Sanborn on Sanborn

This article originally appeared in the summer 2010 issue of JAZZIZ.

By Bob Weinberg

David Sanborn is like the Zelig of jazz and pop music, his varied career touching on several cultural milestones. Here are a few of his thoughts and reminiscences.

On playing Woodstock with the Butterfield Blues Band: “We were there on the last day. We were the second-to-last act, actually, right before Jimi Hendrix. I just remember the amount of people that were there, even when we got there at about 8 or 9. We were supposed to go on at midnight, but everything was so backed up. We played the sun up. It was bizarre, to say the least.”

On playing on David Bowie’s 1975 hit record Young Americans: “We just improvised most of that record. Bowie had a very clear idea of what he wanted, but he gave us a lot of freedom. He gave us the basic structure of the song, the chord changes and how long it was. But after that, I don’t think in a lot of cases he had even written the words or the melody yet. We just played these tracks, and he developed them later.”

On his star-making 1975 debut record Taking Off: “It did well enough that [Warner Bros.] let me do another one. That’s kind of always the way it is. I never looked on recordings as being my main source of income. I was and am a road musician.”

On the eccentric musical pairings on his 1988-1990 television program Night Music: “It was the process of finding that connection to somebody in a different genre that was interesting to me. How can Sonny Rollins and Leonard Cohen work together? Well, they find some commonality, and the music that results is this hybrid that’s the best pieces of both of them. It always looked weird on paper, and then you saw it, and it was like, ‘Oh, of course.’”

On battling drugs and alcohol: “Sometimes, you get to a point where it’s a real crossroads. Do you want to get high or do you want to play? Fortunately for me, I got to that point. And the choice for me was pretty clear about what I wanted to do and what I could no longer continue to do. But it was neck and neck there for a while.”

On his perception in the jazz world: “Somebody once said, ’What other people think about me is none of my business.’ I got no control over how other people respond to me or describe me. … I’m uncomfortable being overpraised and I’m uncomfortable being insulted. In a way, it’s a little irrelevant. Because if you’re going to respond to that kind of criticism, and you’re going to react in a way that is going to change what you do, that doesn’t make sense to me.“


Photo: Rene Jakobson

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