Updated: Feb 15, 2022
Photos by: Brandon Albright & Additional Photos are courtesy of Gerald Albright
Selling well over one million albums, the legendary R&B, contemporary and straight-ahead jazz saxophonist, Gerald Albright is a force to be reckoned with! His extraordinary career accomplishments include over 19 albums, eight Grammy nominations, and most recently, he was titled the # 2 Billboard Smooth Jazz Artist of the year on the 2021 year-end chart! What an accomplishment! So deserved! Appearing on over 200 recordings, Gerald's massive meteor sized rooster includes playing with a plethora of well accomplished music industry giants such as, playing on albums by, Olivia Newton-John, Maurice White, Atlantic Starr, Lola Folana, Ray Parker, Anita Baker, The Temptations, and a boat load of others.
Gerald’s touring credit are equally impressive as he has performed with, Whitney Houston, Jeff Lorber, Les McCann, Teena Marie, Quincy Jones, Marlena Shaw, the Winans and the list goes on. Additionally, he has appeared on numerous TV shows such as the American prime time television soap opera, Melrose Place, on NBC 1987 sitcom, Different World, and others. Not only is he remarkably talented, but he is also a super awesome husband and father who has a love for God! I had the honor of interviewing this amazing man. Here’s what he shared with me.
Hi Gerald, how are you today?
Fine, how are you today?
I'm having an amazing day! Thank you! Glad to hear that your day is going well.
Yes, my day has been very productive. I'm getting through it. Everything's been positive so far. I'm happy about that.
That's amazing news! Where are you located?
I'm South of Denver.
Believe it or not, it's 72 degrees so, I'm in shorts and tennis shoes and savoring the moment.
I know that's right.
It's going to be colder later this week.
Well, you better enjoy it right now. In Palm Springs where I live, it's always sunny.
I'm sorry. I won't rub it in.
We've been here for 17 years, so we like something about it.
Awesome. Well, Gerald, it is an honor to speak with such an amazing musician as yourself.
It's my pleasure to speak with you today Gina.
Well Gerald, let’s get into it. Eight Grammy nominations, over 30 years of playing, 20 CD’s and one EP, all I can say is wow! In my opinion, and I'm sure in so many others, you are considered an icon in the smooth jazz industry.
Your credits and accomplishments speak for themselves. You have managed to achieve something that many artists only dreamed of. How did it all begin?
I'm a California boy and I grew up in South Central LA. I've always loved music. At the request of my mom and dad, I began playing piano at 8 years old. Because I was into sports, mainly football and baseball, I was constantly unprepared for my weekly piano lessons. At that age piano was just not something that I took an interest in. “George Turple,” who was my teacher and choir director at the church I attended in my youth, noticed my lack of interest in piano. Because of that, he approached my parents with an alternative option.
Turns out that he had an old saxophone in his garage that he hadn't played in years. So, he dusted it off, and brought it to the next lesson.
The next time we met, he told me that we were going to do something different. So, we put the sax together, and started making sounds. He taught me how to do scales and melodies. That's where it all began.
That was the moment that a star was born. What was it about the sax that had an advantage over the piano?
I fell in love with the sax because it was totally different then the piano. I found it to be a lot more intriguing. I enjoyed the fact that I can blow through it and that it had cool little keys that I could press that made sounds. So, it was more interesting to me at my 8-year-old self. I really became inclined to play it, and from that point, I never put it down. From that point on, playing saxophone became my destiny.
What a great foundational story. So, as you began developing your skills, where did that lead you?
Basically, I started off as a studio musician working on projects around the Los Angeles area. I worked on many albums and movie soundtracks. As my career progressed, the opportunity presented itself for me to go on the road with, “Anita Baker” for approximately a two-year span.
Shortly thereafter, in 1987, I signed a deal with “Atlantic Records.” I recorded seven albums with Atlantic. That snowballed into 21 projects, four of which were recorded under my own label, “Bright Music Incorporated.” Fast forward to today, I feel blessed to still be making great music into 2021 and 2022. I'm truly grateful because music is my passion.
That’s wonderful! Growing up in Los Angeles can present a lot of challenges for young people. I have firsthand experience growing up in Inglewood, and central LA. I remember being surrounded by many dark entities. drugs, gangs, rundown environments and even witnessing deaths. With so many young people being exposed to that type of environment at such a young age, some become a part of that culture and never make it out. What's even more tragic is that although God has given everyone a purpose and an assignment in life, some never experience the blessing of seeing those dreams materialize.
