Brandon Sanders was born on February 20, 1971 in Kansas City, Kansas. When he was nearly two years old, his mother moved with him to Los Angeles. He spent his formative years in Compton, growing up in a musical household. His mom played the violin and his stepfather played the trombone. The sounds of jazz were a constant presence in his home. “Jazz music was always around," he says. “You know in my house, my stepdad, who I call my father, played the music, through the radio and his records.” During his teens, Brandon started compiling his own now-massive collection of jazz albums (which he numbers at more than 30,000!).
“I remember one time I was playing a record by Lou Donaldson and my grandmother said you know, Lou Donaldson played at my club. I was, like, amazed. I said, really? Are you kidding? She said yeah, I have pictures of him being there. My coming into playing drums and music came from my love for listening to the records that she played, you know, and that I played, and my dad played.”
A second major influence in his life was a social worker he met at the Boys and Girls Club in his neighborhood. He joined a program there in response to gang violence that left a lot of young people “in need of mentorship. I looked at the work she did and thought ‘Man, I want to do this too!’ I became a social worker because I like working with kids and teenagers. So now, I’ve been doing that since the late ’90s.”
And as if his life hasn’t been full enough with music and mentoring, he prizes his days as a basketball player and coach. After playing for Mount San Antonio, a junior college near Los Angeles, he enrolled at the behest of his grandmother—actually, she did the enrolling for him—at the University of Kansas. While studying communications there, he overcame serious odds (“no one knew who I was”) by becoming a walk-on practice player for the top-seeded team in the country. Among its players were future NBA stars Greg Ostertag and Rex Walters. He quickly gained a reputation as a dogged defender.
After getting his undergraduate degree in communications, he says, he saw an opportunity to apply for the Master’s program in social work at Kansas. He dedicated himself to that field, first in Kansas for many years and then in New York, where he worked in the public and charter school systems before landing his current job at the Master School in Dobbs Ferry (where, in addition to his job as full-time counselor, he coaches basketball and tennis).