk on campus of the music student with a record contract.

Brian released his first CD in 1994 and was a hit, WNUA 95.5 the smooth jazz station played him often and supported his early career. So did the Chicago Tribune, even writing about him while he was still at DePaul in music studies but doing regional tours and playing professionally.

Let me preface that a few years after Brian had finished at DePaul my first writing beat (while I was taking Journalism classes at DePaul), was to cover the school of music. So I got to go in-depth with the staff and faculty of the school and it was an impressive program and group of people over there.

It was not uncommon for upperclassmen music students to gig and play locally, the school has “jazz combos” for the jazz students in the recital hall (and the end of each quarter/semester), to prepare them (and us students as the audience), for jazz gigs.

So I know that Brian got a first rate music education and for us DePaul Music fans there is a “DePaul Sound”, even for jazz, it incorporates classical training and Brian shows that in his music which is not “run of the mill” smooth jazz.

Brian has played with the best in R&B as well as jazz and his style is fluid, contemporary but not always “smooth”. His “Straight From the Heart” is a breathless ballad that any musician would be proud of. But man he can funk it up too and never miss a beat or sound rushed.

In his 20 years as a professional musician Brian has been prolific in the studio with recordings but also playing live gigs too.

The most impressive thing about Brian is how he came on to the smooth jazz scene in its heyday and immediately made a mark with his music. And this was when some jazz people were starting to knock “smooth jazz” as not as legitimate as traditional jazz.

Brian simply played his music and like most good jazz he was not just within one sub-genre of smooth, or traditional or even crossing over into R&B. He just played good music that resonated with people and was commercially successful without selling out or being any less soulful.

That is not easy or common especially for a college senior but Brian has always been a first class musician with a tight sound that is contemporary but check out his early work it’s not dated which that sometimes timed sound some contemporary smooth jazz gets.

Nope, no expiration date on Brian’s work. That’s a huge compliment to him and why he has been on top of his game and respected musician for all of this time.

In a genre that has changed immensely since he started Brian has weathered the storm and still turns out timeless tunes.

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