Interviews

HEARING THINGS WITH JEFF LORBER

Wednesday, 12 November 2008 13:43 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

HEARING THINGS WITH JEFF LORBER

Philadelphia keyboardist JEFF LORBER is a doyen of the smooth soul scene. Indeed he was in the business long before the term was even coined. With 18 solo sets under his belt, JEFF'S just launched a brand new collection - 'Heard That' - his first album for Peak Records. BILL BUCKLEY of www.soulandjazzandfunk.com recently caught up with JEFF to talk about the album but couldn't resist kicking things off by asking him about his early years in the City Of Brotherly Love and wondering if that city's unique musical heritage had any impact on the young LORBER ….

Unfortunately I was too young to participate very much in the music scene in Philly when I was growing up, but I heard a lot of great stuff on the radio and when I was in high school I was very lucky to see quite a few amazing musical performances come to town - people like Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd and a number of Miles Davis' bands. I also went to the original Woodstock. Many of those experiences were incredible and made some very strong impressions on me regarding how powerful and creative music can be. Much later I did get to play at the legendary Sigma Sound Studios. I filmed a session for something called 'Studio Jams' in there, just before it was closed down. Also one of my father's friends was Bernie Lowe who was a writer, very much involved in the Cameo-Parkway thing, so I did hear indirectly about the business from him.


What about other influences on your work? What musicians did you really rate?

I love all the fusion music from the late 60s - through the 80s …. Like Return To Forever, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and anything from Miles, Weather Report and all the great stuff coming out from Fantasy Records…Tower of Power, Average White Band, Earth Wind And Fire… I could really go on and on. Today I don't hear a lot of current stuff that I'm crazy about but I do follow some producers like Timbaland and Pharrell. I love Keith Jarrett also; his phrasing kills me.

Tell us now about your latest album…… and why the title 'Heard That'?

'Heard That' is just a catchy phase that kind of fits with the very bluesy, R&B flavoured stuff that Rex (Rex Rideout, co-producer) and I came up with. We were referencing a lot of the early Jeff Lorber fusion grooves as well as some of our favourite bands from the 80s like the Brothers Johnson, Chic and Pleasure.

How did the tunes come about?

Most were collaborations with Rex, though I had two tracks that were previously written (although still new) - the title track and 'Don't Hold Back'. Then of course, there's 'Rehab'. That was a last minute addition.

Some people might be surprised that you chose to work on the Amy Winehouse tune. What made you go for it?

I thought it would be fun because it's got a cool rhythmic feel and the melody translates well for piano. Though, I have to say I wasn't too sure at first that it was a good idea. But people have been really enthusiastic when we play it live - so now I'm a little more confident.

The song's quite transformed. In some ways it harks back to the way Ramsey Lewis treated material like 'Hang On Sloopy' and 'Hard Day's Night' in the 60s. Would you agree? If so, was this a conscious thing or did the groove just evolve?

YES… Ramsey Lewis … I'd VERY much agree with that…however it wasn't intentional. It just kind of happened

The track's been featured on a new UK compilation from Jazz FM - a re-launched radio station that's trying to keep the smooth jazz flag flying… though some critics say its output is too bland. How would you answer people who say that smooth jazz is little better than elevator music?

Those people are right … well, sometimes anyway. However, I'm always trying to push the envelope. I like to think of what I do as contemporary jazz; trying to keep the spirit alive of some of the more adventurous musicians - like those folks I mentioned earlier.

Finally what would you say has been your greatest musical achievement and what ambitions have you left?

Probably sounds a little conceited, but achievement-wise I think I've written some pretty cool songs and for the future - well, I'm just starting to play more internationally and I really enjoy that. The crowds in Europe and Asia are younger and more hip than in the USA… in some ways anyway.


 

JEFF LORBER'S 'HEARD THAT' is released on Peak, Concord on 17 November 2008

 

HOW TO MAKE A COOL MILLION

Thursday, 23 October 2008 14:57 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

HOW TO MAKE A COOL MILLION

Without doubt one of the best modern soul albums of 2008 is COOL MILLION'S 'Going Out Tonight'. The Expansion album has rightly won critical acclaim and no wonder! It's stuffed with classic modern soul tunes all stamped with an unashamed yet irresistible 80s retro feel. Listening to tracks like 'Give Me My Love' and 'Damn Beautiful', you'll be asking yourself where you've heard that one before. You'll be haunted by a familiar riff or a catchy refrain, but before you can place them, your attention will be whisked away on another familiar-sounding classy soul groove. It's all quite magical and strangely compulsive. www.soulandjazzandfunk.com's BILL BUCKLEY resolved to find out why 'Going Out Tonight' offers so much. He discovered that COOL MILLION is essentially an enthusiastic Euro duo - FRANK RYLE and ROB HARDT and after a little more detective work BILL tracked FRANK down to his mountain retreat in Denmark. BILL began by asking FRANK how COOL MILLION came about and why they used that odd name…..

