Selina Albright tried the saxophone once. She got dizzy, though, and that's pretty much all it took for her to realize that the sax wasn't for her.
"I'm just going to use my lungs for my vocal cords, and that's it," says Albright, whose father, Gerald, is renowned in contemporary jazz and R&B circles for his sax playing. "It's really hard to play the saxophone. It sounded horrible. It sounded like an elephant when I tried it. I don't think I have that calling."
With that realization, Albright, who moved with her parents to Colorado from California eight years ago, decided to stick with singing, something she's been doing since she was two years old, when her mother sang her church hymns. Even then, Selena was singing on key. "So they knew I was going to be able to sing," she says. "Even if I didn't make a career out of it, it would still be a talent of mine."
Albright got her first professional gig singing when she was fourteen. She sang "the ABC song" for an educational project that was released by Sony in Japan. About a year before that, she was offered a record deal but turned it down, and she's glad she did. In retrospect, Albright thinks she wouldn't have been as grounded back then as she is today.
By her mid-twenties, Albright determined that she wanted to focus on her singing full-time, but her plan — initially, at least — was to finish school first.
"I was in the middle of a grad-school program, and I was going to school counseling, and they make you do counseling yourself to learn more about yourself," she recalls. "They really make you do some soul-searching, and they help you rediscover some of the milestones you've gone through in your life.
"I realized during the first — not even the full year — that I shouldn't be here," she goes on. "I need to be on the stage. I need to be flying around the country and the world, making money while I sing...and being about to take jets everywhere. I need to be doing something a little more glamorous."
Albright was a featured background vocalist on her father's 1997 album Live to Love, as well as 2009's Sax for Stax, 2010's Pushing the Envelope and 24/7, Gerald's Grammy-nominated collaboration with guitarist Norman Brown. She's also had the chance to share the stage with artists such as Jeff Lorber, George Duke, David Benoit, David Sanborn and Candy Dulfer.
On and off for the past two years, Albright has been working with fellow contemporary jazz/R&B musician and producer Brian Culbertson; he's taking her on tour with him to sing lead and background vocals. But before she hits the road, Albright is releasing an EP of her own, in an effort to create exposure for herself as a vocalist.
With the help of a quartet of local players — guitarist Sean McGowan, drummer Terrell Martin, bassist Cory Baker and pianist Ronneka Cox, all of whom will join her at her EP-release show at the Soiled Dove this weekend — Albright cut a five-song EP titled Brighter.
The title track, which features a solo by Gerald Albright that was captured in one take, was supposed to be a surprise gift for her fiancé, but once the musicians got into the studio, he found out about it. "He's like, 'I want to hear it. I can't wait until my birthday,'" Albright remembers. "So I had him in the studio the whole time it was being recorded and produced and everything. He was just so excited the entire time."
The second track, "How Do You Love Me," is the first song she's written about God, Albright says. While the song has an R&B feel to it, it's also got some gospel flavor. "It just comes from the heart no matter what genre it fits in," she declares. "I really don't want to label it one thing. It's an expression of how thankful I am that I've been forgiven many times over."
This past Valentine's Day, Albright and her band played their first gig together, in Frisco. After playing Erykah Badu's "Didn't Cha Know" live, Albright says, she knew she had to have the song on her EP. Another standout is "Why Does Life," the most energetic cut on Brighter, with Culbertson on keys, bass and extra drums. While there are only five songs on the R&B/neo-soul EP, that's more than enough to get a feel for Albright's considerable vocal ability.
Surprisingly, until a few years ago, Albright hadn't had any formal singing lessons. Yvonne Brown, who sings with her in the local group Tunisia, is a vocal coach who passes on pointers whenever she feels that Albright needs something.
But even though Albright hasn't had that much in the way of formal vocal training, if you ask her, she's been training her whole life with the music she's listened to over the years, be it Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Lalah Hathaway, Take 6 or even Incubus. And she's also learned a few things from her father, she says.
"My dad has been training me little by little over the years, and I've always been exposed to music and exposed to the performing arts in general," she says. "A lot of those concepts that you can pick up — they overlap over the different types of art and over the different types of performance."
Through watching her father, who has recorded more than a dozen albums over the past two decades, she realized early on that being in the music business is a lot more work than people think it is. But she also got tips on where to put in more work, where to put in less, how to work smart, how to ask people to help and when to back off and let other people do their thing and her do hers. More than that, though, she's also had a chance to watch her father have a lot of fun throughout the recording process.
"It's a lot of work, but he really loves it," she points out. "And he makes it so much fun for me because he's teaching me while he's doing it. I've been to the studio with my father so many times. He'll crack jokes while he's in the booth and do silly stuff like play the wrong note on purpose in between takes or whatever. He'll play a melody and I'll know what note he's supposed to hit at the end, but he'll hit the wrong one."