" BluesWax Sittin'in with Dave Sanborn 2010"
By Bob Putignano
Keeping True to His Roots
"Robert Putignano and David Sanborn talk about more musicians than most people have ever heard of." - Don Wilcock Blueswax editor
About a year ago David Sanborn told me that he was done making smooth recordings. He wasn't kidding. His 2010 Only Everything follows in the tradition of David's previous 2008 Here & Gone which paid tribute to Ray Charles and one of his mentors, the great alto sax player Hank Crawford who spent many years arranging and playing in the Brother Ray band.
As Only Everything was released I caught up with Sanborn who's always an excellent interview. As you will see, David also seemingly enjoys the banter and engages extremely well.
Robert Putignano for BluesWax: Hi. David. Nice catching up with you again.
David Sanborn: Good to be back on the air with you, Bob.
BW: You warned me that your next release would feature cats like Joey DeFrancesco on the B3 organ and would be another roots-based affair. How did you and Joey D get together?
DS: We've crossed paths for years on the road, so we know each other for many years. The first time I saw him was with John McLaughlin and Dennis Chambers.
BW: That's a nice trio!
DS: A great trio for sure. We'd play a lot of festivals, became friends and wanted to play together. We both had very busy schedules and never got around to it till now. It's funny, the final catalyst for me was when we were both in Japan I went to see him at the Blue Note there and came away saying, "I've got to this with Joey!"
BW: No doubt this was a great idea, as I'm enjoying Only Everything immensely.
DS: Thank you, Bob. It's kind of in the same spirit of Here & Gone that being we took cues from Fathead Newman and Hank Crawford.
BW: Joel Dorn loved those guys, too, and shared so many stories about Fathead and Hank!
DS: "The Peeper" in fact was Hank's signature piece, and that's how I wanted to start the new recording which showcases his gospel roots as well as his writing. It's basically Hank's arrangement you are hearing, too. Gil Goldstein just re-orchestrated it. You know Hank was Ray Charles' musical director for quite some time that he called "The Small Big Band."
BW: Hank's always been special to me, too. I got to meet him just once when he made his last appearance in New York City, and Derek Trucks was in the crowd.
DS: Derek played with him?
BW: No, but a funny story is that Derek told me he really wanted to see Hank, but he also wanted to see the guitarist Wayne Boyd who's pretty obscure for a young guy like Derek to know. Man, that kid does his homework!
DS: Derek does his homework. In fact when we met during his guest spot on the previous Here & Gonethe first thing he said to me was, "Remember that TV show you hosted, Night Music?" I loved the episode with Sun Ra. And I said, "Wow, I never would have called that one!"
BW: Derek's such a heavyweight, no limits and no boundaries. Have you heard him cover "My Favorite Things" (a la Coltrane) on that live EP from last year, Already Live?
DS: Oh yeah, Derek's an amazing musician. As with most great musicians, the most significant thing is to research music history, and that's what Derek does. He's always learning and growing which is the hallmark of a great musician.
BW: I wholeheartedly agree, David. Derek's very serious and loves all kinds of music. You do a lot of research, too, much like you did on this new disc Only Everything. How'd you come up with that title?
DS: Actually James Taylor (who is on the new disc) gave me that title which really doesn't have any deep meaning per se.
BW: JT does a nice guest spot here on "Hallelujah, I Love Her So."
DS: He's such a soulful musician.
BW: Taylor doesn't get enough credit for his soul.
DS: I don't think he does. James has a wider palate than most people think. In fact he told me that he used to cover "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" early in his career, and he used to do it solo, just with his guitar.
BW: Interesting, remember his "I'm a Steamroller"?
DS: Oh sure.
BW: A killer Blues tune for sure! I'm pretty certain he authored it, too.
DS: Plus all the other things Taylor does are so effective, heartfelt reflections of who he is. It seems that some of his more soulful stuff doesn't get the same attention.
BW: Pop stardom. How did you guys get together?
DS: We've known each other for years, and I played with him in '76 or '77. James was also very gracious to me back in the day when he let me open for him for summer's tour, which helped me and gave me a higher profile.
BW: I bet. JT was huge at that time.