Originally Cool Million was founded by me - Frank Ryle - and Jesper Koan and the idea was to make some cool modern soul. At some point we talked about a suitable name for the project and came up with Cool Million, by accident. Actually it was a joke between Jesper and me. Jesper had some work going on with a US pop singer and an agreement laying on his desk that he was about to sign with a US manager. I asked him what kind of money was involved if any... and he replied with a "well give me a Cool Million.." We laughed a lot about it and I said why not use that name Cool Million for the project, so that was it..

How did your track, 'Naughty Girl' come to the attention of Expansion Records?

Well I know Ralph Tee from Expansion through my other project Soulportal.dk, a Danish website focusing on soul music, that's been around for over 7 years. Over the years I've been doing many reviews on various Expansion releases and I interviewed Ralph some years ago, even invited him to Copenhagen to DJ. So when the track was ready I just passed him the track and one thing led to another.

How did you feel about the song being featured on one of their famous Togetherness albums?

Well, I felt pretty good... The 'Soul Togetherness' compilations are in my humble opinion one of the best things to wait for…. always packed with high quality soul music and pure bliss from start to end. So naturally I was extremely happy.

Did the success of that song lead directly to this album or is there another explanation?

When working on 'Naughty Girl', I had the idea of a full length album in the back of my head. But first we started on a track featuring Bobby Cutchins and when that track was almost finished Jesper decided to leave the Cool Million project. So I was in a trance for an hour or two, then I decided to ask Rob - whom I knew through my soulportal site. He said yes to me straight away, and I told him my plans and he agreed and we started working on the album from day one.

All the tracks on the LP have an authentic 80s retro feel - why?

That's the way we like it. No, it has something to do with a mutual feeling between Rob and I. Both of us miss that 80s feel in the modern soul music of today. And we agreed to take a chance and try to bring some of the 80s magic back. Rob and I started out listening to soul music in the early 80s: you know people like Nile Rogers, Bernard Edwards, Jam & Lewis, Nick Martinelli, Kashif, Paul Laurence and Mtume … that whole thing with the synths, 808 drum machine, party time lyrics, happy vibe and soul music you can actually dance to... It's hard to find good uplifting soul music these days unless you go with soulful house. We wanted to end that with our album and on top of that I think I prefer the uptempo tracks most of the times.

How did you achieve that 80s feeling?

That's totally Rob's achievement… he is one of the most wicked studio musicians around and very talented as a remixer as well.

Take us through some of the tracks and tell us what were the inspirations behind each song - or, to put it another way, what is the musical point of reference for each song? For example is 'Damn Beautiful' modelled on 'Juicy Fruit'?

Yeah, you could state that a track like 'Damn Beautiful' is our tribute to Mtume. 'Walk Away' clearly has its inspiration from Kleer. In fact Woody from Kleer was very impressed with our sound on that track. A track like 'Music' featuring Jahah came out so it could sound as something Butch Ingram did in '84. But the overall idea wasn't to copy anybody but somehow use sounds that reflected that period and still be able to hear that it was made in 2008. We wanted to give the audience a little teaser... like I have heard it before, but who is it? Get them interested.

Why did you choose to cover Carol King's 'Its Too Late'?

Simple... it's one of my favourite tracks. It's a killer song and I have only heard it covered once by Gene Rice. So I figured it would be suitable for one of the best singers in Denmark, Karen Groth. She agreed to do it, and it turned out pretty good I think. In fact so good that we got a request from Mr. Tom Moulton letting us know that he wanted to remix it.

How were the songs put together? Who does the music, who does the lyrics?

The whole project is very low budget, so we had to find singers who would do it just for the love of it. We used My Space to get in contact with many of the singers; presented the concept and passed them different rough backing tracks to choose from, then they came up with want they wanted and passed their vocals to us and we finished the track with the 80s sound in mind. I do the rough first things, and Rob is the guy who arranges the vocals and the music as he is the music master.

What are your hopes for the album?

First and foremost we hope it will do really well on the soul scene in the UK and Europe, then Japan and the US. It's hard work, but we believe that this is an album for everybody. You don't need to be a soul head to feel Cool Million, so if we could get the BBC and other major radio stations and big name DJs to play us, we are sure it could/would crossover to a bigger market. But for that we must do a lot of work and maybe we would need a bit of luck.

Some critics have said that there is little point in recreating old sounds… how would you respond to that?

I don't see their point - for progression you have to look back once in a while. Look at how fashion works - designers get inspiration from all decades so why shouldn't music be that way. Right now there's a lot of music with a heavy influence from the 60s and even the 80s. We think it's all good - you don't have to be a copy cat, but it's cool to use elements from back in the days.

What are your views on the current modern soul scene?

From where I am I think it's too small: I think there should be a lot more soul music in radio, television and clubs etc. There's some good music out already, but it's hard when the major labels and radios only look for R&B and hip hop. So the underground has to open up, and try to make it less underground. I was attending a Soul Weekender earlier this year, and I was thinking that in 10 years time half of the crowd would be dead! I think they should really think about how they could bring in new generations - if it's the same DJs that are playing to these events and even the tunes are the same you don't get new blood. So I would say that the UK soul scene - which is the biggest in Europe - should look at what they do in other countries. Invite people over from Denmark, Germany, Sweden etc to play at these events. Make a bigger community. It doesn't have to be a secret or for soul heads only.

