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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, September 21, 2023


Oct. 15, 2002 – David Sanborn "does not flirt with his instrument; he blows it hard," a biography of the jazz/blues saxophonist says on the VH1.com Web site. And that's pretty amazing.
What led Sanborn, who will open the 2002-03 season at the Reichhold Center for the Arts on Saturday, to take up the sax at the age of 11 was trouble breathing — a result of having had polio.
What led him to stay with it for the four and a half decades since was a discovery he made at the age of 15: He was good enough to play with the big boys.
Born in Tampa, Florida, Sanborn grew up in St. Louis, where taking up the saxophone as therapy served him in good stead. A pal who played the drums talked his — David's — way into playing background with Little Milton for a couple of gigs at a place called Sunset Teen Town. Then, still 15, Sanborn talked his own way into playing with a trio at The Other Side, a small club in St. Louis's musically hip Gaslight Square area.
He did well enough that "they kept inviting me back, and I started to develop some real playing experience as a result of sitting in with these guys — mostly the blues," he told Digital Interviews. "I would learn tunes and stuff … I didn't get paid for it, but I formed a lot of friendships."
While majoring in music at Northwestern University, he got interested in Chicago's jazz/blues tradition. But he moved in 1967 to San Francisco, where, walking down the street one day, he ran into a friend from St. Louis, Phillip Wilson, who had just joined the Butterfield Blues Band and invited Sanborn to catch them at the fabled Fillmore that night. The band was heading to Los Angeles to record an album, and Sanborn joined them just to hang out in the studio. One thing led to another, he told Digital Interviews: "I think it was because I looked so pathetic, standing there with my horn; Paul Butterfield said, 'Why don't you just come and play on a tune?' I sat in, and I did okay. And I was with Butterfield for almost five years."
A week after the band broke up, he got a gig with Stevie Wonder in New York, touring for a couple of years, opening for the Rolling Stones ("and I played with The Stones for a minute"). Another friend got a job as musical director for David Bowie, who — guess what? — was looking for a saxophonist. And guess who got the gig.
Sanborn went on to play with Paul Simon and then James Taylor, who "agreed to let me open for him if I played with him, also," he told Digital Interviews. "So, I got to be the opening act and I got a lot of exposure that way." He also performed and did sessions work with John Scofield's Electric Outlet, B.B. King, Steely Dan, Rickie Lee Jones, the Eagles and Bruce Springsteen. In addition, he has led a variety of his own groups.
His recording breakthrough came in 1980 with "Hideaway," for which he wrote most of the material. The LP stayed on both the urban contemporary and jazz charts for more than a year and earned Sanborn a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Instrumental Performance. "Voyeur" earned him his first Grammy, in 1982. He collected another for his 1986 album "Double Vision."
Meanwhile, in 1983, his "Backstreet" was a major hit among contemporary jazz fans, staying at the top of the jazz charts for a year. In 1991, he made his first "pure jazz" album, "Another Hand." Four years later came another, "Pearls," which topped the Billboard jazz chart for many weeks.
Sanborn also is known in music circles as the producer of the critically acclaimed syndicated television series "Night Music," which brought rarely seen players to the public eye, and as the host of radio's "The Jazz Show." Of "Night Music," he told Digital Interviews: "We had a lot of people from different genres come on and show how music connects up. I'm one of those people that wants to bring a lot of disparate elements together."
There also is a Caribbean connection in his life. He serves on the board of directors of The Crossroads Foundation, which raises money and awareness for a drug rehabilitation facility, Crossroads Centre, located on 10 acres at Willoughby Bay in Antigua. This came about because he is a longtime acquaintance of Eric Clapton, who has a vacation home on the island and was instrumental in establishing the center.
Show notes
Saturday's concert by Sanborn and his band, which is being presented in partnership with Theodore Tunick & Company, starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $75 in the covered, cushioned seating, and $45 and $25 in the open air seats. Season subscribers and donors will be invited to meet Sanborn at a reception following the concert.
For tickets outlets or to place orders using a charge card, call the Reichhold box office at 693-1559. You also can purchase tickets online at the recently redesigned Reichhold Center Web site.
There is still time to purchase a Reichhold season subscription package — the Foundation Series, consisting of all seven concerts, or the Choose-Your-Own Series, which lets patrons pick any five or six of the seven shows. For details, visit the Reichhold Web site and see the Source season preview, 7 concerts on tap for 2002-03 Reichhold season.
For St. John residents, there's a special incentive to see the show: Republic Barges is making a run to Red Hook and back at no charge to those holding tickets to the show. For details, see "Barge service free for David Sanborn concert".

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