These days, it’s a rarity to catch David Sanborn in concert at an intimate jazz club. But that’s exactly what happened at Jazz at the Bistro on August 16 and 17th when the 65-year-old alto sax legend returned home to play four sold-out sets at the 150-seat venue in the heart of the Grand Center entertainment district in St. Louis.
Joey DeFrancesco and David Sanborn in performance at Jazz at the Bistro
Sanborn usually tours and performs at major theaters and festival events these days—often in the company of a full band complete with horn section. But starting in Europe in July, Sanborn has been on the road in a trio setting with organ player Joey DeFrancesco and a drummer. Steve Gadd played drums on Sanborn’s European dates, and Byron Landham is handling the percussion for the current American tour performances—including the sets at Jazz at the Bistro.
Although Sanborn and the group opened the first Bistro set on the 17th with “Comin’ Home Baby” from his 2003 album, TimeAgain, the emphasis throughout was primarily on Sanborn’s last two recordings: 2008’s Here & Gone, and Only Everything, released early this year.
From the opening notes and throughout the 90-minute set, it was clear that Sanborn relished the opportunity to work in the smaller club setting. His distinctive gritty, soulful sax sound synched easily with the rich B-3 organ sound of DeFrancesco. And the Philadelphia area keyboard powerhouse added deft bass lines that meshed well with longtime compatriot Landham on percussion. Throughout the set, the duo of DeFrancesco and Landham were there to support every twist and turn of Sanborn’s driving energetic solos on tunes such as Hank Crawford’s “The Peeper” and the funky tribute to the legendary Ray Charles—“Brother Ray.”
Sanborn’s grew up in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, honing his sax sound by sitting in with the likes of the late blues guitarist Albert King, vocalist/guitarist Little Milton and a host of other R&B and blues musicians from the metro area. Sanborn then moved to Chicago to attend Northwestern University, where he became a regular on the Windy City music scene, eventually joining the Butterfield Blues Band before beginning his career as a leader several years later.
So it was no surprise that Sanborn’s most recent recordings have highlighted his R&B and blues roots, with a special focus on the major influence on his sound by both Crawford and David “Fathead” Newman, key linchpins in the shaping of Ray Charles’ soulful groove.
In the organ trio setting, Sanborn had plenty of room to solo, and he took full advantage of the opportunity to dig in and fully explore the full range of sounds in his repertoire. But Sanborn always seemed to find the right balance in terms of improvisation and concise statement – never playing too much, and leaving the audience hungry for the next solo.
Sanborn was also generous with solo turns for DeFrancesco, letting him shine on numerous keyboard solos throughout the set. The multi-talented DeFrancesco switched to trumpet during “Only Everything” (which Sanborn wrote and dedicated to his first grandchild), and added appropriately gruff vocals to classic blues standards like “Let the Good Times Roll” and “Baby, I’ve Got News for You.”
It was clear that all three musicians were enjoying themselves enormously throughout the evening, and the energy they created on stage was certainly appreciated by the capacity crowd.
It was a rare opportunity to hear Sanborn in such an intimate setting, and the homecoming atmosphere that included family and friends in the audience (including Sanborn’s 91-year-old mother on opening night) clearly added an extra layer of meaning to the music.
For a list of upcoming performances by Sanborn, DeFrancesco and Landham, check out Sanborn’s web site.