Brian Simpson is celebrating the release of his new CD “Just What You Need” at the Lobster Pot Bistro as a part of the Summer Jazz Series on Sunday, June 23. Tickets are $20 each and can be purchased online at www.LobsterPotRestaurant.com. Before his two performances on Sunday at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., Brian sat down with me to discuss his newest CD.
Lexi: Your newest CD “Just What You Need” is extremely hot right now and has moved into the #1 spot on the smoothjazz.com charts. Generally speaking, tell me about the inspiration behind the new music and why it is titled “Just What You Need.”
Brian: This is my fifth solo release and my last four CDs followed a similar path in the way the music was composed and produced. I was looking to try something a little different this time so I enlisted the help of some young producers. There are three different co-producers on the CD who helped me and were also co-writers. I wasn’t trying to reinvent my sound but just come up with something a little different with a different perspective. It’s great because it’s my signature style with the signature style of the co-producers. As the main producer, I tried to maintain what they created and put my style with that so I think it created a great combination. Regarding the song title, song titles don’t carry a lot of weight with me; it’s like in classical music – you’ve got to call it something. Naming is the very last thing I do. The main thing, when I’m composing a song, is if the music moves me personally.
Lexi: You feature Gerald Albright, Marc Antoine, Dave Koz, Jonathan Butler on the CD and Elan Trotman on your title track. There is so much talent out there in the Jazz world. Why did you choose these five artists?
Brian: On all of my CDs I’ve featured several different top musicians but I have used Dave Koz on the last three CDs mainly because we’re such good friends and work together all the time. He is just so good and since I have the ability to have him play, I just do it. I’ve known Jonathan Butler for over 20 years. Jonathan played on my very first CD in 1995 and it’s been that long since I’ve had the chance to record with him so I thought it was long overdue to have that chance to work with him again. He is one of my favorite artists out there and I wanted to showcase him again. Gerald Albright has been a great friend of mine but has never been on one of my records so it was great to get Gerald on it. Marc Antoine is also a great friend. Since I play piano, I don’t want to wear out the listener with the sound of the piano so it’s nice to showcase different musicians just for the sake of variety.
Lexi: Who haven’t you worked with that you’d like to work with and why?
Brian: The name that always comes to mind is George Benson because in my mind, he is one of the last living legends of Jazz who spans so many generations of Jazz musicians and epitomizes what being a great Jazz musician or great musician is all about. He was probably one of my first great influences in making me want to become a Jazz musician and do this for a living and not just a Jazz musician but a Contemporary Jazz musician. He was both and I loved traditional Jazz as a child. I grew up with a lot of Jazz in the house. That’s what my Mom and Dad liked listening to so it was natural for me. I know a lot of musicians I meet now, their first love of music was something else like R&B, Pop music or Rock & Roll but I kind of started with Jazz and had to learn to like Rock & Roll. But George Benson was originally a traditional Jazz guitar player then you came to know him as a singer and Contemporary Jazz guitarist. He was the first artist I heard that really put those two kinds of music together; it was a modern sound but he still played like a Jazz musician. I fell in love with that sound and, to me, he is still the greatest.
Lexi: I read that you couldn’t imagine yourself in any other career but music. However, I’m going ask you to dig deep right now, make another career choice and tell me what that would be.
Brian: When I was a teenager, my parents bought a few rental properties and I really got interested in real estate at one time and thought that buying and selling houses would be a fun to do. So, maybe that would be it although now that I’m all grown up, I’m not sure if that would be the case (laughing). Are there any good careers out there? I meet doctors and lawyers and other professional people and they come up to me and say “I’m so jealous of you.” I was thinking these guys have it made and have these great salaries….I’m not envious of anyone’s job. It’s not about how much money you make in this business it’s just so much fun doing what we love and there’s nothing better.
Lexi: You’re a man of many musical talents. If you had to choose an aspect of the music industry that is your favorite, what would that be and why?
Brian: It’s really hard to choose one but ultimately playing in front of a live audience is the greatest because you are getting that connection, real time, with your listener. When I’m in the studio, I’m thinking that people are going to be listening to this so I put a lot of effort into every note of every song and that is really fulfilling to me but I guess you could say performing in front of people allows you to see the listeners’ reaction to the songs. There’s nothing better than performing live.
Lexi: You’ve been the musical director on the popular Smooth Jazz Cruise for several years now. Tell me about being a musical director on a cruise ship.
Brian: It’s not exactly the Love Boat. I do two 7-day cruises a year which features ten major artists as well as others. My job is to hire three bands and assign each artist to one of the bands. The band will learn a whole set of music for that artist then they get four days to rehearse. It all happens very quickly but quite a scientific process. We don’t let the passengers get bored so there is music all over the place. It’s really a Jazz festival at sea.
Lexi: How would you describe yourself?
Brian: I would say I’m affectionate, a good friend and I don’t take life very seriously.
Lexi: What advice would you give to aspiring Jazz artists?
Brian: I would say quit now; and I only say that half jokingly because it is such a tough road and it’s getting tougher and tougher. The business of selling music is way down compared to what it used to be. For example, there are a couple jazz musicians that are around today that ten years ago they sold 500,000 CDs, they still have all those fans because I don’t think they’ve died and now these guys make hit records and now they sell 40,000 CDs if they’re lucky. That is a huge drop in business and I don’t see it coming back. I think we’ve become a culture that doesn’t value music as much; people love it but the monetary value isn’t there. There a lot of factors but I think you can blame the invention of the MP3 because it made the file small and easy to send around. The internet made it possible to share everything so that’s the bad news. The good news is you can hear all my music on YouTube. You can’t fight it and you kind of have to give in to it. It’s buried several record companies and a lot of major labels just stopped doing Jazz. I’m lucky I have a small label that has been in business for decades and they know how to run a business and make it work for themselves. It’s not easy for the record company; it’s not easy for the artist. I hate to be discouraging to young musicians but it’s just tough. But, the good news is you have the internet and you have opportunities that weren’t there before.