San­born has lent his tal­ents to some of clas­sic rock’s great­est al­bums

Calgary Herald - - YOU - ERIC VOLMERS

In 1975, David San­born may have been the busiest mu­si­cian on earth.

The vet­eran sax­o­phone player was like a ses­sion-mu­si­cian ver­sion of Woody Allen’s Zelig that year, pop­ping up on some of the era’s most his­toric record­ings. That’s him on Bruce Spring­steen’s Born to Run. He played on Paul Si­mon’s Still Crazy Af­ter All These Years. Linda Ron­stadt en­listed him for Pris­oner in Dis­guise. The Ea­gles had him play on One of These Nights. Cat Stevens hired him for Num­bers and James Tay­lor brought him into the stu­dio for Go­rilla. Per­haps most fa­mously, he con­trib­uted to David Bowie’s clas­sic al­bum Young Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing that iconic sax solo on the ti­tle track.

All of those al­bums were re­leased in 1975. By that point, San­born al­ready had toured with Ste­vie Won­der and played on his clas­sic 1972 come­back al­bum Talk­ing Book. He had played with the Rolling Stones. He had been a part of Bowie’s sprawl­ing band on the Diamond Dogs tour. He even played Wood­stock as a mem­ber of the Paul But­ter­field Blues Band.

Surely, through­out it all, the mu­si­cian must have had at least some inkling that he was con­tribut­ing to mu­sic his­tory.

“I cer­tainly was en­joy­ing my­self,” San­born says in an in­ter­view from his home in New York City. “But I don’t think you ever have any idea of what is go­ing to be iconic or his­toric in any way. To me, it was just: ‘OK, this is re­al­ity. This is just what’s go­ing on right now.’ ”

The thing is, San­born’s sta­tus as one of the most in-de­mand ses­sion play­ers was only one side of his story in 1975. He also made his de­but that year as a solo artist when he recorded the ap­pro­pri­ately ti­tled Tak­ing Off, which pro­pelled him to even higher heights as one of the era’s most in­flu­en­tial sax play­ers.

He has since recorded 24 more al­bums, won six Gram­mys and wel­comed artists such as Miles Davis and Th­elo­nious Monk as host of the late-night series Night Mu­sic. He has also toured non­stop for more than half-a-cen­tury. But he’s still a bit stumped when asked what au­di­ences can ex­pect from his Oct. 18 show at The Jack Singer Con­cert Hall, which will be his only Cana­dian stop on his cur­rent tour.

“This is more of an acous­tic group,” says San­born, who will be play­ing with trom­bon­ist Michael Dease, drum­mer Jeff (Tain) Watts, pi­anist Ge­of­frey Keezer and bas­sist James Genus in Cal­gary. “I don’t know how to de­scribe it. I don’t gen­er­ally like terms like fu­sion or funk or straight-ahead. But it’s acous­tic mu­sic. We’re go­ing to be do­ing a cou­ple of tunes by Michael Brecker, we are go­ing to re­work one of my older tunes. It’s more what peo­ple would con­sider to be straight-ahead jazz but it’s not like do­ing stan­dards. This is where it’s al­ways dif­fi­cult to de­scribe mu­sic in words. The ten­dency is to al­ways de­scribe it in terms of cat­e­gories and I think that’s re­ally the an­tithe­sis of what­ever it is that I’ve tried to do over my ca­reer. I just never ac­cepted those bound­aries. I just did what I did and let other peo­ple de­cide what to call it. It’s not very in­ter­est­ing me to try to ex­plain it.”

Over the years, San­born be­came known for his savvy blend­ing of gen­res. So, de­spite his dis­like of cat­e­gories, he has found him­self lumped into all sorts of them through­out his ca­reer; from in­stru­men­tal pop, to R & B, to funk, fu­sion and jazz. But the one la­bel that seems to have stuck is “cross­over artist.” It’s a term that has be­come so syn­ony­mous with San­born that it was even men­tioned in the news re­lease for his 25th al­bum, 2015’s Time and the River. But, true to form, San­born seems just as sus­pi­cious of this la­bel as any other.

“I don’t un­der­stand (it),” he says. “I don’t know if it’s a pe­jo­ra­tive or a com­pli­ment. To me, the mark of a good artist is when you de­scribe them in terms of who they are: Well, that’s a Paul Si­mon tune or that’s a James Tay­lor tune. Is it coun­try-rock? Is it rock? It’s when the iden­tity of the mu­sic is the name of the artist rather than some­body who is in that cat­e­gory. To me, that’s the essence of what good mu­sic is. Look, we’re all sto­ry­tellers whether the mu­sic has words or whether it’s in­stru­men­tal. We’re all telling a story up there. If you tell an in­ter­est­ing story, peo­ple want to lis­ten. Ev­ery­body has got a dif­fer­ent story so the ob­ject to me is to not to do any­thing but be true to who I am as pos­si­ble. Tell your story. If you’re a tenor player, you can sound ex­actly like John Coltrane. Well, it’s im­pres­sive but John Coltrane has al­ready told his story.”

San­born’s story as one of mod­ern mu­sic’s most renowned sax play­ers ac­tu­ally be­gins rather modestly. As a child in St. Louis, he con­tracted po­lio at the age of three. Play­ing sax was sim­ply a way for him to strengthen his chest mus­cles. But he grad­u­ally fell in love with the in­stru­ment. By the time he was 15, he was sit­ting in with blues leg­ends such as Lit­tle Mil­ton and Al­bert King when they played St. Louis.

He even­tu­ally headed to Cal­i­for­nia, where he joined the But­ter­field Blues Band. He played Wood­stock in ’69 and, be­fore long, be­came a mu­si­cian’s mu­si­cian, in high de­mand for ses­sions and tours. While he clearly has no prob­lem talk­ing about his il­lus­tri­ous past, he clearly isn’t the sort to stay stuck there.

That may be one of the rea­sons San­born rarely plays on other peo­ple’s records any more.

“I have a stu­dio in my house and ev­ery once in a while if there is some­thing that is re­ally ex­traor­di­nar­ily

in­ter­est­ing I’ll do it here at home,” he says. “But I re­ally don’t do it any­more. Maybe I’ll do some­thing for a friend or some­thing. I’m more in­ter­ested in do­ing what­ever it is that I’m do­ing. I don’t have to do it any­more and I haven’t had to do it for a while. The only mo­ti­va­tion would be if it’s some­thing re­ally in­ter­est­ing to do. On the rare oc­ca­sion some­one asks me to do some­thing, it’s re­ally not that in­ter­est­ing mu­si­cally. Or some­one will have an idea and say ‘Oh, I loved you on this record that you made 40 years ago.’

“Well, that’s great,” he adds with a laugh. “Call that guy.”

David San­born plays Arts Com­mons Jack Singer Con­cert Hall on Oct. 18.


David San­born plays an acous­tic show Oct. 18.

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