Gerald Albright: Songs Without Lyrics Come From The Heart

Songwriters who pen both lyrics and melodies can paint images with their creative phrases and tell the listeners exactly what they want them to feel and envision. However, for instrumentalists such as Gerald Albright, the music is the sole vehicle for communicating his message effectively as the artist/songwriter's talents earned him a Grammy nomination this year for Best R&B Instrumental Performance.

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Songwriters who pen both lyrics and melodies can paint images with their creative phrases and tell the listeners exactly what they want them to feel and envision. However, for instrumentalists such as Gerald Albright, the music is the sole vehicle for communicating his message effectively as the artist/songwriter’s talents earned him a Grammy nomination this year for Best R&B Instrumental Performance.Songwriters who pen both lyrics and melodies can paint images with their creative phrases and tell the listeners exactly what they want them to feel and envision. However, for instrumentalists such as Gerald Albright, the music is the sole vehicle for communicating his message effectively as the artist/songwriter’s talents earned him a Grammy nomination this year for Best R&B Instrumental Performance.

With his second Atlantic album, Bermuda Nights , Albright solidified his position as one of popular music’s hottest new composers. The thirty year old artist plays bass, clarinet, saxophone, flute, and keyboards.

A Los Angeles native, Albright said his parents encouraged his interest in music. He took piano lessons as a child, but admits he didn’t care for the regimen of practicing everyday. However, when he began toying with his piano teacher’s saxophone and convinced his father to buy it for $50, he knew he had found the instrument for him.

Though saxophone was his primary instrument, he became fascinated with the bass after attending a Brothers Johnson concert and being mesmerized by Louis Johnson’s bass skills. He then began teaching himself to play bass with the same enthusiasm that marked his other musical ventures. Less than a year after graduating from college, Gerald landed a job playing saxophone for Patrice Rushen, a friend and fellow Locke High alumni. Midway through a tour when the bass player left, he auditioned for that slot and finished the tour as the bass player.

Albright’s musical talents weren’t restricted to his work with Rushen. Before long he found himself in the studio contributing to albums by Anita Baker, Lola Falana, Ray Parker, Atlantic Starr, Olivia Newton-John, The Temptations and Maurice White. His road credits are also impressive. He’s appeared with Les McCann, Rodney Franklin, Jeff Lorber, Teena Marie, the Winans, Ndugu, Marlena Shaw, and others.

Albright says he began writing songs in the late 70s. “I didn’t really get serious about it until coming off the road with Patrice Rushen in 1984 0r 1985,” he commented. “That’s when I wrote the bulk of the material that’s out now and I’m still writing.

“I write when I feel creative and I don’t try to force it,” he continues. “If I get an idea then I’ll run and put the idea down on tape with my little eight track at home and I also carry a tape recorder with me everywhere I go. If something comes to me on the freeway in the middle of five o’clock traffic, I put it down. My songwriting is spontaneous. I don’t take four or five hours a day to sit down at a keyboard and pump out a tune. If I get an idea that’s when I act upon it.”

Since most of Albright’s tunes contain no lyrics to derive titles from, he says the titles for his compositions come from a variety of places but mostly from sheer inspiration.

“They just come to me,” he said. “The title track for Bermuda Nights comes from past experience. I was in Bermuda about a year ago and I was so excited about being there and playing for those festive people. I really appreciated the culture and it impressed me to the point of writing some islandish type of music.

“There’s no given formula at all. I’ll think of a word and it seems like it will be good for that particular tune. The other thing is that the mood of the music often determines what the title is going to be. I sit back and listen to a finished tune and try to derive what the song is really saying.”

Though the majority of the tunes on his albums are purely instrumental, a few of the songs do contain lyrics. Albright says it’s the feel of the song that determines whether there will be vocals on the track.

“I tried to make the current album more of an instrumental album, so there’s not much lyrical content on it, with the exception of some background chorus on certain tunes,” he explained. A lot of times the way a tune is constructed will kind of indicate if a vocalist should do it or if some kind of horn should be on top of the track.

Gerald says he composes both on the saxophone and on keyboards, depending on the song. He also occasionally writes using a bass guitar. “It depends on what part of the tune comes to me first,” he said. “Sometimes I’m hearing a chord progression so I’ll formulate the tune based on the keyboards or if I hear a melody then I’ll derive the song through the melody. Then sometimes I’ll hear a bass line and I’ll put a nice beat to the bass line and then we’ll build the track from that foundation.

Though the saxophone, keyboards, and bass are the primary tools Albright uses in composing his tunes, he admits he sometimes uses synthesizers and computers in his work. However, he says there are no substitutes for the human element in music.

“I really respect technology, and I’ve used it to a certain extent,” he commented. “I don’t have any misgivings about it at all. I use a lot of synthesizers and computers on my work but I also blend that with the live instruments which I think every album should have because if you promote the human element you tend to feel that more than just pressing the button and letting the computer run the tune. There have been successful albums with just computers, but I tend to like that live element especially in the type of music that I’m doing.

“For a lot of commercial music like rap and other stuff, computers work really well for them. But for me I need to set certain moods and I need to have that human element because a computer can’t really breathe music. It can dictate what you program into it but it can’t really get all the little embellishments. Sometimes even human mistakes that come out on the track work better than having it perfect on the computer. So I really respect the human element.” Instrumental music is gaining in popularity with the success of artists like Gerald Albright, David Sanborn and Kenny G; however, Albright admits it is still not an easy field for songwriters to break into. “Well, it’s a struggle, that’s the magical word,” he said. “because so many people are trying to break into it. Technology now is such that anybody who may not even have a musical background can sit down at a computer and construct a tune just by pressing some buttons. But my message to other songwriters would probably be to be very patient because there’s room for everybody.

“Time tends to evolve people and you just have to wait for that time to come around. Keep a positive outlook and always feel that your music is the best and you can really enhance other artists with your contribution. I think a positive attitude and patience is the real test. Try to put together the best possible music you can put out there and write songs that will promote the longevity as opposed to just the moment.”


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