Music Interview: Offering up some fine sax

By Paul Jarvey

Since the age of 12 David Sanchez has been turning heads and touching hearts with music cast from snapshots of life. From Puerto Rico to New York and across the world, the TD Canada Trust Calgary Jazz Festival is the next stop for this nomad and his saxophone.

From an early start in his home town of Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, Sanchez followed his studies at San Juan’s prestigious Escuela Libre de Musica with a stay at Rutgers and an early adventure into New York’s Jazz scene. Gigging with pianist Eddie Palmier and saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, Sanchez’s talent attracted the attention of Dizzy Gillespie, who invited him to join his United Nations Orchestra in 1991.

“I always miss New York. Everything is alive, always,” explains Sanchez. “Being chosen for the United Nations Orchestra was an unbelievable experience. Dizzy is a natural teacher. He would sit down with me to explain anything, chord structure, melodies, history, life. I have learned so much.”

Sanchez’s most recent release, Coral, is a collaborative tribute to both his acclaimed ability and to some of Latin America’s most influential and successful composers. Recorded in the Czech Republic with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, David plays alongside Miguel Zenón, pianist Edsel Gomez, bassists John Benitez and Ben Street, drummer Adam Cruz, and percussionist Pernell Saturnino.

“We chose Prague for the musicians–for whatever reason Eastern Europe, all of Europe, contains many, many talented musicians,” says Sanchez. “They live in a society that values culture so much more. The result is that there’s enough money around to do projects like this. It would never have been possible in America.”

Miguel Zenón stands out in particular amongst the talent pulling Sanchez’s creation forward. Together the two saxophonists elevate each other, resulting in a sound beyond their individual talents.

“We met through our music,” Sanchez explains. “Miguel’s dedication to his playing is phenomenal, and we play together very well. People have told us over and over that we sync perfectly. He knew my pieces by heart when we started playing together and his own compositions just fit.”

A rich exploration of bebop, French impressionism, and Sanchez’s Afro-Latin influences pervades Coral, bringing it well into the realm of contemporary jazz despite its heavy appeal to more traditional arrangements and composers. Featured are pieces written by renowned Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and Argentina’s Alberto Ginastera, in addition to two classically-inspired works by bossa nova legend Antonio Carlos Jobim.

The album’s warm reception from critics worldwide recently culminated in a Grammy nomination for best large jazz ensemble album. Coral’s success is not without precedent, his previous albums Maleza, and Obsesión both garnered Grammy nominations, and his more recent 2002 release Travesía is considered a high-water mark in the musings of respected critics and cognoscenti from Japan to San Juan.

Besides his anticipated performance, Sanchez will also host a free workshop at the Cantos Foundation on Mon., June 20 offering an opportunity to hear him outside a concert setting.

“What matters is expression, making something that is important, to you, to anyone,” Sanchez remarks. “How the world sees it is not important. Everything that happens is part of this. Music is a snapshot of life, what you are feeling, what has happened. It’s about letting what you are become your art.”

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