David Sanborn

David Sanborn

Official Biography (Courtesy of Universal Music Group) 

Few musicians are so closely identified with their instrument that they overshadow their peers, but the iconic David Sanborn truly merits his singular position as a saxophonist, unrivaled as a player who straddles the pop and jazz worlds while commanding respect in both.

In pop, he is justly famed for his standout solo on David Bowie's 1975 hit "Young Americans"-one of many celebrated recording projects that evolved out of Sanborn's live supporting roles. Indeed, his matchless tone has additionally been sought to bolster performances by the esteemed likes of Eric Clapton, the Eagles, the Rolling Stones, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder-many of whom have likewise gone on to enlist his inimitable sax presence in the studio.

To cite just a few of Sanborn's super album sessions, he appeared on Wonder's "Talking Book" (he also played on top track "Tuesday Heartbreak"), hiphop legend Guru's "Jazzmatazz, Vol 4: The Hip Hop Jazz Messenger: Back To the Future," eccentric alternative pop-rock group Ween's "La Cucaracha" (they recruited Sanborn on "La Cucaracha" after swearing they'd never use brass on their recordings "unless they could get David Sanborn"), and Springsteen's landmark "Born to Run" (Sanborn teamed with the Brecker Brothers in supplying the insistent horns for the classic cut "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out").

Other major artists who have requested Sanborn's golden sax touch have included James Brown, Bryan Ferry, Lenny Kravitz, Billy Joel, Elton John and Steely Dan. But his high visibility live and on record is only part of Sanborn's story: his music has been heard in films, most notably on the Michael Kamen penned scores for the "Lethal Weapons" movies (the music, incidentally, was written specifically to have the sax represent Danny Glover's character, with guitar signifying Mel Gibson's); his television work includes the theme for "Saturday Night Live," sitting in regularly with the Late Night with David Letterman band, and hosting the dearly-remembered "Night Music"-the groundbreaking music show on NBC that was produced by "SNL"'s creator Lorne Michaels and featured a remarkably diverse guest artist list including Miles Davis, Lou Reed, Santana, Conway Twitty, Sonic Youth, Sonny Rollins, the Pixies, Leonard Cohen and Al Green.

Meanwhile, the six-time Grammy winner has consistently recorded his own albums: Since his first album "Taking Off," from 1975, through his acclaimed "Closer," from 2005, he has rarely gone over two years between releases.

But it's been three years between "Closer" and Sanborn's hew album "Here and Gone." Produced by the legendary Phil Ramone, it is the 23rd solo album in Sanborn's extraordinary career, and brings together exceptional guests in Eric Clapton, Sam Moore and Joss Stone, along with such fellow stellar instrumentalists as guitarists Anthony Wilson and Derek Trucks, trumpet virtuoso Wallace Roney, arranger/keyboardist Gil Goldstein, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Steve Gadd. But "Here and Gone" is noteworthy, too, for its concept.

"You get to a certain age and you start looking back at things that inspired you early on," reflects Sanborn, who was born in Tampa, Florida on July 30, 1945, but raised in St. Louis, Missouri. He first began to play the sax at the suggestion of his doctor, who recommended the wind instrument as a way to exercise his lungs which had been weakened by polio as a young child. His St. Louis upbringing exposed him to a new and wide variety of music in his youth. "I always wanted to pay tribute to some of that music."

Sanborn was inspired by soul-jazz saxophonists like David "Fathead" Newman, Hank Crawford, Gene Ammons, Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Jimmy Forrest, King Curtis, and Willis "Gator" Jackson. But he was also influenced by the Chicago blues legends who regularly performed in St. Louis, and by the time he graduated high school he had already played with Albert King and Little Milton.

Sanborn's first career break, in fact, was joining the Butterfield Blues Band-which historically mixed Chicago blues with a soul band horn section. Following five years with Butterfield, he then established his world-class solo stature in the 1970s in jazz and r&b/pop/rock through heavy touring and ensuing recording dates.

But it is fellow blues/r&b alto saxophonist Hank Crawford whom Sanborn turned to in conceiving "Here and Gone."