And what about your plans for the future?

Get people turned onto the Cool Million sound, do more music under the name Cool Million. Enjoy it and see how far it will bring us.

 

CHATTING WITH CHANTE Part Two

Saturday, 18 October 2008 09:46 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

CHATTING WITH CHANTE   Part Two

As promised, here's the second part of www.soulandjazzandfunk.com's interview with Californian songbird, CHANTE MOORE.

I wonder if we could talk about your background. I believe you're from San Francisco originally.

I am. San Francisco City actually. I was born in San Francisco Children's Hospital and I lived right in the city: Haight-Ashbury and different little places. I guess we moved around a little bit in the area but basically I'm from San Francisco proper.

What was it like growing up there?

It was good. My father is a minister so we were at church and happy and my mother was singing in church and I was listening, more than really singing, but I had a really good time. My parents did a great job making of me happy (laughs).

At what age did you start singing in public?

Not till I was about 16. I did a stage production called 'The Wiz' when I was 16. I really couldn't figure out why they asked me to be in it because my sister was always the one who was singing - she was well-known for that. She would always kill people when she sang. She was just really, really good. So when they asked me to do the role of Dorothy in 'The Wiz', I was like "oh no, you must be mixing me up" 'cos people would always confuse us. So that was the first time ever my family said I could sing because before that they were like "oh-oh, don't sing! You should never ever sing." They would tell me to shut up but I loved to sing so much that I would just do it anyway because I loved music. I would sing in my room to myself and my mum actually gave me a tape recorder so that I could hear how badly I sounded - that's what she said, but she didn't mean it maliciously.

Who were your early influences when you started to sing?

Well, my father is a minister, a preacher, so we weren't allowed to listen to any other music except gospel in my home as we were growing up. So Andrae Crouch, Edwin Hawkins, Tramaine Hawkins and The Imperials and a whole lot of gospel artists were my influences. Then later I listened to people that I fell in love with - like Chaka (Khan), Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and so many others. But I didn't listen to them until after I was 16 - that's when I really started branching out into music.

So how did you get to sign with MCA back in 1992?

I asked a friend of mine how I could find a good manager 'cos I needed to find somebody who could help me find a good deal. He said, "I'll manage you" and I said "Oh, OK." So we started sending out demo tapes to different record companies and we got a call back from MCA Records. We had a meeting with Louil Silas (an MCA executive), who's now passed on. He was just as excited about me as I was about him, so it worked out really well and we had a great relationship and a great partnership at that point.

So how did you feel when some of your records, like 'Love's Taken Over,' started taking off?

It was just a dream come true. You know we all dream our dreams but mine was for real, actually. It was more than I thought it would be but still exactly what I thought it would be in so many ways. So it was great. It was really a dream come true for me.

You did some great records in that period but I remember reading somewhere that you worked as a model before you became a singer. Is that true?

Yes, I did. I modelled around the San Diego area. I did a lot of modelling but then I realised I wasn't going to do it anymore, being a lowly 5'4." I didn't really see it as a serious career choice. It wasn't very wise. I didn't really give up on it but it was just something that was very local so I did a lot of taking pictures in a lot of different clubs and different things like that before I was even 18. I was modelling around a lot but my passion was for singing.

Is your family musical? I know you said your sister was a singer but were your parents musical?

My father is a pianist - a very good pianist actually - and a writer and a preacher. He's not like a singer but he sings. My mother, who has passed on, was a very good singer. She was very emotional and a very strong singer. My sister, LaTendre, got herself playing the piano and the guitar. She writes and she paints and she's more talented than any of us. My brother's a great drummer and he plays the keyboard and sings. Music was all around me always. It was just always a part of my family. We'd sing at the drop of a hat in the house, in the car, in the kitchen, cooking, whatever. We were always singing.

Do you yourself play any musical instruments?

I play a little bit of flute and a little bit of piano but not enough to be the one to show anybody anything (laughs). I'm more of a writer - a writer and a melody girl.

In the past you wrote quite a few songs but on this new album you don't do as much songwriting. Why is that?

I didn't do as much. I just found some really great songs. There were a lot of people who wanted to work on my project seeing that there had been large span of time between my last solo album and this one. A lot of my musician friends were like: "oh my God, when you start the new album start calling me." They had some great songs for me. And a great song is a great song. I don't have to be the writer on my albums - I just have to agree with what my collaborators are doing.

Last year you starred in a stage play with Dave Hollister.

