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Candy Dulfer: Prodigy Turned Pro

Mikayla Gilbreath By

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Tomorrow, if somebody tells me that I'll never be able to make albums again, I wouldn't care. As long as I can play live, that's the most important thing.
It's an age-old question—What's the secret of success? For Candy Dulfer, arguably the most commercially successful female saxophonist ever, the answer seems to include first-rate musicianship combined with a healthy dose of stage presence. To those attending their first Candy Dulfer concert, she must seem somewhat of an enigma. When she first takes the stage, tall, blonde, and beautiful, Dulfer seems more fashion model than musician—until she starts to play. Her towering spontaneous solos immediately grab one's attention. Her aggressive and funky style may remind some listeners of the late R&B tenor saxophonist Junior Walker. And when playing something more soft and sensual Dulfer is equally impressive, exhibiting the lyrical delivery of a contemporary Lou Donaldson colored somewhat with the tonal quality of her long-time idol David Sanborn. Her warm and engaging manner on stage is clearly genuine and quickly charms audiences, making them feel more like friends than fans. And Dulfer consistently delivers a show that exceeds fans' expectations, an R&B/jazz tour de force. Her success comes as no surprise to her numerous fans worldwide.

But to more fully understand Candy Dulfer's extraordinary success one must also acknowledge her confidence and desire for excellence—qualities she began developing during her remarkable early childhood. Dulfer was born in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on September 19, 1969, in a home which was alive with jazz from day one. Candy Dulfer is the daughter of successful Dutch jazz saxophonist Hans Dulfer. "Somewhere between five and six years old, I asked my Dad if I could play his saxophone, just try it, for one note, just for fun. He let me, and that was the beginning of everything. I asked about playing a tenor and he said 'No, I've got something else for you.' And then he took the soprano out." The small horn seemed a good match for Dulfer's own size and, surprisingly, she seemed to be able to play it almost immediately. "But I was just bluffing of course," Dulfer admits. "I'd seen him play, so I knew how to hold the hands and how to act like a saxophonist. I didn't really know how to play. I blew on it and really liked it, but it was more the reaction from my Dad that really got me. He was like 'Wow!' because he heard me play a couple of notes right away. I noticed him having so much fun and I think I realized that it was a great way for us to bond."

Not long afterward, Dulfer's father provided her with an alto saxophone, the horn that has become her instrument of choice. But perhaps the most important thing Dulfer's father gave to her was the experience of being on stage at an early age. Dulfer states that she has never been afraid of the stage or performing before a large audience. "I stood on stage before I knew how to play the saxophone, so every time I'm on stage now I feel like I know so much! So that's why I never have stage fright."

During her earliest experiences on stage, Dulfer felt the constant protection of having her father nearby and she began to develop the confidence she now exudes. "You're standing next to your father, so you're not afraid of anything or anybody. My Dad always let me walk on stage if I wanted. For instance, I would grab a tambourine, or I would sing. Sometimes it could be 30 people on stage, so little kids thrown into the mix wouldn't make a difference. I was so young that I wasn't scared. It was just such a nice way to get acquainted with the stage. [Being on-stage] is still my biggest love! Tomorrow, if somebody tells me that I'll never be able to make albums again, I wouldn't care. As long as I can play live, that's the most important thing."

Dulfer's creativity was also encouraged early on. "In the week that I started playing, [my father] took me on the stage. I said 'Dad, what should I play?' He responded 'Aw, you'll think of something. Just get on there and play!' I'm really thankful to him for that because if you go on stage without knowing how to play, you'll never be fearful again."

But Dulfer did not enter the music scene assisted only by her father. With help from saxophonist and blues vocalist Rosa King, Dulfer played the North Sea Jazz Festival when she was just twelve years old! "Rosa King was a great lady, and she was a great blues singer. She was my 'fairy godmother.' [When] Rosa heard from my father that his little girl was playing saxophone, she said 'Well, let her come by and play.' I played one gig with her and she said 'Okay you can play with me on the North Sea Jazz Festival.'"

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