Few saxophonists in jazz are as immediately recognizable as David Sanborn, thanks in large part to his contributions to hits by David Bowie, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan and dozens more. Sanborn's roots are in the bluesy end of jazz, particularly in the music of Ray Charles's band - saxophonist Hank Crawford is a seminal influence - and in organ combos. That's the sound his latest album, Only Everything, evoked through a trio featuring Sanborn on alto, Joey DeFrancesco on organ and Steve Gadd on drums.
How did you hook up with Joey DeFrancesco?
I grew up playing in organ groups, so it was always very close to my heart, and the keyboard players in all my bands have always played [Hammond B3 organ] That was always the core of the music. And with somebody like Joey, who's such a powerful player, that's really what changes the equation.
DeFrancesco covers both bass and keyboard roles. How does that affect the music?
Well, it's more agile, because there's fewer guys. I mean, music either swings or it doesn't, and Joey's just got that thing. Even when he's just playing bass, with his left hand or pedals, that music is smokin'! He's got such a great feel, and that's something that you can't learn. It's just innate in a player.
On the new album, even with just the organ trio, the feel struck me as being very Basie.
Yes. Well, those guys in the Ray Charles band patterned themselves after the [Count]Basie band. So they were writing arrangements that were very much like reductions of Basie arrangements, because they worked with five horns instead of 15. But the feel is absolutely that kind of shuffle.
Is working with this group as much fun as it sounds?
Oh, yeah. It's the most fun I've had in years. It's so liberating, you know, to play with just three guys, because you have so much flexibility with where you take the music. And with somebody like Joey, who's such an extraordinary musician, it's great.
The David Sanborn Trio plays the Toronto Jazz Festival on Sunday at Koerner Hall. Other festival headliners include Herbie Hancock, Saturday; Harry Connick, Jr. and Orchestra, Sunday; Taj Mahal, Sunday; Stanley Clarke, June 28; Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, June 30; and Mavis Staples, June 30.
This interview has been condensed and edited.