So, that's a blessing and a testimony in and of itself, only make it out of LA, you stayed focused, stuck with your goals, and were able to realize your dreams. Your life and your success prove that greatness can come out of any community. Speaking of greatness, can you tell me about your Gerald Albright cannon ball is the GT five B tenor saxophone series?
Yes, it's a sax that I designed along with cannonball musical instruments some years ago. We have a signature alto, soprano and tenor saxophone that we've been selling on the market both domestically and internationally for many years.
Yes, it is, and It's doing very well! So much so that we’ve received positive reviews from both students and professional players expressing their complete satisfaction with our product. Quite naturally, hearing how happy they are, makes me happy.
I've been playing cannonballs exclusively for almost two decades now. I love the instruments, and I'm honored and confident to put my name behind these instruments because they are great tools for saxophonist and woodwind players. This is true both domestically and internationally. I'm also proud to have a great relationship with the company as well. Our relationship is so good that I consider them extended family. So, it's kind of a win, win on all levels.
Yeah, I love my line of saxophones! Definitely!
That's amazing! You received a special honor of achievement. Tell me about that?
Yeah, out of the blue, our current President, “Joe Biden” awarded me the Lifetime Achievement Award for my work, both as a professional musician and for community my service.
Wow! What an amazing honor!
Yes! I was just so elated! It caught me by surprise! I didn't know it was coming! After I received the award, we blasted it on social media, and everybody had wonderful things to say about my accomplishments. After that, I thought to myself, I must be doing something right when the President of the United States recognizes your contributions to society. So, I was I was very humbled and very excited about the award.
Although I've had the opportunity to meet with other presidents during my career, this award really takes the cake! So, I'm very happy.
Well, congratulations! I am so proud of you!
You're welcome! Now, you've collaborated with saxist, “Pamela Williams” on her song, “Serendipity”?
That song went number one on Billboard's recently.
Yes, it did.
Well congratulations to the both of you!
You’re welcome. Now, you played bass on her album. I'm sure a lot of people are unaware that you are also a phenomenal bass player. How long have you been playing bass?
Well, I learned early on that you don't put all your eggs in one basket. When you're dealing with the music industry, it's wise to become multi-faceted. For example, I play bass, but I also play all the woodwind instruments like sax, flute, and clarinet. Additionally, I write and produce. So, it's very important that you do a variety of things to achieve sustainability in this industry.
For example, because I play bass, I was able to take advantage of the opportunity to be featured (artist) bassist on Pamela's record. That makes me proud! I'm so happy for her because this is her very first number #1career placement on Billboard. She's excited and I'm excited for her!
To have played the bass solo on her record, for me, takes my career to a new level. Most people know me as a saxophonist, but a lot of people don't know I play bass.
I toured with Anita Baker as her bass player for two years. Although I played one sax solo during her show, I mainly played with the rhythm section as a bassist. That was a great experience for me! In fact, it was such a great experience that word got out about my playing which later became the launching pad of my career.
Because of so much negativity in the world today, I want to focus on what's positive. With that being said, what positive things came out of this pivotal point in our world's history for both you for both personally and musically?
Once I settled down from all the craziness and had time to think about what I wanted to do within this pandemic, personally, I pressed the reset button. My focus became my family, their safety, my career and even my finances. Because the world changed so drastically in such a short period of time, it created extraordinary challenges for musicians.
Being out of work for a period of 18 months, without any live performances, created a huge financial shift. So, I had to step back, look at my life, and find other means for financial security. I asked myself, " what other talents do I have?" So, I started doing live streamed concerts and I even joined cameo.com.
Cameo.com is a site where celebrities can join to honor people for their birthdays, anniversaries, and other important events in their lives. The way it works is that someone can go online, book their favorite celebrity, I play a song for them, and do a shout out. So, that’s what I did. I would play a little sax melody for their special occasion.
Also, I started mixing my own records and I did an internship with the gentleman that masters all my records. During COVID, he gave me great pointers on how to optimize my mixes. So now, I don't have to send my mixes to an engineer because I can do it myself. Now, I can do everything in house. It's a fun process.
