Sunday, August 07, 2011

More from David Sanborn

Last week, I was able to interview saxophonist and former St. Louisan David Sanborn (pictured) for a story about his concert tonight with George Duke and Marcus Miller at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.

You can read the resulting article online at the Riverfront Times' site here, but there was quite a bit of material I wasn't able to fit in and so, given the interest in Sanborn as one of the best-known jazz musicians to come out of St. Louis, I thought I'd share some of it here:

Sanborn on crossing over to pop audiences, and the response of critics and reviewers:
"It wasn’t like, "Well, you know I’m going to play this shit so I can make a lot of money, but then I’m going back to playing the real music." That’s kind of a bullshit attitude anyway, and to me, it never made much sense. If you don’t like the music, don’t play it.

We’ve all had shots taken at us. Sometimes you read a review or something, and you know the guy wrote the review before he even got there. He knew what he was going to say.

I’ve had people take shots at me. If I let that deter me, I would have stopped a long time ago. I’m not in it for that. For me, frankly, I do what I do for very selfish reasons – because I love it. I enjoy it, and the decision I make are about what I want to do. I’m not calculating about it."
On working in the studio:
"I was in the middle of doing an album called Close Up several years ago, and I was in the middle of it, and I just thought ‘I’ve got to do something different.’ I finished the record as best I could, and then went on and did something radically different on the next record, called Another Hand, because that’s what I wanted to do. But prior to that, Marcus and I were making records that were excited about doing. We were trying to use some pop production values and apply them to music of more complexity.

We were kind of learning about how to work in the studio, and it was fun for a long time. Then it became more like, 'OK, this is how we do it,' at the expense of being able to think any other way. It started to inhibit my ability to be more spontaneous, and I just said, “I need to stop this for a while.”

Prior to that, I’d had another approach to it – I’d gone into the studio and pretty much done my records live. And then Marcus and I got together, and we started learning how to use the studio, and using the studio as a tool of composition, so that the way you put together a record, you’re constructing something. It was interesting and very creatively stimulating, but I think it got to be routine at a certain point, and I for one just needed a little break from it."
Now, I’m kind of in a little bit of both ways about it. I still like the idea of just going in there and doing stuff live. I love first takes."
On how he got to sit in with Little Milton and Albert King, and play his first gig at a club in Gaslight Square at age 16:
"They used to have these things called Teen Towns – The Sunset Teen Town – and there was a rec center. They had a swimming pool outside, and then inside, there was kind of a big hall that was open for dancing.

My friend Teddy Stewart, a drummer, and I used to go out there and hang out. Every summer we would go out to these dances, and we would hang out around the foot of the bandstand where Little Milton was playing. We kind of got friendly with the keyboard player, a guy named Rick Bolden. At one point Rick said, 'Hey, you guys want to come up and play with us?' And we were like, 'Do you think we could?' We were scared shitless. (laughs) And Milton was such a gentleman – he said, 'Yeah, come on up.' And so the next time they were there, we brought our instruments and got up on stage.

There was another sax player there, a guy named Leo Littleman; they called him 'Little Man.' He just said, 'OK, now you do this.' So basically I was playing (sings) - dee daaaa, DEE da - background parts. But it was like, this is it, the big time. I was playing with professional musicians, and I was hooked. And then he gradually kind of let me play a little bit (more), and as a result of that, when Albert King was out there, I was able to go and sit in with him and say I had sat in with Milton.”

And then Rick Bolden was playing at a little club down in Gaslight Square. There was a club called the Dark Side, and on the back end of that, through a parking lot and down an alley, there was a little club called the Other Side. At one point, it must have been a big storage room for the Dark Side that they walled off. It was a little hole in the wall club, and Rick was playing there with a trio, and I sat in with him. I think it was a novelty - I was 16, and looked like I was 12. I had learned a couple of Sonny Stitt solos, very simple solos, and we played the blues. It must have been convincing enough that they let me come back. Hanging out there, even thought I never got paid, I met other musicians, and one thing led to another."
Sanborn mentioned Lester Bowie and Phillip Wilson as two of the musicians he met in Gaslight Square, and then told the story of how Wilson helped him get into the Butterfield Blues Band:
"It was the summer of 1967, and I was at the University of Iowa. My friend Ted Stewart called me in Iowa, and he said, “Man, I’m out here in San Francisco, and there’s some wild shit happening out here. You’ve got to come out.” That was in March or April, and so as soon as summer hit, I packed up my wife and then-infant son, and flew to California.

"I got to San Francisco, and was living in this commune in Haight Ashbury with this band. I was out walking on Haight Street, and I ran into Phillip, just on the street, quite by accident. And I said, “What are you doing in town?” and he said, 'Oh, I just joined the Butterfield Blues Band, and we’re playing at the Fillmore tonight. Why don’t you come down and see us?' So I went down to see them, went back the next couple of nights, and then Phillip said, 'Hey, listen, we’re going to LA to make a record next week, why don’t you try to come down?’ So I scraped together some money, took the bus from San Francisco to LA, and then hitchhiked into Hollywood to where Phillip was staying. I slept on the floor of his motel room, and then just kind of went to the studio with him and then just weaseled my way into playing with the band.

I did it for the first couple of weeks for no pay, and I’d have to go around and hit everybody in the band up for money, which they were not too happy about. But after a while, I actually got paid . I remember my first paycheck – it as like $225 a week., and I thought, "Wow, this is it, the big time." We had to pay our own expenses, and ended up with about $15 a week. (laughs)"
On how George Duke joined Sanborn's TV program Night Music as music director for its second season:
"I had known George for a long time before that, and we needed somebody in there that could kind of pull things together, because I was pretty much tied up with trying to structure the show, and work on some of the scripts, and rehearse with the different artists. I needed an MD who could help me pull things together. George is a tremendously accomplished, not only as a keyboard player, but as a composer, arranger and MD. So he was a friend of mine, and it seemed like an obvious call. "
On Louis Cato, drummer for the DMS tour:
"He’s a young guy, and he’s got incredible chops, enthusiasm and talent. There’s a lot of drummers that can play like jazz drummers, but can’t really play R&B or hip-hop or anything with a backbeat and bring it off in a way that’s authentic. Louis is not like that at all. Whatever he’s playing, he’s fully committed to it, in whatever style the song is."
On whether or not Night Music will ever be issued on DVD or Blu-Ray, or made available for streaming:
"I keep trying to do it, and for one reason or another, it just never happens. It’s either music publishers shutting it down, or somebody complaining about something. I don’t know. The publishers are the biggest problem. All the artists are cool. Nobody has a problem with this except the music publishers."

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