David Sanborn – Only Everything
The genius is back with his new album Only Everything, scheduled for release on Decca, on January 26, 2010. “Among the great saxophonists of the past four decades,” says one Rolling Stone writer, “David Sanborn has earned an identity all his own. He’s jazz, he’s funk, he’s soul, he’s pop, he’s blues, he’s rock. Most remarkably, he excels in each of these genres with a voice that is both forceful and tender, sensuous and subtle.”
With Only Everything, the second of Sanborn’s homage to the aesthetic of Ray Charles, he revisits his roots with fresh perspective. The New York Times called David’s 2008 Here and Gone, the first of his tribute series, “a disarming delight.” He returns to this territory with renewed passion.
“If anyone would ask me what Ray—or Ray’s musicians—meant to me, my answer might be, `only everything,” says David. “As a concept, Only Everything, is about gratitude. I’m grateful not only for the musical life I’ve been able to live, but the original sources of inspiration that continue to inform and excite me fifty years after encountering them.”
The seminal encounter in the musical life of Sanborn happened in 1956 when he was 11.
“My dad took me to Kiel Auditorium,” he remembers, “an indoor arena that housed the St. Louis Hawks during the basketball season and, at other times, big band concerts. This was Ray’s little band, my first time to hear him in person. I already knew him from records like “I Got A Woman,” “Drown In My Own Tears” and “Night Time (Is the Right Time).” Those songs had fired my imagination. But his live performance transformed me. He sang with a passion I had never before experienced. Although they were pop hits, his songs were soaked in the blues. Beyond the authority of his voice and the spark of his electric piano, two additional forces from Ray’s world took hold of me and, to this day, have not let go. The first was Hank Crawford and the second was David `Fathead’ Newman, the band’s two star saxophonists. Hank and Fathead each had his own voice that, though distinct, was closely linked to Ray’s. It was the voice of pain, joy, release, and relief. Both Hank and Fathead had a mixture of deep-country blues, sanctified gospel, and big-city jazz. The message of this music came across like lightning—get a saxophone.”
Sanborn got a saxophone and a voice of his own. Along with a handful of other alto players in the history of the instrument—Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges, Earl Bostic, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Desmond—Sanborn’s sound is instantly recognizable. His musical voice is deeply human, a cry of both pain and celebration.
“When I make a record,” he explains, “I look for a core sound,” he explains, “and use it as a unifying source, the aural center of the record. On Only Everything, my producer Phil Ramone, who also produced Here and Gone, agreed that the sound was Joey DeFrancesco’s organ. For my money, Joey is the ruling monarch of the Hammond B3. His mastery of the instrument is complete. But more than a technically remarkable player, Joey has a feeling that’s unparalleled. No one grooves harder, yet no one relaxes deeper. While this is my first recording date with Joey, I’ve been teaming with Steve Gadd for years, a remarkable drummer who plays in service of the music. He colors his drum tones with subtlety, pushing us forward even as he lays back.”
Sanborn sees the first three songs on Only Everything as the definitive building blocks of the record.
“`The Peeper’ is my tribute to Hank Crawford,” he explains. “Hank wrote, recorded, and considered this his signature song. I was 17 when I heard `The Peeper’ on Hank’s From The Heart, an album I loved so much that I placed it under my pillow and took to bed. On his early solo sessions, Hank fronted Ray’s band but without Ray himself. The absence of a keyboard gave Hank a startling kind of presence. He jumped off the vinyl and played in your face. On Only Everything, I wanted to revisit that attitude with fresh ideas.”
“Only Everything,” a Sanborn original making its debut on record, feels like a timeless soul ballad from the fifties. “It’s dedicated to my first grandchild Genevieve,” says Sanborn. “I think of the song as something that might have been played by the masters who impacted me—gutsy like Lockjaw Davis and Gene Ammons. It’s blues-based, but then, again, I’m blues-based. I believe it was Mose Allison who said there are two kinds of songs–blues and everything else. For me, blues-based music is, once again, only everything.”
