Culbertson gets relaxing with “Winter Stories”

Published on October 5th, 2019

By Jim Dail

Accomplished musician Brian Culbertson has always enjoyed creating music. He has been inspired by any number of moments and occurrences in life. Culbertson can even be inspired by walking.

Photo by Daniel Ray

“I was walking in Chicago during our holiday and I just thought to myself, ‘Man, I feel like playing the piano,’” he said. “I figured, ‘Hey, I should make a record.’”

And that’s what he did, with this week’s release of Winter Stories. Culbertson will bring those stories and a career of hits to Thornton Winery on Saturday as part of the 2019 Champagne Concert Series.

“So, everyday I’d walk around and come home, sit at the piano and out came songs,” he said. “Here and there I was mindful of creating space so the listener’s ears could have time to sit back and contemplate.”

The album is a barebones collection featuring Culbertson, bass player Steve Rodby and drummer Khari Parker.

“This album takes it a lot further in terms of me learning restraint,” he said. “I’d sit there and let my piano play a chord and then hold it and create some space. There’s something about that space that attracted me to this music. It’s a calming effect, especially nowadays where everyone is so plugged in, constantly having computers in your hands, and constantly being beeped at. I feel like there needs to be time to chill out.”

Of course, Culbertson is known for his funky sound on album and stage, but sometimes he is in a mellow mood.

“I kind of like the idea of switching it up and keeping people guessing so I don’t get pigeonholed,” he said. “I love doing funk, but also like doing love jams.”

For Winter Stories, the feeling is definitely more of a love jam, a relaxing time perhaps in a chalet in Switzerland or Vail, Colorado. Of course, for Culbertson, that means a connection with his wife, Michelle.

“She definitely helped out on this one as an executive producer,” he said. “I produced it but there’s a lot of batting back and forth. She’s into the European, straight-ahead jazz artists who are lesser known, more esoteric. She’s listening to this other stuff and maybe subconsciously it leaked in.”

Very quickly, he felt something.

“When I started playing, I got that kind of vibe and that kind of sound,” he said. “If you are constantly exposed to a sound, it’s going by osmosis to get into your psyche.”

It’s not about copying anything.

“I’m certainly not ripping anything off, but just the mood and vibe and that jazz trio sound with the brushes on the drums just has that special feel to it,” he said.
All along, the idea was not to do a typical modern jazz record.

“Right off the bat I knew Steve Rodby could be the only guy to play this record,” he said. “It wasn’t a straight down the middle jazz thing. It also has pop sensibilities. It’s melodic, and there were specific notes I wanted played here and slide here. You go to a straight-ahead guy and he will bring in the attitude. That guy figures he’s just going to play whatever. No, the sound has to be produced by someone Rodby’s caliber.”

He blew Culbertson away.

“He’s by far the most in tune acoustic bass player,” he said. “Most of the time it’s pitchy because there are no frets! Its close, but my god he’s just impeccable and his tone just huge and his fills just so big sounding.”

The production process was a little different.

“What I did is I demoed every song using the computer,” he said. “The samples these days are pretty damn good sounding. I had drums with brushes samples, and I basically programed the album in its entirety. I was sitting at a piano first and then I sent the other guys these demos along with charts that were really particular.”

Then, it was time to record.

“I told them that we needed to get a perfect take and then after we hone in and have it in the bag, we could do a few more takes to see whatever goes,” he said. “We could be as creative as we wanted to be, and inevitably it freed mu their minds to just create. They aren’t thinking it has to be perfect at that point. Then I got back into the studio and compiled all these different takes into what it turns out to be.  It’s really a combination of the produced tracks that their own creativity.”

Only one song proved a little tricky, and that was the first single “Morning Walk.”

“It was pretty lucky that I had only one song that took a little massaging,” he said. “I don’t know why but I had to get it into a good place. Maybe that was the one that was to me the most smooth jazz of all the songs and didn’t fit immediately with the rest. Again, I had to massage it into the record. As you possibly hear, it’s definitely a slight bit different.”

To him it’s a nostalgic time as well.

I like the Wurlitzer piano throughout the album,” he said. “It gives it a nostalgic feel. It goes back to being timeless and what instruments to use. It’s just brushes, piano and bass. No horns, no smooth sax.”

Just music for those who enjoy a little relaxation and atmosphere.


Where: Thornton Winery, 32575 Rancho California Rd. Temecula

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, October 5

Admission: General admission Sold out. Gourmet supper: Sold out

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


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