DS: He still is. He still sells out those big indoor and outdoor places.
BW: Good for him. Speaking of olden times, did you see some of that Woodstock footage of you playing with the Paul Butterfield band that was recently released on DVD?
DS: Yeah I did. I'd completely forgotten about that.
BW: When I saw this past summer, I said, "Oh my God, that's Sanborn, and Brother Gene Dinwiddie, too."
BW: You were hanging around Woodstock at that time?
DS: Oh, man, I lived there, and as most people know, that's not where the festival was. I knew this guy Albert Grossman the guy who also managed Bob Dylan, The Band, Janis Joplin, and other people, so a lot us all gravitated to Woodstock. None of us really lived anywhere. I was constantly on the road from '67 on. We actually flew in from Chicago with the Butterfield band the night before we appeared at Woodstock, and we could not get up the New York Thruway because it was closed. So they flew us up in a helicopter. In fact it was early Monday morning when we went on, yet there was still at least one hundred thousand people there.
BW: That edition of Butterfield's band was interesting in that he got away from the Chicago style and incorporated some soul and jazz, too.
DS: Yeah, the keyboard player Teddy Harris was a jazz musician from Detroit, and Philip Wilson (another jazz player) was the drummer, too. Philip actually got me the gig with Butterfield. He was an old friend from St. Louis. I used hang with Phillip and Lester Bowie as well.
BW: I did not know that, Lester Bowie the avant-garde guy?
DS: Yes, from The World Saxophone Quartet.
BW: I actually saw a band with Phil Wilson, Buzzy Feiten, Neil Larsen, Dinwiddie...
DS: Full Moon!
BW: Wow, yes; exactly.
DS: I can't believe you remember that!
BW: I saw them when someone briefly re-opened the Fillmore East, and Full Moon opened for the Steve Miller Band, had to be around '72-'73.
DS: That must have been one of their only gigs.
BW: They were amazing. I searched around for years to see if they were playing around, but you must be right, as I never saw Full Moon's name again, and only put out one LP
DS: They were obscure, but if anyone would get it, it would be you, Bob!
DS: You dig up the most obscure tracks, bands, etc. The fact that you knew Gene Dinwiddie, and a lot of those guys from the Butterfield band - most of which is not that accessible information - but you know this stuff.
BW: I actually still play Brother Gene when his birthday comes around which gives me an excuse to program bands like Full Moon, and that edition of the Butterfield band.
DS: You are like an encyclopedia.
BW: I try, but I don't know how much has been lost over the years, but we've had a lot fun experiencing this great (yet obscure) stuff.
DS: Yeah, amazing, Bob, not many know these details.
To be continued:
About a year ago Mr. Sanborn told me that he was done with making smooth recordings. He wasn't kidding, as his 2010 "Only Everything" follows in the tradition of David's previous 2008 "Here & Gone," which paid tribute to Ray Charles and one of his mentors: the great alto sax player Hank Crawford, who spent many years arranging and playing in the Brother Ray band.
Just as "Only Everything" was released was when I caught up with Sanborn, who's always an excellent interview, and as you will see, David also seemingly enjoys the banter and engages extremely well.
In part one, Sanborn tells Putignano about his Woodstock experience. "Oh, man, I lived there, and as most people know, that's not where the festival was. I knew this guy Albert Grossman the guy who also managed Bob Dylan, The Band, Janis Joplin, and other people. So a lot us all gravitated to Woodstock. None of us really lived anywhere. I was constantly on the road from '67 on. We actually flew in from Chicago with the Butterfield band the night before we appeared at Woodstock, and we could not get up the New York Thruway because it was closed. So they flew us up in a helicopter. In fact it was early Monday morning when we went on, yet there was still at least one hundred thousand people there."
BluesWax: A good friend (Glenn Scharback, who's also a strong historian about obscure oddities) asked me to ask you about your days with John Tropea and the Brecker Brothers.
David Sanborn: I know Tropea being around New York City, John was a busy session musician. And Bob, I am sure you know this as he played on Eumir Deodato's 2001, A Space Oddity.
BW:Those two Deodato records on CTI were tremendous!