I know my music better than anyone else because I am hearing it daily. The nuances and tweaks that create a great mix, I'm tuned in and have my finger on the pulse of what needs to be done, (as it relates to mixing). So, that's been an exciting process for me!
I’m not sure that I would have even made the time to look at my life in depth such as I did during that time. The same is true regarding planning for my future.
I will say this, it was a wakeup call for myself and everyone else in the world. I'm sure of that! We don’t want this to happen again. To get through something like this, you must put yourself in a secure state of mind, body, and spirit. Is also very important to secure yourself financially.
I did experience a couple of huge blessings during the pandemic. One of them is that I became a grand dad! His name is Gavin Ely and he's 21 months. I'm in love with my grandson! He's a sweetheart!
The other is that I did record a project called G-Stream. Recording this project was my way of giving my fans a therapeutic way to get through the pandemic. For example, all the songs on the album have a positive message. I'm extremely proud that we were able to get it out. What made me even happier, people said wonderful things about it! They talked about how it made them feel better during a pandemic. That made me happy. This is one of the reasons that the G-Stream album is so close to my heart.
As I stated earlier, in the beginning, things were crazy! I did manage to turn the negative into a positive when I recorded a new single, " Crazy." Crazy is a cover tune originally recorded by Cee Lo and Green Gnarls Barkley. That's my latest song and it's doing very well right now. Currently, its #15 on the Billboard radio charts. In fact, right before calling you, I received some extraordinary news from my radio promotion guy!
Do tell! Do tell! Breaking news! Wow, how blessed am I!
Yes, He sent me a chart stating that I have just become the #2 smooth jazz artist of the year on Billboard.
Wow, hot off the press!
Yes, great things are still happening even during the pandemic. Do I want to relive it? Absolutely not, but hopefully will be coming out in the coming weeks and months ahead.
Amen to that! Now, to my understanding two of your songs out of the three went #1 on the billboard charts, “Better Days and Hope” congratulations!
Yes, thank you so much! Those songs came from the G-Stream project that I've been talking about. If, “Crazy” to goes #1, then we’ll have a clean sweep on the entire project, so I'm really hoping for that.
It will go number 1! I'm sure of that!
Having experienced being on a major label and now owning your own independent label (Bright Music Records), how has that choice benefited your career?
Ownership! That’s a big deal! I'm at that point in my life where I want to develop a legacy for myself and my family.
In terms of being an independent artist Gina, I have total control over the entire process. I didn't have that before. Also, I have the ownership and licensing of my masters which is like real estate in the entertainment industry.
When you have ownership, you can release your projects at your own leisure. You're not forced to rush through your creativity. There is no record company telling you that you must finish it within a certain time frame. You have the flexibility to make your project become what you want intended for it to be because you set your own release dates. Because of this choice, I'm living my best life! I'm more content than I've ever been. I'm not stressed.
I'm really enjoying my life! I'm golfing and enjoying family! I'm grateful to God for keeping both myself and my family safe and healthy during this turbulent season, and I thank God I didn’t catch COVID! I have so many things to be grateful for and to celebrate! I am truly elated that I was able to get through the year unscathed.
Yes! I agree! Because we were all so busy, there were so many things that we didn’t pay attention to prior to the pandemic like just the simplicity of the beauty of life. The pandemic gave us time to slow our lives down, become more reflective and appreciative. I saw God clearer than I ever have during this pandemic and my relationship with my Lord and savior, Christ Jesus became even stronger. For that alone, I'm grateful.
I totally agree with you.
As a Christian woman being in the industry myself, I found that being in the entertainment industry can be a tremendous blessing to you as well as others if used correctly. You have to say grounded and focused on what really matters. So, my question to you is do you balance career, family, and personal morality in an industry that can at times be unfavorable to your core values?
Great question. I'm a Christian as well. That's a big part of my everyday life. Before I do anything, I start in my days with prayer just giving thanks on an hourly and daily basis for the gifts and the blessings that He has given to us and most importantly is giving thanks for life.
Without life, you can't satisfy anything else. We've lost a lot of people during COVID. Family, friends, and a whole lot more. But, in terms of answering the question of how I balance my life? I think the operative word is communication.
Effectively communicating with your spouse and children as a husband and a dad is very important. It’s imperative that you do your very best to be present in their lives.