Oh, Dave Hollister - yes, uh-huh, we were in a play called 'By Any Means Necessary' and it actually starred Tisha Campbell-Martin, Dave Hollister, Guy Torry and myself. It was a gospel play with music and acting. It was a lot of acting actually, more than I'd done any time before. It was so much fun. Tisha Campbell is such a professional person. I learned a lot working with her so closely as we were in just about every scene together. I really, really enjoyed it and learned a lot. It was very comedic, which I loved because I love being funny and being goofy and not what people expect to see compared with who they think I am. So we had a great, great time.

Do you think you'll be doing anything else like that in the future?

If the right thing happens I might take it. I'm not going to foresee it this very second but if it comes to me, yeah, I'd do it (laughs).

What's been the highlight of your career to date?

Oh, there's too many to narrow it down. I've been fortunate. What I like is that my career's been pretty consistent so I don't feel it as highs and lows. From the first time that I was on 'Showtime At The Apollo,' that was a highlight. But that was my first album so those things just standout. But having a career that is still lasting and being able to do what I do for a living with the knowledge that there are so many people who came out at the same time who are now not able to do this sort of thing, that's a highlight. The fact that the Lord has sustained me for such a long time and I do not have to compensate by having other jobs on the side has been the real highlight. It hasn't been a lot of high highs or a number one this and number one that, but it's been consistent and I've enjoyed my life - so the highlight has been doing what I love.

What little known fact about you would surprise your fans?

I used to like to crochet but I don't do that much now. I like to roller skate. I'm a homebody: I love old movies. I love eating popcorn and fattening food and sitting there having fun watching old movies with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in and things like that. I guess I'm a little bit adventurous but most of the time I'm just a homebody because I have to travel so much. I just enjoy being at home with my kids.

What's it like being in the music industry and having to bring up a family as well? Is that very difficult?

It's a challenge but I find because I know what is most important - my family - it's not as challenging as it could be. If you're chasing being a star and you have a family I think you can lose sight of what is most important, which is your family. My children want their mother and I'm a big star as far as they are concerned just being 'Mommy.' So to raise children who are cognitive of the world and also aware of themselves and confident, that's the most important thing to me - making sure that they are happy and that they know they're loved and they're not secondary is all that matters.

Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?

I'm an inventor. There are things that I've created that I want to get patented.

Such as? What sort of things?

Well I can't tell you! (laughs).

I know you can't tell me but can't you drop a hint or something?

No, but it will be coming out soon (Laughs).

Well, let me put it like this: are you an inventor of things for the home, things for the environment or things related to music?

It's not for music. It's more for the things for everyday use. It will very much be for the average person and not entertainment.

So we can look forward to seeing those things sometime in the near future can we?

You absolutely will (laughs).

What's your all-time favourite record? I know that seems like a ridiculous question but is there a record that you keep going back to and never tire of?

Well, I'm so much of a music lover that it's so hard: it's like saying which one is your favourite kid? At a certain time in my life there were so many different songs. I could name Prince - he definitely has a lot of my favourite songs; I love Prince. There's also a song by (saxophonist) David Sanborn, which is called 'Love Will Come Someday.' Michael Sembello sings it and it's such a beautiful song - that's one of my favourite songs in the world for sure. There are so many wonderful songs. I remember the first time I ever heard a Chaka Khan song. It stopped me dead in my tracks when I heard 'Hollywood.' That was the very first time I heard her voice. I was walking through the park during my church's picnic. I walked through somebody else's camp on my way to the playground and I heard her voice and it just paralysed me right there - I had to listen to the rest of the song. It was awesome.

Was it a life-changing experience for you?

It was just such an awakening. I just thought: 'who is that?' It was just so beautiful (starts singing the riff to 'Hollywood' by Rufus and Chaka Khan). She just had such a unique way and it was so beautiful. I had never heard her voice before and I remember that moment distinctively.

Have you ever met Chaka and told her about your experience?

I don't think I did tell her that story but I've met and sang with her. Perhaps I should tell her she stopped me dead in my tracks (laughs).

Are there any other artists around at the moment who you would like to make a record with?

There are so many talented artists. Actually, Gladys Knight would be somebody I would love to work with. Although she's not a young artist, I love her music. I think Alicia Keyes is extremely talented and Rihanna I like - except the style: I'm not sure we'd work together. There are so many good people. That's just off the top of my head.

You mentioned some contemporary artists there. What's your view of contemporary R&B? Has it declined in standard in recent years?

You know, R&B right now is a little too sexual instead of really concentrating on what real music is about. Some of the songs that are on the radio right now have lyrics that my daughter would be in trouble if she ever sang in front of me. I don't like the way things are going but maybe that's me getting older and because I have children. Maybe if I was 18 I wouldn't think it was that bad but I do think the content's pretty awful sometimes, because we're losing the focus on what real life is about. Love is not sex. Sex is not what it's about. Sex is great when you're in love but just sex for sex is not what it's about. People are looking for love and having sex and I don't think they know the difference and are caught up in thinking lust is love. I don't want them to miss out but that's just part of what love is. A relationship is about love, not lust.

Finally, the music industry since you started your career has changed an awful lot. What's your view of the current state of the music business?

