Interview with David Sanborn

david sanborn
David Sanborn

Interview by Scott Preston

Renowned and revered the world over as one of the greatest saxophone players of all-time, David Sanborn is an artist whose music has inspired countless other musicians while creating a body of work that spans the genres of rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, pop and jazz. A naturally gifted performer, David has helped defined the saxophone’s modern sound while influencing a generation. Throughout the nineties and into the present, David has continued to tour and record, having amassed a wide and enthusiastic fan base around the world. David Sanborn is both musician and artist – that rare breed of popular recording star as eager today as he was in his youth to continue pushing boundaries and to continue making music that challenges the mind as it rewards the heart and soul.

Cincy Groove: When did you start playing the sax and why did you pick it over other instruments?

David Sanborn: I started when I was 11. I was actually inspired by the music of Ray Charles. More specifically the 2 sax players that Ray Charles had with him, Hank Crawford on alto and David “Fathead” Newman on alto and tenor. The album I just released, Here and Now, is kind of a tribute to them and that period in music.

Cincy Groove: How did you end up getting to play with Little Milton when you were 15?

David Sanborn: There were these dances in my hometown, they called them Teen Towns. They were held outdoors in the summertime usually at the local recreation centers. Some local and regional bands would stop in and play these dances. This friend of mine and myself would hang out and we became friendly with the piano player with Little Milton. One day I was just talking to him and saying how I would love to be able to play music like they did. One thing led to another and he ended up talking to Little Milton and he let me sit in with the band. It was one of the epiphany moments where I said “Wow, this is a great job.” That pretty much sealed the deal for me.

Cincy Groove: At the time how did your family react to your moment of clarity?

David Sanborn: They weren’t too happy when they realized thats what I wanted to do. I think they were horrified. They certainly had reason for concern for my future. Really what were the chances in the late 50’s early 60’s for an alto sax player to make a living.

Cincy Groove: How was your Woodstock experience? Who did you play with when you were there?

David Sanborn: I was playing with the Butterfield Blues Band. We actually went on right before Jimi Hendrix, who was the last act of the festival. It was about 5am before we actually got to get onstage and we were all pretty toasted. I wasn’t really sure I would be able to make it, but then I see that Jimi was playing after us. Jimi looked pretty fried too, so I said if Jimi can do it I can do it. We played the night before in Chicago. We left the airport and drove about half way to the festival site and the New York State highway for the most part was closed. All these cars were just parked on the freeway. They took us to the Holiday Inn which was about 30 miles from the site. When we were originally supposed to go on at midnight the helicopter took us over. There were still hundreds of thousands of people there, it was pretty impressive.

Cincy Groove: When did you decide to go from being a sideman to more of a solo career?

David Sanborn: That was in 1975, the producer for the Butterfield Blues Band, John Cork, who was good friends with Mo Austin who was the head of Warner Bros. He persuaded Mo to put up some money to let me make a demo record. I did an audition demo and John took it to Mo and after that I ended up signing with Warner Bros in 1975. I was with them for 25 years.

Cincy Groove: How do you feel the internet has affected the music industry?

David Sanborn: Its definitely a whole new world now compared to when I started in so many respects. My general feeling about it is that its good because information is decimated so much faster now. What I think its done has destroyed all the old business models. Whatever the financial structure of the music business is, really needs to be re thought. So that artists can be reasonably compensated for their work and people for a reasonable price can have access to the music. You have so many options on how you can deliver the music and the form in which you deliver it. I mean now you can make a record and instantly make it available.

You can’t go back to the old ways, the jeanie is out of the bottle and he isn’t going back in. There’s no sense in doing some of these bonehead moves that record companies did by trying to sure people. Not only do you not really get anything back, but its a disastrous PR move.

Cincy Groove: I know you have played all over the world, do you have a favorite place you like to play?

David Sanborn: I really like playing in Paris. The city is great and the audiences are wonderful. Tokyo, Japan is another great city. The Japanese fans are really knowledgeable and enthusiastic. They really have supported the music over the years.

Cincy Groove: Are there any newer groups, say in the last 10 years, that impress you?

David Sanborn: I think D’Angelo is really good and I have always been a big fan of Wilco. Tweedy is such a great songwriter.

Cincy Groove: What was it like when you played with Stevie Wonder back in the early 70’s?

David Sanborn: It was really great, I mean I went from the Butterfield Blues Band to playing with Stevie, not even having a week break in between the two. It was just tremendous to work with him, he is such a hardworking guy. I remember when we were on the road Stevie would have a new song everyday that we would sound check. After the gigs, Stevie would go back to the hotel and have all his keyboards taken back there.

Cincy Groove: Who do you have playing with you on your new cd, Here and Now?

David Sanborn: Eric Clapton, Joss Stone, Sam Moore, Derek Trucks, its a very blues oriented cd. Its really paying tribute to my heroes Hank Crawford and Fathead Newman.


David Sanborn tour dates:
For complete show details visit
09/19/2008 John Asuaga’s Nugget Reno, NV
09/20/2008 John Asuaga’s Nugget Reno, NV
09/21/2008 Jazz By The Blvd Fort Worth, TX
09/23/2008 Uptown Theater Kansas City, MO
09/24/2008 Hoyt Sherman Place Theater Des Moines, IA
09/25/2008 Music Hall Indianapolis, IN
09/26/2008 The Pageant St. Louis, MO
09/27/2008 The Madison Theater Cincinnati, OH
10/08/2008 Blues Alley Washington DC
10/09/2008 Blues Alley Washington DC
10/10/2008 Blues Alley Washington DC
10/11/2008 Blues Alley Washington DC
10/12/2008 Blues Alley Washington DC
10/15/2008 Epcot Center Orlando, FL
10/16/2008 Epcot Center Orlando, FL
10/17/2008 Clearwater Jazz Festival Clearwater, FL
10/18/2008 TBA Miami, FL
10/25/2008 TBA Sofia, Bulgaria
10/31/2008 New Morning Paris, FR

11/01/2008 New Morning Paris, FR
11/04/2008 Leverkusener Jazz Leverkusener, GR
11/06/2008 TBA Aalen, GR
11/07/2008 TBA Ingolstadt, GR
11/09/2008 Berlin Jazz Festival Berlin, GR
11/28/2008 River Jazz Maya, MX
12/27/2008 Lyric Theater Stuart, FL
12/08/2008 Blue Note Toyko, JP
12/09/2008 Blue Note Toyko, JP
12/10/2008 Blue Note Toyko, JP
12/11/2008 Blue Note Toyko, JP
12/12/2008 Blue Note Toyko, JP
12/13/2008 Blue Note Toyko, JP
12/28/2008 Philharmonic Center for the Arts Naples, FL