David Sanborn and his 5-member Electric Band performed October 27, 2017 at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines, and for over 90 minutes the venue buzzed with the innovative jazz vibes the alto sax legend is known for. Sanborn’s easy rapport with the audience and impressive solos by all members of the band made this a memorable concert.
This was the second program in the Des Moines Civic Music Association‘s 2017-18 season. The theater at Hoyt Sherman Place is ornate and intimate, reflecting the building’s 1877 vintage. Valet parking is available for $12 fee, which is well worth the cost on cold nights or if you don’t want to hunt for street parking, but I lucked up on a parking spot very close to the side doors. An usher led me all the way to my seat, and as a new subscriber to the Civic Music Association, I was pleased to discover I was on the 3rd row of the main seating section which gave me a close-up view of the stage.
Dr. James Romain, Professor of Saxophone and Assistant Director of Jazz Studies at Drake University, gave a preconcert talk beginning 30 minutes prior to showtime. His talk included music clips of Sanborn’s most famous compositions and solos. With 24 albums and 6 Grammy Awards to his credit and a solo performance history spanning from the 1970s, David Sanborn is constantly refreshing his approach to jazz.
Civic Music Association Board president Jeff Kane introduced the group and described how Sanborn had given a Masterclass for area collegiate (and one high schooler) saxophone students that afternoon. When he asked who in the audience had heard Sanborn play before, many people had been to over 5 concerts and one enthusiastic man on the front row shouted that he’d attended 14 or 15 performances.
The rest of the band then filtered onto the stage and immediately began performing “Another Hand” followed without a break with the familiar melodies of “Maputo.”
Note: selections played were not listed in the program, so I tried to write all the titles down during the concert as they were announced by Sanborn from the stage. It’s quite possible that I made some mistakes or omissions.
Here’s a live version of “Maputo” at the 2015 John Coltrane Jazz Festival:
Sanborn then introduced the members of the band:
Andy Ezrin on keyboards
Billy Kilson on drums
Andre Berry on bass
Nicky Moroch on guitar
Ramon Yslas on percussion
Sanborn chatted with the audience between tunes, saying how he enjoyed coming back to the Midwest as he grew up in St. Louis and even studied for a time at the University of Iowa under the late J. R. Monterose. He was silent for a moment and then said he was lost in reverie, thinking about those days, and he also shared that his wife was from Iowa. In the next breath he revised that statement to say he was talking about his first wife, which brought a round of laughter from the audience.
Sanborn’s fluid alto saxophone playing was, of course, the focus of every piece. Perched on a stool during most of the concert, Sanborn’s mesmerizing and flawless performance infused his personal jazz style into each song. I was amazed and thankful that he continues to perform and tour, sharing his talent with audiences in the Midwest and the world.
Sanborn didn’t hog the limelight, though, as the other musicians treated the audience to fantastic long solos. Here is Andy Ezrin standing up during an impassioned keyboard solo in “Maputo”:
Andre Berry thrilled the audience with his energetic bass solo in “Run for Cover” in which he kneeled, jumped, and bounced all over the stage.
Nicky Moroch’s guitar expertise was on display in “Spanish Joint.”
Other tunes included “Camel Island” as well as a great drum and percussion solo section featuring Ramon Ysles playing a cajon, a box-shaped percussion instrument which the performer sits astride the box and slaps it with his/her hands or drumsticks. (I had no idea what this box was called until I looked it up after the performance!) Billy Gilson followed with his own innovative solo on drumset.
The band played for over 90 minutes without an intermission, and when the last piece came to an end, the audience jumped to its feet. As the standing ovation continued, Sanborn said to pretend the band had all left the stage and come back on to play an encore. This last familiar piece was “The Dream” and it made for a perfect ending to this electrifying concert.
Here’s hoping that David Sanborn continues to return annually to Iowa. Personally, I’m planning to study his tour schedule to see if I can catch him performing at a jazz festival or other venue in 2018.