It's been difficult because it used to be about the artist and about the album but now it's about politics and about a single or marketing and things that have little to do with artistry and music. There's so much more diversity than what I hear on the radio. We've given that power to the record company and given that the power to the program directors, rather than the DJs. It used to be that if you got a record to the DJ he would get so excited he'd play your music: he'd play the songs that are not singles and all that stuff but now only one song gets played and nothing else gets a look in. I'm not a singles kind of artist: I'm an album artist. A single's just one side and there are a whole lot of different sides and different layers to me. I think that makes me a brave artist because there's more than just one dimension of my music and my expression of myself.

(as told to Charles Waring)

'Love The Woman' is out now on Peak Records.

 

CHATTING WITH CHANTE Part One

Wednesday, 15 October 2008 12:22 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

CHATTING WITH CHANTE    Part One

The supremely photogenic Californian-songbird, Chanté Moore - now 41, but looking and sounding as good as ever - first came to the attention of record buyers in 1992 with 'Love's Taken Over,' a hypnotic slice of groove-drenched sensual soul that was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Moore, who married singer Kenny Lattimore in 2002, hasn't made an album in her own right since 2000's 'Exposed' so the recent arrival of what is only her fifth studio opus, 'Love The Woman' - out now on Peak Records - has understandably generated a fair degree of excitement in the soul world. Here, she talks to www.soulandjazzandfunk.com's Charles Waring - not only about her fine new record but, as will be revealed later in the concluding part of this interview, her early life, family, musical influences and much, much, more.

It's been 8 years since your solo last album. What have you been up to?

I've been singing with my husband (Kenny Lattimore). We did one double album ('Covered/Uncovered') and one single album ('Things That Lovers Do') together. The first album was a tribute to the duet and we didn't have any real creative freedom with it - it was remixed - so then we felt like we should really just play our own idea of what a duet between us would be. We did the original album and then the album turned into a double album because the record company asked us to do a gospel album, which would complement the R&B love songs. There wasn't really a plan, as much as it just unfolded day by day and year by year and album by album.

What's the story behind your new album 'Love The Woman'?

I just wanted to make music that was coming from my heart and that I enjoy listening to. I wasn't trying to chase a trend or be hip or anything. I just wanted to make good music.

You've reunited with George Duke, who worked on your very first album. What was it like working with him again?

Well, he's like family so it's always easy to work with George: he's a great producer and he's a great person. We have fun in the studio. Both of us wanted to get back in there together. We talked about it many times so we were excited to be able to do it.

You cover Minnie Riperton's song, 'Give Me Time,' on the new album. Has she been an influence on your own vocal style?

Well I guess so. I admire her very much. I don't try to imitate her but I definitely grew up listening to her songs.

You teamed up with Raphael Saadiq on 'Something Special.' How was that as a recording experience?

He's crazy. Most people in the music business are and so we had a great time - we really enjoyed laughing, and he's extremely talented. I loved the song so it was pretty easy and fun to do.

The title track is a collaboration with Jamey Jaz. What was it like working with him?

He's extremely talented. He actually did a lot of work with Rahsaan Paterson and Shanice Wilson. He's not as well known as he should be but he's a really nice person that lives in Los Angeles. We've worked together quite a few times on a different couple of albums we put together before. So he's just a good guy who makes good music. We like writing together and just creating songs even when there is no album.

Warryn Campbell also worked on the album with you - what was he like to work with?

Well he's a Christian and I love his music in the gospel realm, like what he's done with Mary Mary. What I love about working with him is that it's more about good music than it is about being gospel or not gospel. He only writes good music and does great production too. The lyric content is poignant but not too far off to the left, 'cos I think some of the songs that I hear now are a little bit discouraging - I wouldn't want my children singing along to some of the things that are said in R&B sometimes nowadays, so I like a song that's relative and relevant but not too far off - it's respectful about what it's saying but it's still hip enough to be hip.

You cover 'Guess Who I Saw Today,' originally cut by Nancy Wilson. I wondered if you've ever contemplated doing a complete album of jazz-oriented songs.

I have thought about it. I think it's one step at a time for me with that. I do love jazz - I always have, and I think it's such a good feeling and that's what I like about it. I don't necessarily think that I'm a jazz singer but I like songs that make sense, songs that have stories and songs that make you feel a particular way when you're singing them and hearing them. I like that song in particular and I've sung it quite a few years and always threatened to do it as a remake on one of my albums.

The CD bonus cut is a cover of an old, pre-Atlantic, Aretha Franklin song, 'This Could Be The Start Of Something Big.' What made you choose to record it?

I love that song. It was a song that I really heard a long time ago but it is straight ahead jazz and it is just such a fun song to sing live. She's just so versatile anyway, and I love Aretha: she's done so many songs that I'd never heard before. When I was younger I just thought it was all about from 'Respect' on but there are so many things she did before that song ever even came out.

(as told to Charles Waring)

'Love The Woman' is out now on Peak Records and is reviewed at www.soulandjazzandfunk.com

The second and concluding part of www.soulandjazzandfunk.com's interview with Chanté Moore will follow at a later date.

