Saturday, April 21, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

Interview: Jazz great David Sanborn on Tampa Bay Black Heritage, Kendrick Lamar and touring

Saxophonist David Sanborn is suffering from a terrible cough. "Some throat thing," he sputters in between fits during a telephone interview.

Sanborn is confident the cough will disappear before he takes the stage Sunday at the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival.

"That's the plan," he said.

Sanborn's visit is a homecoming of sorts. He was born in Tampa while his family was stationed here during his father's stint in the Air Force. The Sanborns didn't stay long; the family moved to St. Louis when David was just kid. But he does have fond memories of returning for a couple of weeks vacation on the beach.

Winner of six Grammys, Sanborn is renowned as both a session player and jazz artist in his own right. His resume is impressive: eight gold albums, one platinum and a total of 24 records released during a career that spans 50 years.

He's worked with some of the best in the business including Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie. And at 71, Sanborn said he has no plans to retire soon, though he has cut back the number of annual gigs from more than 200 to about 150. Orlando, Istanbul and Nairobi are among this year's stops.

"And I think I'll cut back on that because it's very, very taxing," he said.

It's a tough decision for Sanborn, a self-described "touring musician" who most loves playing before a live audience.

"I still want to play and if you want to play for an audience, you've got to go where the audience is," he said.

Sanborn said he'll stay on the road because it's easier to make a viable living that way than it now is with recording.

"You make a fraction of what you used to make," he said. "There's not a lot of options. … I just try to remember why I got into this in the first place. I really loved music and just wanted to be involved."

Sanborn first picked up a saxophone while sick with polio as kid. By age 14, he had played with blues dons Albert King and Little Milton. He studied at the University of Iowa before making his way to California, joining the Butterfield Blues Band and playing Woodstock.

Sanborn appeared on Bowie's Young Americans and Wonder's Talking Book before releasing his first album Taking Off in 1975. By 1981, Sanborn had snagged his first Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental Performance for the single All I Need Is You. Sanborn released his latest album Time and the River in 2015.

While others may have written a eulogy for jazz, Sanborn says it's very much alive and he's finding it unlikely places.

"Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly, that was a game-changer for me," he said. "I listened to that album dozens and dozens of times."

Elements of jazz are peppered throughout Butterfly thanks to jazz saxophonist Terrance Martin, who produced several tracks on the album, Sanborn said.

So, jazz is melding into hip-hop? Not exactly. It's more of an evolving thing.

"That's the spirit of what jazz is, to continually evolve," Sanborn said. "I think you've got to stop thinking about jazz — or hip-hop — for what it isn't. Because it can be anything."

But don't expect any hip-hop-flavored records from Sanborn anytime soon; lately, he's shunned the studio in favor of the road. That, too, will come to an end eventually. And when it's time to hang up his horn, Sanborn said he'll do so knowing he's "had a great run."

"I've been fairly successful doing (music) for the last 40 years," he said. "That's not bad."

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