Music News & Reviews

At 70, David Sanborn lives in the moment

The David Sanborn Electric Band will play The Carolina Theatre Friday.
The David Sanborn Electric Band will play The Carolina Theatre Friday.

Even though the man is now 70, saxophonist and jazz great David Sanborn doesn’t stop to marvel at how long he’s been in the music game. (This year marks the 40th anniversary of his debut album, “Taking Off.”) Nor does he ponder how long he can keep on performing and making music. He appears to always live in the moment.

“It’s just been a process, and unless somebody calls my attention to it, I don’t really think about it,” says the Tampa-born Sanborn, on the phone from his New York home, referring to his career. “I mean, unless somebody brings my attention to it, it’s just one day and, then, the next day and, then, you just kind of do what seems to be the next right thing, based on your instinct and whatever other courses might be influencing you at the particular moment.”

Once in a while, Sanborn should really take a minute to reflect on how much he’s done: winning six Grammys, landing six gold albums and one platinum album and working with a gallery of artists as a sideman and session musician. Sanborn has collaborated with many of his contemporaries, including Bob James, George Benson and Hubert Laws. But he’s also worked with such pop icons as Stevie Wonder, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen, adding his horn to their most classic albums.

Fans of late-night television may also be aware of Sanborn for his years as a guest performer on “Late Night with David Letterman.” He would often appear at the end of every week, jamming with Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band. “I always enjoyed doing it,” he says. “I mean, they treated me extraordinarily well. Dave was always very gracious to me.” He continued to perform with the band when Letterman moved from NBC to CBS in the early ’90s and right up until Letterman retired earlier this year. “It wasn’t the last show, but within the last, I think, five or six shows,” he recalls about his last appearance.

Also this year, Sanborn released “Time and the River,” his 25th album. With longtime friend and collaborator Marcus Miller producing the album, Sanborn and his players perform an interesting selection of tunes, ranging from John Legend’s “Ordinary People” to D’Angelo’s “Spanish Joint” to “The Windmills of Your Mind” from “The Thomas Crown Affair,” often spicing them up with exotic, uptempo flair.

Don’t ask Sanborn if there was a general theme or mood he was trying to create. He and Miller just got together and played it by ear, both literally and figuratively. “It’s a hard thing to articulate,” he says. “You kind of get a sense in your mind of whatever the vibe of a record is – you know, the kind of sound that you want. I wish I could describe in words what that would be. … I would be hard-pressed to pick one word that would describe the mood or the sound of this record. I can tell you what the elements were, but the overall fact is that was it. But, in terms of describing it, it would be tough for me.”

Sanborn most likely will perform those tunes with his quintet Friday at the Carolina Theatre in Durham. Sanborn says he wants his audiences to know he tries to play with as much honesty and passion as he can – and also, of course, to be in the moment with him.


Who: David Sanborn Electric Band

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: The Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St., Durham

Cost: $36-$56

Info: 919-560-3030;