Culbertson adds visual touch to music

Published on May 29th, 2018

By Jim Dail

Jazzman Brian Culbertson sits at a table drinking water, coping with exhaustion after having performed an exhilarating set at Thornton Winery in 2017.

His path to get to the show was crazy. To get to the show, as he put it, they went “to Lisbon, then London, then Chicago and then San Diego on four different flights.”

Of course, the show was a smashing success and no one would have known just how tired he was, but that’s typical of Culbertson: the stage is just a special place that he will never skimp on at any cost.

In the same measure, Culbertson’s newest show is a huge extravaganza that he will bring to Thornton Winery on Saturday, June 2.

“There are three segments to it,” he pointed out. “Initially, it was going to be mainly based on the new album [“Colors of Love”] and a fully romantic-themed evening. The more I thought of it, the concert as a whole, it was important to put some more up-tempo, lively stuff as a set. I thought, ‘Wait a minute. What if I brought it to three parts with a funk set in the middle?’ It’s something I’ve never done. It was kind of an untested territory, and so far it is proving to be a very effective.”

It’s his first experience packing of huge amounts of gear, visual equipment and lighting.

“It is crazy,” he said. “It’s a whole visual experience. We have a giant truck bringing out video walls to set up the lighting and band gear, and I am bringing a grand piano.”

People who know Culbertson know how much he loves to party on stage and loves the sound of funk. But it is also clear that there is a softer side as well.

“The new record is especially a visual creation for me, very cinematic in nature,” he said. “Definitely a very visual album. I see images and scenes, and at the shows I am trying to create some of that and when you see what we put on the video screen, I think you will see it works.”

The show is designed to bring a range of feelings and styles.

“The new record is a personal, intimate record, and I felt it appropriate to keep it close to me,” he said. “That’s in opposition to the funk record which is supposed to sound like a party bringing everyone in. It brings different flavors to the table.”

It also has allowed him to open up the catalog.

“We are going to have our staples, and that means there will always be certain songs,” he said. “It is what it is. Beyond those handful, anything is fair game. I even mess with the arrangements of those songs.”

He has always had a wide-ranging taste in music.

The son of a music teacher, Culbertson was always surrounded by music, and he was influenced by, among others, David Sanborn, George Duke, Sting, Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire.

He is accomplished on the keyboards, trombone, drums and bass – but he leaves the guitar for others.

“I played everything on the new record, but there are so many amazing guitar players I figured I might as well hire the best cats,” he said. “Initially I wasn’t going to have guitar on the record, but then once I started to get into the production of the track I realized I needed some guitar.”

As he pointed out, it was an intimate record.

“When a song comes together, I in essence record it several times through with whatever parts I have,” he said. “Obviously, the melody is laid out but I put in the parts in between and see how I am feeling in that moment. I pick the takes that I like the best.”

And the piano work is amazing, part of the reason why he’s bringing the grand piano wherever he plays.

“I wasn’t trying to go crazy with any of the piano parts, but that’s kind of how it landed,” he said.  When it comes to the show and the record, he wants people to get a taste but while the album in its entirety is special to him, he’s not recreating it on stage.

“I’m not doing the whole record because I never was a fan of doing the whole album,” he said. “Most people don’t know the new songs except for maybe the new single, and the audience is not totally into it compared to songs they already know. I’ll do about 5 songs in the set with a few at the piano.”

That is something completely new.

“People are responding to it in a cool way because I’ve never sat down at a piano and just played,” he said. “A lot of the core fans are like, ‘Wow! We don’t get to see him ever do that!’”


When:  7 p.m., Saturday, June 2

Where: Thornton Winery, Temecula

Admission: General admission: $95, Gourmet supper: Sold out

Information: Call 951-699-3021 or visit Website,


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