 

SANBORN SPEAKS!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008 07:43 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

SANBORN SPEAKS!

The squealing, blues-drenched, rasp of David Sanborn's alto saxophone is without doubt one of the most immediately recognisable and distinctive sounds in contemporary jazz. He's been plying his trade for five decades now, having begun his career in the ranks of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the 1960s. It wasn't until the 1970s, though, that his talent was exposed to a wider audience. That was largely due to a sideman stint with rock icon, David Bowie, who used the saxophonist as a featured instrumentalist on his 1975 album 'Young Americans.' This led to Florida-born Sanborn becoming a recording artist in his own right and embarking on a solo career that to date has witnessed 23 albums. Sanborn's latest opus is 'Here & Gone,' his first offering since 2005's 'Closer.' During a recent promotional visit by Sanborn to London, www.soulandjazzandfunk.com's Charles Waring caught up with the 63-year-old saxophone maestro to talk about his latest recording venture.


What's the story behind your new album, 'Here & Gone'?

I was downloading stuff on to my iPod and ran across an old Hank Crawford record and I just thought wow, that's great music: I'd like to kind of connect to it and the spirit of what that music was. So I just found myself messing around with it and before I knew it I thought it would be nice to go back to that kind of sound - a small horn section of five horns - and that kind of context for myself. I basically play the same way but it depends on the context. You always alter what you play according to the context. I'm the same guy, so whatever context I'm in, it's still me. I don't really have to analyse it too much at the beginning: it's just an instinct that feels right and it feels right, somehow, to be here in this place, whatever this place is. I said well, let me see how far I can take this and see if it will hold up for me.

Did you start the ball rolling by choosing one song and then trying to build the rest of the album from there?

There's always one tune that's the door in. I think it was "What Will I Tell My Heart." It was that quality that I heard in Hank Crawford, who was really the guy who inspired me to play the saxophone. It was that quality that he had of really singing through his horn and of not being afraid to use space: of just letting that space go by and controlling the momentum and the dynamic of the song. Very early on I learned from him, even though I couldn't put it into words, the idea that space is important and it's how you manipulate the space that's really what it is that you're doing.

Like Miles Davis?

Exactly. So all the people I really gravitated to, they were practitioners of that philosophy. So Hank was the first. Hank was my door in.

Was he one of your earliest influences?

Absolutely. He was the first. Hank and 'Fathead' Newman, who was also in the Ray Charles band. Those were the guys and that was the music that pulled me in. I said wow, I want to do this.

There's a very strong Ray Charles influence on the album and of course Ray Charles was a sax player himself.

Oh absolutely! He was amazing saxophone player. He could just overpower whatever limitations he had technically: he was such a powerful musician. He was just amazing and Ray told me once that he was always intimidated by Hank and 'Fathead.' That was so odd to hear that coming from him.

Why did you choose to do the Percy Mayfield song 'Send Me Someone To Love'?

I always loved that tune. I loved the way Ray did that song. Actually Percy was on Ray's label, Tangerine, and Percy was a guy that just told these great stories. I mean how more direct can you get than please send me someone to love? That just cuts through all the bullshit and gets right to the point. And that was always Percy's thing.

You've got three vocalists singing on the album - Sam Moore, Eric Clapton and Joss Stone. How did Joss get to participate?

Well, Joss to me is like an old soul. She has so much wisdom and maturity in her voice. It just seems so obvious to me. You know it's funny as things start to come together, these ideas or people come into your line of sight and it's like yeah, of course, it couldn't be anybody else. Just like with Sam Moore and Eric (Clapton). It was so obvious to me. It's like casting in a way.

Did you pick the song first and think who shall I get to sing it?

Well, that's hard to say.

Is it a bit like the chicken and the egg situation then?

Yeah, I think a little bit. It was a case of I really dig that tune….but then there was also a thought: who is somebody that understands where this shit is at? So if it hadn't been that tune it would have been something else that would have been inappropriate to the situation. Fortunately, it worked out, with the idea for the tune and who the person was to sing it.

You mentioned Eric Clapton. Of course, you've had a working relationship with him for some years now…

For a while now, which I am very grateful for. What can I say about him? He may not be the God, but he certainly is a God.

Phil Ramone produced the album. You and he also worked together many years before…

We go way back. He produced my second album.

What do you like about him as a producer?

Well, he knows his music for a start. Phil was really there from the beginning of modern recording, along with Tom Dowd and people like that. He understands musicians. Phil is not only a brilliant engineer, but he is also a great musician. He was a child prodigy violinist and he knows music. He was also Quincy Jones's roommate. So he knew Quincy and he started everything. Phil understands…and this may seem like a simple obvious thing…but he understands where to put the microphones and he understands how to make a live record and how to get the right sound out of the instruments. He also knows how to create an atmosphere in the studio that's conducive to spontaneous performance - certainly he seemed like an obvious choice because Phil understood the music and the history and the knowledge of where this music came from. And also he understood the technology, because he's right up-to-date. So he understood how to realise it.

