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David Sancious: From Monk to Sting

David Sancious: From Monk to Sting
Luca Muchetti By

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David Sancious is one of the most sought-after and sophisticated sidemen in the world of popular music. He has collaborated with the likes of Sting and Peter Gabriel and has been a member of the original E-Street Band led by Bruce Springsteen, not to mention countless gigs with superstars such as Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton and Santana.

His love for jazz has never abandoned him—"It involves the ability to play in an ensemble, and at the same time it encourages total spontaneity and creativity"—as he puts it.

Despite his busy career as a multi-instrumentalist with many pop and rock artists, he has found the time to release several albums as a leader. Two more albums, in which he focuses on the keyboards and the guitar, should be coming out soon.

All About Jazz: You grew up studying classical music, but your debut as a professional musician took place in the Jersey Shore sound scene, between the late 1960s and 1970s. Can you tell us something about your influences as young musician? Some people see influences of Monk in your style from that period, but also of Mozart...

David Sancious: Both Thelonious Monk and Mozart were early influences for me so I think it's fair to say that the style is a combination of both. I consider that a great compliment.

AAJ: Do you remember which one was the first jazz record you bought? Or the first jazz musician you listened to?

DS: It's hard for me to remember the first Jazz record I purchased. I bought so many of them. One of the first Jazz musicians I listened to was probably Erroll Garner because he was one of my father's favorite pianists and he used to play his records a lot.

AAJ: How did you join Springsteen and his band?

DS: Bruce invited me to be in the band after we met at a jam session that lasted several hours at Asbury Park. I think he wanted me in the band because he was hoping to do something different than what he had been doing up to that point and he thought I could make a contribution to that.

AAJ: Looking back at those years, is there something in particular that you remember well, or that you miss today?

DS: I remember playing in Asbury Park in the summertime and the great atmosphere and the excitement of the fans that would come to those early shows.

AAJ: On The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, the second Springsteen album, two of your interventions stand out in particular: the fresh jazzy mood of "Kitty's Back," and the outstanding classical feeling of "NYC Serenade." Bruce would never be so "jazz" and "orchestral" in the following 40 years of career... Can you tell us how you worked on the arrangements of those two songs and Springsteen's reactions to your ideas?

DS: The arrangement for "Kitty's Back" came about fairly spontaneously. We just tried different keyboard instruments to see which one sounded best, and that's what we arrived at. The song sounds "jazzy" because Bruce wrote it that way. As far as "New York City Serenade" is concerned, it sounds classical because it's a very open, melodic, song and Bruce decided he wanted to have some violins on it. He asked me if I would write a string arrangement for it, and I did. It was the first time I've ever done that and it worked out beautifully.

AAJ: Your keyboard playing on the song "Born to Run..." represented a solemn farewell to the E-Street Band and to rock and roll music. It also marked the beginning of a new path together with your new band The Tone, whose first album was produced by Billy Cobham, and which then released three more albums that float somewhere between jazz and progressive. What were you searching for? What did the Springsteen-period represent for you, and what was the direction of that project compared to the very first part of your career?

DS: As far as the progression of my solo albums is concerned, I wasn't really searching for anything pre-determined. I was just following the natural progression of my talents and my interest at the time. The Springsteen period represents the foundation of my professional career and the association with one of the premier artists of our generation.

AAJ: The '80s seem to be your "wild years": you crossed every music genre playing with Aretha Franklin, Jack Bruce & Friends, Jon Anderson, Santana and three albums with Italian singer Zucchero. It was clear that your approach to music was cross-cutting and atypical, and it's interesting because you seem like a real jazz player but rarely play jazz in a "traditional way..." Can you describe how it feels to play in every kind of situation? Do you think that your versatility is the result of jazz's free nature?

DS: It is a privilege and also great fun to play different styles of music with different people. I do believe that the aesthetics of jazz work in any form of music. It involves the ability to play in an ensemble, and at the same time it encourages total spontaneity and creativity.

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