DS: Right. John was heavy into the session scene, unlike me as I was not a double player, meaning that I could not play other instruments like clarinet and flute. Those double guys that could do that got a bulk of the session work. That wasn't me. Most of the session work I got was mostly through the kindness of my musician friends or getting to play on session with someone I happened to be on the road with. But that's how I met Tropea and Randy Brecker. Actually Randy and I went to music camp together when we were about fifteen years old. Randy was one of the first people I called when I moved to New York City, and he hooked me up with a lot of important people.
Randy's still a fantastic musician, his brother Michael (while he was alive) was one of the most gifted sax players ever. So to answer your question about the Brecker Brothers, playing in a section with those guys was right in a pocket, and we had a real rapport. It was such a pleasure playing with them in the Brecker Brothers band, and whenever we'd play in other situations, we had that special telepathy. Certainly Mike and Randy had it because they were brothers.
BW: And you fit in like a glove, too. You all created a very dynamic sound with the Breckers, as well as the massive hits you had with the Average White Band, and you'd just consistently nailed it! I remember a Tropea broadcast on the old WRVR station, with the Breckers, and I think you were a part of that band, and I remember you played on John's first record on Marlin.
DS: I was there, both on Tropea's first LP and at that live broadcast that took place in some now defunct club in lower Manhattan.
BW: It was a wonderful broadcast, and that first Tropea LP was glued on to my turntable for a very longtime.
DS: It was great. Is John's still around? I seem to recall seeing his name out there, but I have not seen him for a longtime now.
BW: Tropea's a friend, and yeah, he's still out there doing it. What a nice guy, too.
DS: A very nice cat, and what a player!
BW: Actually, he still tours with the Blues Brothers.
DS: I know, my buddy Blue Lou Marini told me about it.
BW: Yep, Tropea is the other guitar player next to Mr. Steve Cropper.
DS: That's a hell of place to be. Good for him.
BW: John's a nice cool and even dude. Just like you are, Mr. Sanborn.
DS: Nah, he's much more easy going than me. [laugh]
BP: Moving forward to the new Only Everything record, I'm really thrilled with the results as this is the perfect followup to Here and Gone which once again has all the A team players on it like Joey D and another guy we can talk about for days, drummer Steve Gadd. You also bring back Joss Stone who appeared on the previous disc, too.
DS: Joss is an amazing singer, this young girl from the UK, just twenty-two years old or something like that. She's got a tremendous power and authority in her voice. She's so soulful, and it's kind of scary, too.
BW: When that first record of hers first came out, I said, "Wow, how old is she?
DS: She was like seventeen - eighteen when that came out.
BW: And as per usual, you've done anther fine job pulling all of these people together from the production, arrangements, and playing. Its another fine example as to how to make a very high quality recording.
DS: I don't know how to do it any other way! Like they say in the movie business; casting is everything. It's hard for me to approach making records differently as these things will be around (in whatever format) for a long time. I've always felt that I have to take pride in what I do, at least doing it the best that you can. I don't get the attitude of just kind of throwing it away. I guess some people are less concerned about making records than I am.
BW: Yeah, for some it seems to be more about putting out a new product to sell on the road, but I sure would like to see more musicians making your kind of an effort. I know that this gets expensive but, like you said, these recordings will be around for a while, and I would like to add that they are a personal document of that particular musician's body of work, very important!
DS: You are right, Bob, and I just don't know any other way how I can do recordings any differently.
BW: Are you taking this band on the road?
DS: Unfortunately not with Joss and JT, but I will have Joey DeFrancesco in the band with me.
BW: Any other horn players?
DS: Just myself. The guys I would want to hire would be too cost prohibited and don't go out for a hundred dollars a night. [laugh]
BW: I hear you, David. Anyway, thanks again for being such a wonderful guest. One last question: the title track "Only Everything" says "For Genevieve" listed on that track...
DS: That's my brand new granddaughter, and she's "Only Everything" to me.
BW: Can't think of a better way to wrap this up, thanks again David.
DS: I hope to see you again real soon Bob.
BW: At the Blue Note in the Big Apple for sure David!
Bob Putignano is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Bob at: firstname.lastname@example.org web site: www.SoundsofBlue.com
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com