Who did the arrangements on the album?

Gil Goldstein. They were based on Hank Crawford's arrangements - three of the songs - and one of them ('St. Louis Blues') was based on a Gil Evans arrangement. Two of them were based around Quincy Jones arrangements.

How do you approach a song like 'Basin Street Blues,' which belongs to another era and is so well-established in people's minds?

Well, Gil and I have a good relationship. We talked a lot about the music and we worked on the arrangements together. I can't take credit for that. They are really Gil's arrangements. They evolved out of a process of he and I working together. That's actually one of my favourites on the record because I just think he did an amazing job of updating that song in a way that kept the essence of the spirit of what that song's about.

Did you do that live in the studio?

Yes. It's all live in the studio.

On your last three or four albums you've gone back to play in an all-acoustic, live setting haven't you?

Yeah, just because I felt more connected to that process. What I wanted to get was not necessarily perfection but the idea of it and the arc and drama of it.

Tell me about the guitarist Derek Trucks who appears on 'Brother Ray'?

What an extraordinary musician he is. He's got such a great soul, you know, and he commits himself to the song. You don't ever get the feeling that he is anything less than 100 percent engaged in what he's doing. I find him extraordinary. I sat in with the Allman Brothers when they were in New York last year and just got a chance to play with him. You watch him play and he's deep into the music - you know, no distractions. He's just into it and totally fucking focused. And what he does and what comes out is so powerful and so connected to the moment. That's what you want.

You originally recorded 'Brother Ray' for your 1999 album 'Inside.' Why did you choose to revisit that song?

It fit really well with what this record was about. I wanted to have Derek on the record and I thought this would be a good song to revisit and do it a different way in this context, which is where I kind of always heard the song. I did it very differently with Marcus (Miller). It's Marcus's song but this is kind of always how I heard it - a little more earthy.

Label-wise, you've recently moved from Verve to Decca. What was the reason behind that?

Good question, which I don't really know the answer to. My contract with Verve was up and they seemed to be going in another direction that I wasn't going in. Chris Roberts from Decca made an offer. I like Chris a lot: he's passionate about music and he pretty much came to me and said whatever you decide to do, as long as you're committed to doing it I'll back you up. You can't ask more than that. So I was like well, okay, I couldn't put it better myself.

So did they give you carte blanche to do what you want?

Well, yeah, in a way.

Did you have restrictions imposed only by other record companies then?

No. I've been very lucky: right from the beginning I've always had relationships with whatever record company I've been with that allowed me to do pretty much whatever I want. Other people always have opinions and I always listen to them and if they seem valid to me and if they seem to be something that's helpful, I'll certainly take it under consideration. For better or for worse, the records I've done are the records I wanted to do. And as I look back there are some I'd say well, that doesn't really hold up very well…

Are there any records you wished you hadn't made?

No, I can't say that but there are some records…I mean look, every record I've done there are tunes that I think have been more successful and by successful I mean where I actually achieved what I set out to do. And there are other songs where they didn't really become what I originally envisioned. And I can only think of an example where what ended up coming out was exactly what I had intended. It was a tune called 'Snakes' from 'Upfront.' That's exactly how I meant it to sound and exactly how I wanted it to flow. I couldn't have done it better. That was exactly what I intended. Go beyond that, I don't really care what anybody else thought about it - as long as I can do what I set out to do. There are other tunes where they became something else that's not really what I intended. I can't make an objective judgment about a subjective fact. That's the only way I can evaluate any of my stuff.

Looking back over your career, what records are you most proud of?

I should say this one, right? (laughs) I like 'Another Hand,' I like that record.

That had Bill Frisell on it.

Yeah, Bill Frisell. After that, I like a good portion of 'Upfront.' I like a good portion of 'Closer' and 'Time Again.'

I love your version on there of the old Mel Tormé tune 'Coming Home Baby.'

Oh, that was Herbie Mann. That was the first time I heard it. Did Mel Tormé do that song?

Yeah, he had a hit with it in 1962.

Really? No kidding!

There's a great groove to that tune.

I always liked that and I tried to get that same vibe on it. I also liked 'Senor Blues' on 'Closer.' Those are tunes where I did what I set out to do. 'Coming Home Baby' is kind of like that too. That's what I meant to do.

I first became aware of you as a saxophone player when I bought the David Bowie record 'Young Americans' in 1975. What was it like working with Bowie?

I enjoyed working with Bowie. I really learned about presentation, 'cos there was as much theatre and thought about the performance as there was about the music and he didn't skimp on either one of those. It was full on. Thinking about my experience with him and a lot of people that I worked with I was just really impressed with how hard they all worked and how committed they were to what they were doing. Not that it should be any different but these people are hard workers. Like Stevie Wonder. Every day at the sound check he would have a new song. Every fucking day he had a new song. And Bowie was always involved with changing and writing stuff.

You went on tour with Bowie as well?

