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David Sanborn: Stick Out Your Tongue


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It was a Sunday afternoon to remember for all of us. It was a most special day for a myriad of reasons. Multi Grammy award winning saxophonist David Sanborn was at the heart of it all.

A big part of the story involves a little boy. An eleven year old named Isaac who plays the saxophone and idolizes Sanborn. He, not surprisingly, was elated to learn that he, along with his mom and my wife and I, was going to see Sanborn live. This was an opportunity not only to see his favorite player but also his first big time concert of any sort.

Another big piece of the great day puzzle was that it was a benefit show. Rotary International continued their stalwart community service efforts with an End Polio Now campaign. The fundraising concert was held at the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach. Now widely under control, polio is still an issue at the forefront. The disease continues to spread in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. The Rotary campaign seeks to eradicate polio worldwide by sponsoring immunizations for children in that part of the world.

Sanborn spent part of his childhood in an iron lung due to polio. This was back in the 1950's just prior to Dr. Jonas Salk discovering the first successful polio vaccine. Being stricken with polio led directly to Sanborn becoming a saxophonist. His doctors urged him to take it up as a method of building up his lungs. In that regard the rest, as they say, is history!

I had managed to wangle the four of us attending the show on to the guest list for a meet and greet with Sanborn after the concert. We made the executive decision to not tell Isaac about this until after the show. We wanted him to be able to relax and enjoy the music without the nervousness and excitement of what was to come later. As it turns out we definitely made the right call.

Having seen Sanborn perform many times before with the likes of Marcus Miller, Omar Hakim, and the late Hiram Bullock I knew just how formidable his shows can be. If there was any concern of phoning in a benefit show that was quickly put to rest. Sanborn and his band took advantage of the crisp acoustics of the beautiful and intimate theater. Andre Berry on bass, Chris Coleman on drums, Ramon Yslas on percussion, Mark Stephens on keys, and Dwight Sills on guitar rounded out a tight, funky, and energetic ensemble. Berry and Coleman provided a spot on rhythm section as a springboard for Sanborn. Yslas got about as much out of a percussion kit as I have ever seen or heard. His dynamics on "Maputo" (A mesmerizing Miller penned tune from the stellar 1986 Bob James/Sanborn album Double Vision) alone were almost unbelievable. Stephens shined through this performance as well. But of course it was Sanborn who brilliantly poured his emotions into every note. It was simply a superb afternoon of jazz.

After the show we lingered in the lobby waiting for Sanborn to come out for the meet and greet. Within about five minutes the majority of the crowd had exited the building. Isaac was starting to get antsy and wondering why we weren't doing the same. We kept stalling as we looked at different memorabilia in the lobby and said we wanted to let the traffic clear. "I'm hungry mom," Isaac said, "let's go get something to eat." We stalled for a couple more minutes and then it was time to tell him what was about to happen. Isaac became so excited he could hardly contain himself! Fortunately it was only about two minutes later that Sanborn walked out. Isaac was the only child at the concert and certainly at the meet and greet. Fortunes shined again as we were immediately escorted over to Sanborn. He was delighted to meet the young saxophonist. He could see how nervous Isaac was so he warmly hugged him. Overwhelmed in the moment Isaac started to cry. These were tears of joy and tears of nerves. The jazz legend knew just how to handle it. He said to Isaac, "The best way to overcome nervousness is to stick out your tongue." Out came Sanborn's tongue and out came a gloriously happy smile from Isaac. There were people waiting to meet Sanborn who were welling up at this heartfelt moment. He then encouragingly told the budding saxophonist that, "Someday I will be backing you up!"

With a line of people waiting behind us we each took just a brief moment to meet Sanborn. Alma, Isaac's mom, took the opportunity to profusely thank the jazz icon for his thoughtfulness and kindness towards her son. My wife, Ronda, was able to share that his song "The Dream" (from the album A Change of Heart) had been our selection for the first dance at our wedding. I brought up As We Speak. This is my favorite Sanborn album and I already knew that it is his favorite as well. I mentioned the song "Rain On Christmas." This elicited a genuine smile of appreciation and the wistful remembrance, "I wrote that song on a rainy Christmas morning while looking out my front window in Malibu."

In the end it was a magical day that an adorable young boy will forever cherish. Sanborn wasn't wearing a cape that day, but nonetheless was very much a superhero.

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