Many longtime David Sanborn fans may not know it, but the same year (1975) he recorded Taking Off, his solo debut on Warner Bros., he appeared on three seminal rock albums: Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years, Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run and David Bowie’s Young Americans. The coolness that has continued over the past 37 years of his solo career has earned him six Grammys, nine gold and platinum albums and critical acclaim as one of the world’s most successful crossover artists. Rhino Records celebrates the first two decades as an artist with the release of Then Again: The David Sanborn Anthology—a two disc retrospective featuring 29 representative songs chosen by Sanborn himself. Including classics from the mid-70s through the mid-90s, the compilation reflects his ability as (in the words of liner notes writer David Ritz) a “hot blooded storyteller” with “the courage to work in three different worlds at the same time: jazz, R&B and pop.” The common denominator, Ritz says and any fan who followed Sanborn through his exciting evolution as an artist, “is the integrity of the song.”
JazzMonthly: What was the impetus behind Then Again: The David Sanborn Anthology. There were a few other collections that WB put out, Best of and Love Songs. What makes this one unique? And how did you select the songs?
DS: Most of other compilations were put together by the record company, and for various reasons certain songs—whether chosen by research or their own personal choices—were not always the ones I would have picked. Rhino came to me with the idea of doing a retrospective on these first two decades, and let me pick songs I felt were representative of each period and album. I think we ended up with songs that reflect my personal point of view of how I view each recording and period of my career, and it’s a pretty accurate cross section of my years at Warner Bros. When they first approached me I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, but as I got involved, it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard a lot of these songs since I recorded them. Once I do an album, I tend not to listen to it. It’s over and I move on, so I hadn’t heard some of these cuts since the 70s. It’s quite a revelation to hear older stuff and have a new perspective on it. Most of my early material holds up pretty well. The striking thing is the change in production values over the years. Those 80s studio albums had all kind of synth sounds and programmed drums that sometimes detracted from the essence of the music, but they are certainly of their time and, most importantly, the melodies and my playing still sound good to me.
JazzMonthly: Your discography extends back to the mid-70s. What were your ultimate goals when you started recording solo albums and do you feel you have achieved or surpassed those? How do you feel you have evolved as a saxophonist and artist over the years?
DS: Like I said, I tend not to look back so I don’t tend to take long view of past. I just keep moving forward onto the next thing. I think what I’ve enjoyed about being a solo artist--as opposed to the sideman role I played in my early years--is being able to control the music I’m making. My albums are about fulfilling my vision of how the music should go. As for what I’m trying to achieve, I never really had a grand vision. It has always been about being in control of the music I make and creating contexts that are interesting and reflective of my tastes at any give ntime. I think the Anthology is an accurate tracking of my career. The first tune “The Whisperer” is the first cut on my first solo album and that’s fitting. The second song, James Taylor’s “Benjamin” is on my third album Promise Me The Moon which isn’t even in print anymore…so it’s nice to let people hear that. The songs really do represent where I was at creatively at any given time.
JazzMonthly: You participate in a lot of unique touring lineups. The last year alone you did one with Marcus Miller and George Duke, and this summer you did shows with Brian Culbertson. The last few years you’ve done the Autumn tours with Joey DeFrancesco. How do you decide who to go on the road with? What do you feel you learn from them?
DS: Every situation is different, and I always want to play with interesting people, whether it’s the guys in my band or doing a collaborative thing with artist like Brian, Marcus and George. It’s a matter of putting myself in interesting and fun situations that I believe will be stimulating and become good learning and growing experiences. With George and Marcus, I’ve known them both for so many years, so it was nice to check back in with them and see where we’re at now after sharing different parts of our histories together. We’ve gone in so many different directions individually so it was a challenge to put something together that was coherent but also reflected all of our sensibilities. Brian is from a younger generation but we have the same tastes in music. I think having that in common is a key to making a touring collaboration work. I try to learn something new every day, and every playing situation is an opportunity to try things to see what works. The best moments are the ones that happen spontaneously. Everything gets filed in my collective memory and becomes part of my experience as a musician—which gives me a richer palette and stronger musical arsenal to draw from.
JazzMonthly: You’ve been a huge part of The Smooth Jazz Cruise aka “The Greatest Party at Sea” these past few years. When did you start your association with Michael Lazaroff (Executive Director of Entertainment Cruise Productions), when was your first cruise and what’s been the most fun part of becoming a core artist at these events?
DS: I first worked with Michael when I played on one of the Dave Koz cruises a few years back. Michael and I are both from St. Louis and we hit it off immediately and got into a very rewarding friendship and business relationship. Before he invited me on the first Smooth Jazz Cruise I was wary of doing it and had some negative preconceptions of what it might be like. I was flattered by the invitation but honestly didn’t know what to expect. I enjoyed my first cruise (2011) so much and musically, it was a positive, rewarding and fulfilling thing in every way. Musicians really get a chance to interact with each other and the fans in a spontaneous way. A lot of the artists are musicians I have known for years but who I have never had much opportunity to play with. There’s a real sense of discovery and it’s great how everyone rises to the occasion—with such a spirit of joy and cooperation. My favorite part is the Night Music show I do with Marcus that harkens back to the show “Night Music” I hosted in the late 80s. It involves little or no rehearsal and runs like a jam session. So much fun.