Early on in my career, my touring schedule was quite extensive. I sacrificed a lot being on the road performing with a lot of different artists. Sometimes we would go out for two or three months, touring the world and the precursor behind that was to generate funding for the Family. I wanted to make sure we we're eating, had a steady roof over our heads, had cars to drive and adequate health insurance. That’s what I wanted for my family.
Because I spent so much time away from home, occasionally I missed integral celebrations involving my children and other events such as that. Now, I make sure that I'm there in present. I don't let that happen anymore. Furthermore, I like being there for their birthdays, graduations, and any other milestones in their life.
When you miss those pivotal moments, they’re gone forever. They never come back because life is progressive. You need to take a step back and position yourself where your able to balance everything meaningful in your life. That includes situating your life in a way that you are available as a husband, father, mentor, producer, musician and even carving out time self-care. Generating quality time for yourself, only helps with all the things I previously mentioned.
So now, I'm eating healthier, exercising, and trying to drop a few pounds. I must confess, on Thanksgiving, I cheated, but we all did. To redeem myself, I came home and played a nice round of golf which burned off a lot of calories. Now I'm back on track.
What upcoming projects and tours do you have planned in 2022?
I'm working on a brand-new recording project. Presently I’m in the mixing process. We haven't determined the release date, but I'm thinking it will be around the first half of next year. We're considering a spring and summer promotional campaign that includes live performances and social media marketing.
We 're planning on touring next year, but in a balanced fashion. We're not going to be gone for months at a time for the reasons we discussed earlier. Mostly weekend performances. We're going to spread the performances out throughout the year so that I can spend quality time with my family and keep my life balanced.
What advice would you give an up-and-coming artist?
Great question! If I had the power to rewind my life and do it over again, I would have had more control of my career from the start. The idea of being an independent artist wasn't popular until later years in my career. But I will say this, back when my career started, if I had the choice to build my own record company and do so expeditiously, I would have done it.
I suppose it comes down to the old adage of, “all things in time”. So, when it was time for me to do it, I did it. I will say this, it’s a big step to take because, it costs money to start it and keep it running as a fine running machine. But, being a Christian, you must step out on faith.
In stepping out on faith, you have to tell yourself, “Because this is my contribution, I have to see it through. The good thing is that every step of that process you retain ownership of your record company, music, and productions. That's a big deal! It's a huge deal because over the years, many record companies have stolen money from so many artists.
The sad part is that some artists who are now in their 60s, 70s and 80s are still fighting to get their royalties from the hits they had way back in the day. They had managers who were underhanded and untrustworthy. We hear stories about this frequently. So, this is a great time for young independent artists to do their thing! Independent artists today have a plethora of free social media resources to take advantage of. Platforms such as, YouTube and many others can help get your music out to the masses. See, when I first came up in the industry, these amazing outlets were not available to us. We didn't have what they have now back then.
The way it happened back in the day was, you got a record deal, you were given a budget for that album, you recorded it, and they put it out. Hopefully you would make more money touring and getting royalties than it took to finance that project, because the major record companies had power over the accounting of those records. Because they held so much power, basically, they could tell you anything. For example, if you sold 250,000 records, the label could tell you that you sold 100,000. Now, for you to prove that you sold 250,000 albums, you had to hire a certified public accountant that would go in and audit their books. But that cost a lot of money. It's just a mess!
So, the precursor to all this, is that all major record companies aren't crooks. They’re some good people working within the music industry. But you must be careful about relationships. Young artist should follow their dreams and stick to them. When you have a gut feeling, that's usually the right road to go down. Many people will get in your ear and try to convince you to go in another direction. They'll tell you that you should turn left instead of turning right. Sometimes they're satisfying their own welfare and platforms while putting yours on the back burner.
So, it's really about faith, being tenacious, having a dream, having a vision, and working through it. If you think positive eventually everything will work out.
Well said! I'm sure our readers will be inspired by your amazing journey because you've inspired me. I really think you this interview. It was a blessing to me. I pray God's blessings over your life, over your career and over your beautiful family. I pray that you guys have a Happy 2022! May God continues to open doors for you, and bless, protect, and keep you and your family safe and healthy as you go along your life’s journey.
Thank you so much, and all those blessings and back at you! Have a wonderful and safe holiday season as well. Thank you Gina.
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