Remembering David Sanborn with Patty Peterson

On May 12th, 2024, the world lost a saxophone legend: Mr. David Sanborn.

David was a key leader in the development of the sound of contemporary jazz. Throughout his career, he won 6 Grammy® Awards, released nearly 30 albums, 8 of which went gold and 1 went platinum. He hosted at least 2 talk shows which allowed him to interview many of the great musicians that influenced his life and playing. The phrase “contemporary jazz” started in the late 60’s by artists such a Miles Davis and Tony Williams. By the mid-’70s, Sanborn became active in the popular jazz fusion scene by joining the Brecker Brothers Band where he became influenced by Michael Brecker. It was with the brothers that he recorded his first solo album, Taking Off, nowadays regarded as something of a jazz/funk classic. David’s edgy approach to music is what put him in the forefront of this new style of jazz.

On the news of his passing, Twin Cities keyboardist, and my brother, Ricky Peterson, took the time to reminisce about his years as musical director for David. Ricky was introduced to David through a legendary stream of connections, beginning with Ben Sidran. Ben and producer, Tommy LiPuma, were in New York with David and the subject came up of Sanborn needing a new keyboardist. Ben said, “I have just the guy for you.” Ricky, at that time, was a mainstay on many nightclub and recording studio sessions in his mid-twenties, and Ben was using him for his own recordings. The meeting happened, and the friendship began between David and Ricky, giving them 40 years together as collaborators, creating many recordings together in which Ricky helped to produce. They traveled the world together with a brand of sound that stimulated every audience that heard it. Gene Lake, Dean Brown, Hiram Bullock, Don Alias, Sonny Emory, Richard Patterson and Ton Barney were all in that first band and the creating that was going on was purely magical.

This was the sound that I heard in the early 1980’s while driving through the California mountains as my husband was moving out there. Sanborn was innovative, merging live musicians who played jazz with a groove. It was the perfect music for any car trip, and when I had the opportunity to see him along with my brother, live at one of the wineries in the mountains of California, I knew this was the music of my soul. The merging of jazz and R&B creating contemporary jazz.

The Playroom on Jazz88 was born because of that authentic music I witnessed. Real musicians, with real stories to tell, within the framework of of a song, creating as they went. It was exciting to say the least. Then to think I could witness it up close as Ricky played keyboards with this jazz great. Now, that was a dream come true.

Our family had many wonderful times with David. The amount of photos I have with him and my little kids are great. We are all walking down memory lane in the Peterson family this week. In 2018, I interviewed David for an upcoming show he was doing at the Dakota. He was to going to re-embrace his jazz roots with a new band: Geofrey Keezer (keys), Michael Dease (trombone ) James Genus (bass), and Jeff Watts (drums). More acoustic, but doing the music of Michael Brecker, and even some of his own pieces with a jazz feel.

The interview is one that I will play parts of on Sunday’s Playroom (May 19), and in it, you will get a glimpse of who he played with, how he showed up in the right place/right time, and what music he took from to become the legend he was and always will be. His greatest joy was playing “in the moment” with the musicians he hand selected through the years. That was the gift that kept on giving–where you were your authentic self and you are having a very musically authentic conversation with who you were sharing the the stage with. The beautiful thing was, the audience got to witness this creativity, and I for one was changed forever.

My brother, Ricky Peterson, left me with this last night: “I have been reeling with memories of our many wonderful times together. Some tough ones too. The day he died, I had called him to check in, only to find out the minute I hung up that he had passed. As I moved through my day, what kept coming back to me was the sheer gratitude for the many conversations we had together, on stage, in the recording studio, and in life. I will be forever grateful.”

And so will I. Thank you, David Sanborn, for your years of friendship, love, music, and the sheer reminder that, as musicians, we do what we do “because we have to.”

Rest easy, David. And now, cue the music for David’s “The Dream.”

Love and blessings to his wife, Alice Soyer, his children and grandchildren, and to his many musical colleagues and friends. I am so thankful that I was lucky enough to call you my friend.

Patty Peterson, host of The Playroom on Jazz88

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