I was on tour with Bowie, yeah. I went on tour when he was touring the States behind the 'Diamond Dogs' record. So we did that one. It was a huge set, a giant set. I forget who designed the set but Jules Fisher did the lighting. It was a big production. The next time I went on tour was behind 'Young Americans.' There was no set. There was nothing on stage but just a big ramp, but it was all white and the music was completely different. We did that album in Philadelphia, at Philadelphia International - Gamble & Huff's studio.

Sigma Sound?

Sigma Sound, yeah. The band was Andy Newmark on drums, Willie Weeks on bass and Carlos Alomar on rhythm guitar, with Mike Garson on piano. And he (Bowie) basically said to me, 'you're like the lead guitar so you play the fills and play the solos.' So I did that function and was all over that record. I think that's where I got a lot of exposure - certainly in the pop world. He was very generous with me and I'm grateful for that. It was funny because at the same time I was working with him, I was working with (arranger) Gil Evans.

Quite a contrast of styles then.

Yeah, but not really, because it was all great music and it was all about the sound - the textures and the colours. One of my memories from that time was I played with Bowie at Madison Square Garden and I got on a plane that night - an overnight flight to Italy - and then got on a smaller plane to Perugia and played the next night with Gil Evans. So that was kind of what my life was, doing both of those things, and to me it was all great because I was doing so many interesting things.

Had you contemplated doing a solo career at that point?

Not really - and then It just seemed to be, well, I want to have a little more control over the context of what I play. And that's what it was for me: it was just a matter of well, I just want to set the agenda a little bit. I was doing okay as a sideman and I was making a living doing it. I wasn't really in the recording studios at all. The only people I recorded with were people that I was on the road with.

You recorded with James Brown in the early '70s. What was that experience like?

The time I spent with him in the studio wasn't very much but he was very cordial. I got into that situation because of David Matthews, who was his arranger at that time.

Were you a fan of Maceo Parker, who played with James?

A huge fan of Maceo Parker - and still am! He's an extraordinary musician.

What's been the highlight of your career?

Today (laughs). I don't know. I'll let you know when it happens (laughs). I mean I've had great moments but you know it's hard for me to single out one. What I just recounted to you was a great memory. Another one is when (saxophonist) Benny Carter was getting a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys. He asked me to come play with him. So it was he and I plus a bass player named Major Holly and Louis Bellson on drums. We played 'Just Friends.' That was a great moment. I also had a television show back in the early '90s called Night Music and I got to have different people on it, like my heroes. I got Hank Crawford on that show, David 'Fathead' Newman, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and I got a chance to play with all these people. That was great, I really enjoyed that.

This is probably a difficult question to answer but who is the greatest musician you've ever played with?

I don't rate people like that - this is the best or this is the second-best. They all have great qualities. I played with many great musicians - Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Gil Evans and Joni Mitchell. Everybody has greatness and even people whose names are not as well known as these, are great.

Recently, I was surprised find you appear on Guru's new 'Jazzamatazz' record.

Yeah I did that.

What was that experience like?

It was fun. They asked me to do that and they sent me the track and I said okay, that's interesting I'll do that. I also played on a record by a group called Ween.

Is your listening taste quite eclectic then?

Yes, very eclectic. The first thing that gets me is the sound. And then the content later - the genre means nothing to me. It's all about the sound of the record.

What was the first record you ever bought?

The first record I ever bought? Gosh! At my age, that's going back a long way (laughs). Well, the first record I remember buying was 'Honky Tonk' by Bill Doggett. But I also remember I was in what they call in America a 5 and 10 cents store, called Woolworths, and I bought an album called 'Rock and Roll,' and it was older rhythm and blues groups like The Orioles, and there was a group - I don't remember their name - but they were singing a song called 'Cherry Pie.' And I thought, oh that's great. I also remember buying Fats Domino records.

Were you drawn to R&B?

Yes I think I was, because that was kind of new, at least to me. My parents had a lot of records in the house: Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, so I heard that music from when I was a little kid. The first records I remember buying were those records. I also remember buying a Jimmy Dorsey record called 'So Rare.' So I ended up buying saxophone players and then records by Little Richard and Chuck Berry - they were great records.

You started out in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, didn't you?

That was my first professional show business gig.

How was that as an experience?

It was great. Paul was very generous to me. He gave me a lot of space to play. What was great about that band was that they had a lot of jazz musicians - actually, the drummer got me the gig, Philip Wilson, who was an old buddy of mine from St. Louis. In '67 I was out in San Francisco visiting friends and I ran into him on the street and he said I'm playing down at the Fillmore Ballroom with Butterfield - why don't you come down. I went down there, heard them and met the guys and then went down to LA. I was hanging around the studio and they asked me to play on the record and after that I joined the band. I conned my way into the band.

You played at Woodstock with them didn't you?

Yeah, I was at Woodstock.

How was that?

It was great but at that time I certainly didn't think of it as in any way historic - it was just another gig.

(As told to Charles Waring)

'Here & Now' is out now on Decca.

 

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