Tuesday, October 28, 2008

David Sanborn featured
in Jazz Times cover story

Saxophonist David Sanborn is the subject of the cover story of the November 2008 issue of Jazz Times, which is hitting subscribers' mailboxes this week. The article written by Geoffrey Himes is headlined "The Blues and The Abstract Truth" - a nice nod to another famed St. Louis saxophonist, Oliver Nelson - and much of it is concerned with Sanborn's new CD release Here and Gone. The oft-mentioned story of how Sanborn discovered the music of Ray Charles, David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford at a St. Louis Hawks game in 1956 is fleshed out a bit:
"After some of their home games in Missouri's Kiel Auditorium the NBA team would host a concert by one of the big bands of the day: Stan Kenton, Count Basie or Benny Goodman, for example. One day Sanborn's father took him to see a Hawks game followed by the Ray Charles Band, which had had a No. 1 R&B single with "I've Got A Woman." As always, the band played a few numbers before Charles hit the stage, but the singer was taking his time this night, so the group played instrumentals for half an hour. Many in the crowd were unmoved, but not Sanborn.

"I'd been hearing so much saxophone on the radio," he recalls, "that I couldn't get enough of it. To me, Fathead was as big a star as Ray. He had that same earthy sound, that same punch-in-the-gut feel as my favorite rock 'n' roll songs, but I could tell something else was going on, too. Some kind of sophisticated inner harmony was happening that reminded me of Benny Goodman or Count Basie. It was as if he were combining my records and my parents'."
The article also addresses those who are skeptical of and/or misunderstand Sanborn's approach to jazz, and makes the case for the St. Louis native's musical legitimacy, as exemplified by quotes from bassist Christian McBride, who says that Sanborn "has been wrongly dismissed by cerebral-minded critics who judge him from an Ornette Coleman standpoint," and guitarist Bill Frisell, who calls Sanborn "the real deal."

Noting that both McBride and Sanborn dig Ornette as well as Fathead and Hank, Himes gets Sanborn musing about how both approaches fit into the musical spectrum:
"I want to hear a story from a musician," he says finally, tentatively, "but there are different ways of telling a story. You can tell a story by deconstructing a song's harmony and showing another side to it, as Ornette did. But you can also tell a story by sticking to the original harmony and making an emotional connection through your timbre, as Hank did. Both are equally valid to me."
The article is one of the more perceptive pieces I've read about Sanborn, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys his music. However, since Jazz Times doesn't put most of their print-edition content online, if you're not a subscriber you'll have to pick up a copy at a bookstore, newsstand or other purveyor of fine printed materials near you.

(It should be noted that the magazine does have some online-only content, including voting in their annual Readers Poll, which is going on right now. If you'd like to cast a ballot, go here.)

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