When asked about “Hard Times,” the song that famed producer Jerry Wexler called “Fathead Newman’s alto-articulated theme, a haunting anthem still being played at righteous blues bars throughout the land,” David breaks into a broad smile.
“I heard `Hard Times’ on a jukebox when I was 14,” says Sanborn, “It had just come out on Newman’s first album, Ray Charles Presents Fathead. I was stunned. When I listened to how Fathead told his story with such eloquence and grace, I knew that I would never to able to play anything so simple and yet complex. At that moment I realized I was listening to poetry.”
Sanborn has enjoyed a long succession of successful encounters with vocalists—from David Bowie to Linda Ronstadt to Little Jimmy Scott. Only Everything highlights two. The first is with Joss Stone whose salty reading of Ray Charles’ “Let the Good Times Roll” is riveting. The song was recorded in the forties by Louis Jordan, one of Charles’ heroes, but it is Charles’ version on the seminal The Genius Of Ray Charles that is considered definitive. Gil Goldstein’s arrangement echoes the one Quincy Jones wrote for the original Ray record in 1959.
“Joss is a young woman with an old soul,” says David. “She’s a force of nature who understands the primal power of soul music. This is our second meeting. On Here and Gone, she sang Ray’s `I Believe To My Soul,’ a dark song of murderous intensity. This time I wanted Joss to express the pure delight of Ray’s sensuous side. She did so brilliantly.”
Dizzy Gillespie once said that Ray’s ballad tempos are so slow you can walk around the block between beats. Sanborn assigns such a tempo to “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home,” a profound lament.
“Around the same time Ray was molding my understanding of music,” David remembers, “Miles also had a tremendous impact on me. I heard his Seven Steps To Heaven when I was a teenager. With Victor Feldman on piano, Miles did a version of `Baby Won’t You Please Come Home’ that cut through me like knife.”
In the fifties and early sixties, Miles was courageously embracing what some consider out-of-date songs and making them new. By discovering their emotional core, he reinvented them. In that regard, he and Ray shared a common genius for transforming the mundane to the miraculous. Sanborn does much with “You’ve Changed.”
“I associate the song with Little Jimmy Scott,” says David, “one of Ray’s favorite singers.”
In fact, Ray, who rarely produced any artist other than himself, produced Scott’s brilliant Falling In Love Is Wonderful album in 1962. Jimmy also sang a searing “For All We Know” on David’s 1995 Pearls album. The version of “You’ve Changed” that Sanborn references is from Scott’s little-known 1975 Savoy record Can’t We Begin Again. Like Jimmy, David is a balladeer of idiosyncratic angst.
“He doesn’t play the sax,” Scott once said about Sanborn, “he sings through the sax. Me and David, man, we relate to each other as singers.”
On the subject of singers, Miles Davis once said that James Taylor “sings like he’s blind.” The observation is especially apt in describing the Taylor/Sanborn rendition of Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah I Love Her So.”
“James told me that he performed it early in his career,” says David, “and sent me a simple demo of just voice and guitar. It was wonderfully relaxed, and I knew that’s the feel we had to keep in the studio. James kept the feel. He told the story—like he tells all his stories—with a warm naturalness that beats back the blues.”
It took Ray Charles some 30 years to record “Blues In the Night.” When he sang it in 1979 on an album entitled Ain’t It So, he said, “Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer were motherfuckers. When they came up with `Blues in the Night,’ they came up with one of the baddest blues ballads ever. I heard everyone do it from Woody Herman to Artie Shaw to Rosie Clooney. I always wanted to do it but it took me a long time to find a way to get under it. I finally figured out that it had to do with tempo. I needed to slow the shit down—way down.”
Sanborn figured out the same thing. His interpretation of the Arlen/Mercer motif, like all of Only Everything, is another passionate reexamination of the blues. And when David Sanborn reexamines the blues, he reignites his spirit, his source, his sense of wonder and mystery. With unrestrained heart and soul, he reinvents the music of which he is an indisputable master.
Source: Decca/Universal Music