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David Sanborn: A Sax Man's Soul Roots

The music of Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Paul Simon, James Brown, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones all has a similar tone running throughout. It's no coincidence that saxophonist David Sanborn has played with all of them.

Sanborn's alto sax has a distinctive tone, even as it crosses genres. Sanborn is most often identified as a jazz musician, but he doesn't call himself one.

"I guess if push comes to shove, I would describe myself as coming out of the blues/R&B side of the spectrum," Sanborn says. "But I mean, if you play the saxophone, you certainly can't escape the influence of jazz. ... Also, I have a great respect for the idiom [of jazz], and I don't feel that my vocabulary is as strong as some of the other players who operate in the idiom."

Sanborn has a new album out that's close to his roots — and to his heart. He recently spoke with Scott Simon about Here & Gone, a tribute to the music of Ray Charles and his arranger, saxophonist Hank Crawford.

"Hank just had this great quality to his playing," Sanborn says. "It was just elegance and simplicity — it was such a direct emotional thing. He seemed to be the instrumental side of what Ray was doing vocally. That music was everything to me: It kind of combined jazz, gospel and rhythm and blues. It wasn't any one of those things, but it was all of them kind of mixed together. And that, to me is, like, kind of the essence of American music."

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