"Hank was the great saxophonist and arranger for Ray Charles in the 1950s and early ‘60s, and his arrangements and playing were central to me in forming my ideas about what music was and should be," states Sanborn. "He had such a wonderful economy in what he did: He didn't waste any notes, and there was nothing superfluous about his playing."

Crawford is directly responsible for three of the album's nine tracks. He wrote "Stoney Lonesome"--"the definitive Hank Crawford tune," notes Sanborn, explaining that "it's in a place between gospel, r&b and jazz that both he and Ray inhabited so well." The ballad "What Will I Tell My Heart?," which Sanborn first heard via Crawford, "illustrates what I learned from Hank: Take your time when playing a ballad! Don't hurry, but let the song develop and tell you how to play it."

Then there is Percy Mayfield's masterpiece "Please Send Me Someone to Love," another song that Crawford recorded that is "quintessentially Hank in the economy of the arrangement."

The rest of the album continues a close connection with Ray Charles, whose 1960 album "Genius + Soul = Jazz" supplies three more tracks including "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town," another Mayfield gem.

"I first heard Ray do it, and it seemed like a great song for Eric Clapton to do," says Sanborn, who has been friends with Clapton for many years and a collaborator with him on several previous projects. "Fortunately he agreed not only to sing on it but play on it! But he's got such a great understanding of what the music is about and the way it should be presented."

"I've Got News for You," which Sanborn also first heard by way of Charles, features another vocal great in Sam Moore of Sam & Dave soul duo fame.

"He's one of the strongest singers and greatest talents of this music," Sanborn observes. "He's singing as good as he ever has-and sounds just remarkable!"

Sanborn's version of "Basin Street Blues" on "Here and Gone" owes much to Miles Davis's version on his "Seven Steps to Heaven" album.

"[Pianist] Victor Feldman was on [Davis's recording], and we used his playing as the model for the arrangement we did," says Sanborn, adding "I always loved the tune and thought there could be a different kind of harmonic context for it."

Sanborn then culled the Charles original "I Believe It to My Soul" from Charles's 1961 album "The Genius Sings the Blues," and marvels at the job guest vocalist Joss Stone did on it.

"She's a real phenomenon," he says. "It takes a forceful talent to take a song that Ray Charles not only wrote but really defined and put your own identity on it, and I feel really privileged to have had her on this record."

Sanborn first recorded Marcus Miller's Charles tribute "Brother Ray" on his Miller-produced 1999 album "Inside." He included a new version on "Here and Gone"-with a spectacular guitar assist from Derek Trucks.

"I play it quite a bit on the road," Sanborn says of the song, "and it fit right in the spirit of what I'm doing in this record-plus it gave me the opportunity to get Derek, who's one of the great guitar players around."

Crawford and Charles are joined by keyboardist/arranger Gil Evans as Sanborn's three biggest influences, and it's to Evans that he turned to in cutting jazz standard "St. Louis Blues"-the lead track on "Here and Gone."

"I played with him for a number of years and was inspired by the way that he could create these musical landscapes that were so evocative," he says. "‘St. Louis Blues' is one of the oldest songs in the jazz repertoire, and we have it with harmonies that retain the spirit of its original conception-which Gil was a master of doing."

Here Sanborn also credits producer Ramone, who had produced his second album "Sanborn" in 1976, "so we have a real history." Ramone, he adds, "has an innate understanding of what this music is about, and better than anybody understands how to create an atmosphere conducive to maintaining its vitality and spontaneity and preserving its spirit." And saluting Wallace Roney, whose trumpet solo embellishes the end of "St. Louis Blues," he further notes that his albums "are all about casting."

"I was very honored to have such an incredible array of guest artists on the album," notes Sanborn, "who really round out the sound of this record."

On "Here and Gone," then, David Sanborn places his saxophone squarely within the context of the jazz-inflected pop music history that he himself has long been a part of. And while it was conceived as a tribute to his heroes, it inevitably traces his own development as the man who has heroically taken the saxophone to the next level.

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