Brian Culbertson is a prolific jazz and R&B artist and record producer, with 15 albums released over the past 22 years and an abundance of awards, mostly in smooth jazz categories. He is best known locally for his Jazz Getaways, early summer Napa Valley music festivals that began in 2012 and have grown in scale and popularity.
At Blue Note Napa, Culbertson and his band will perform two shows on Friday, Dec. 30, and two more on New Year’s Eve, including a special performance running through midnight. A multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, he’ll be playing with his seven-piece band, which includes horns and a backup singer.
A longtime Chicagoan, Culbertson spoke on the phone last week about his strong connection to Napa Valley. “My wife and I ended up spending our 10th wedding anniversary in Napa,” he said. “During that trip, I met so many great people that I'm still now in touch with, such as David Duncan at Silver Oak and Jeff Gargiulo at Gargiulo Vineyards. Both those guys are good friends.
“Jeff hosts the Oakville jam sessions every year, where I ended up sitting in and meeting so many other people. I was like, ‘Man, this is a really, really cool atmosphere to be around.’ I’d had no idea that a lot of the wine folks were into music, and that's when I realized that there was a huge art and music scene there in addition to the obvious culinary and wine scene.”
Culbertson attended the Oakville Sessions annually. “I decided to go there once a year and I kept in touch with everyone that I met,” he said. “It wasn't until three or four years later that I got the the idea for the festival (the Jazz Getaway). I called up Steve Gage, a friend who’s been in the Valley forever working with various wineries, and gave him the idea.
“We ended up brainstorming for a few years, and in 2012 we launched the first one to great success. We've just been building upon that year after year, so this coming June will be our sixth annual.
“We have audiences in the thousands now for our outdoor Saturday and Sunday shows. I do like keeping part of it intimate, though. We do little shows in the courtyard of the Westin, and we still do two nights at the Lincoln Theater, which I absolutely love. But Saturday, Sunday out in the vines, you can't beat that.”
“I certainly love it up there,” he added. “I spend a lot of time there so it feels like my kind of second home a little bit. Going to Blue Note for New Year’s, it’ll be great to be back.
Brian Culbertson at the Blue Note Napa; Dec.30 at 7 (doors open at 5), and 9:30 p.m. (doors open at 9). For details, visit http://www.bluenotenapa.com/