The only thing drummer Brandon Sanders
has to prove on Compton’s Finest
, set for an August 25 release on Savant Records, is his musicality. Making his recording debut at the age of 52, Sanders is past the youthful need for flashy pomp and circumstance. He instead focuses on serving the material—and supporting an ace roster of bandmates that includes vibraphonist Warren Wolf
, tenor saxophonist Chris Lewis
, pianist Keith Brown
, and bassist Eric Wheeler
—with taste and maturity.
Though he’s only now recording his first album, Sanders has been playing drums for the better part of three decades. Thus this “arrival” finds him already brimming with both competence and confidence. His subtle but unmistakable touch on the kit is the result of, in Sanders’s own words, years of “practicing, practicing, trying to develop my craft.”
Based in New York (where he works as a social worker as well as a musician), Sanders grew up in Compton, California—the famously troubled Los Angeles suburb. The title of the album (and its eponymous second track) are in the spirit of celebrating rather than denigrating the drummer’s hometown.
“I wanted to show that there is a positivity in Compton,” Sanders says, “that people have come out of there and done positive things.”
He couldn’t have provided a better example than Compton’s Finest
. Between the lively, genial readings of the standards “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” and “Monk’s Dream,” the melodic soul of Sanders’s two originals “Compton’s Finest” and “SJB,” or the masterful vocals from special guest Jazzmeia Horn on Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It” and Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” Sanders’s maiden voyage on record is a serious accomplishment.
Part of that accomplishment, of course, is his selection of an ideal supporting cast. Wolf has been a friend of Sanders’s going back to their days together at Berklee College of Music; Horn is another friend of years’ standing; and Lewis, Brown, and Wheeler are three of the most exciting and in-demand talents in New York, for reasons that are clear when you hear them on the album. Not to be left out is Willie Jones III
, Sanders’s fellow drummer and Angeleno, who served as producer.
“I am proud to work with Brandon,” Jones says. “He has instincts like a DJ and understands the pace of the recording must function like a live performance. As a musician and a bandleader, Brandon is intuitive and knows how to support the band.” As Compton’s Finest
shows, he knows a lot more than that.
Brandon Sanders had the stars aligned for a life in jazz. Born February 20, 1971, in Kansas City
, Kansas to a violinist mother and a trombonist father, he moved to Los Angeles as a toddler but came back every summer to visit his grandmother, who operated a renowned jazz club in Kansas City. By his teen years he was obsessed with the music.
However, it wasn’t initially his life’s plan. Sanders earned degrees in communication and social work from the University of Kansas (where he was also a walk-on practice player for the basketball team) and laid the groundwork for a long and successful career as a social worker. It wasn’t until he was 25 that he began learning to play the drums. Yet he threw himself into it, to the point that he went back to school at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music.
Moving to New York in 2004, Sanders soon found himself a regular participant in the city’s busy jazz scene, creating a formidable reputation while working with the likes of Joe Lovano, Jeremy Pelt, and Esperanza Spalding. It was his old friend Warren Wolf who urged Sanders to record an album, encouragement that has now at last borne fruit as Compton’s Finest
“As a kid I was introduced to everyone from James Brown
, John Coltrane
, and Sarah Vaughan
to Stevie Wonder}} and Duke Ellington
,” says Sanders. “These artists were constantly played on my mother and father’s turntable. My new album is a reflection of all the joys I experienced growing up listening to that music.”