By Kharisma McIlwaine
Puerto Rican native David Sánchez is recognized as one of the greatest tenor saxophonists in the world. A mentee of Dizzy Gillespie and member of the SFJAZZ Collective, Sánchez is known for exploring and combining his Latin heritage, Pan African influences, and the fundamentals of jazz in his music compositions.
The six-time Grammy and Latin Grammy award-winning saxophonist continues to highlight the complexities of jazz with his latest album “Carib.”
“Carib” pays homage to the relationship between West African drum rhythms of Calinda, Sika and Yuba, the music of Caribbean nations like Haiti, Carriacou, and the Dominican Republic, as well as the quintessential jazz music of the Black American south. As part of the 2022-2023 jazz series, Sánchez will perform pieces for “Carib” during a one-night only performance at the Kimmel Cultural Campus’s Perelman Theater. Sánchez spoke to the SUN about creating “Carib” and the stories he wants his music to tell with this contemporary Pan-African ode to jazz.
Sánchez’s love for music started at home with the eclectic musical taste of his parents. The music of Tito Rodriguez, Billy Eckstine and Nat King Cole was the soundtrack of his childhood home in Puerto Rico. His older brother’s love for percussions sparked his interest in rhythm.
“My brother had percussion instruments in the house — drums, congas, bongos — and my sister played the guitar, which took things to the next level,” Sánchez said. “I was already exposed because of the music going on in the home. Then when you have the instruments, too, and you’re, like seven, you’re going to mess around with the instruments. That’s what really got me going. I didn’t know I was going to become a musician, but I have to say that was definitely fundamental.”
Sánchez’s musical gifts became evident pretty quickly. He attended the performing arts school Escuela Libre de Música in Puerto Rico where he discovered the saxophone. The rest is history.
“I started there when I was 12 intending to become a drummer and percussionist,” he said. “I took a test and passed everything, but unfortunately, the downside was that there were too many percussionists that particular year and they asked me to choose another instrument. That’s how I ended up with the saxophone. I decided to do music when I was like 15 or so. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the first time that I heard jazz, but for whatever reason this particular time, I really did listen and I received it in a different way. It was key, because then it really became an obsession. That’s when I felt like I really want to do this.”
Sánchez continued to hone his craft, working with a variety of musicians and bands including some of his biggest musical influences — Rafael Cortijo Y Su Combo Con Ismael Rivera in Puerto Rico and Eddie Palmieri in America.
“One of the greatest experiences I had once I moved to The United States, was working with Eddie Palmieri. He’s one of the most iconic artists that we have period,” Sánchez said. “He has all of these influences, this flow and this cadence that came from the Caribbean while absorbing influences from Thelonious Monk and McCoy Tyler– it was a fusion. It helped me understand I needed to be rooted in the music of where I come from. The key rhythms of most men from Puerto Rico — whatever I do, those elements needed to be there. I felt like that was the direction… this is what I have to offer. This is how I can be true to myself and honest in what I’m trying to give.”
Later, Sanchez worked with and was mentored by the legendary Dizzy Gillespie.
“It’s funny so much has happened when I reflect and go back,” he said. “There are the recordings and playing with Dizzy Gillespie after Eddie while being so young. This was information that really helped me to lay the ground for what I was going to offer. It’s been a long journey, and yet it feels like I just started.”
Sánchez’s music is a reflection of the blend of the wide range of musical influences that are found within the music of the Caribbean and the African diaspora. All of those elements are present in “Carib.”
“The album “Carib” was something else,” he said. “It was an experience that I felt that I needed to express with a mixture of the music from Haiti, Afro-Puerto Rican music, congo… the fusion of that with jazz, the African American tradition as the backbone. Putting that recording together felt like I was at the beginning. It took me two or three years of just digesting, listening and reading. I listened a lot to my old CDs. I started with music from Haiti. I’m starting to discover things now that I’m looking at things with different eyes and ears even with music that I’m supposed to be familiar with. I realized I still have more stories to tell.”
Audiences can look forward to taking an incredible musical journey with “Carib,” which Sánchez is excited to share during his one-night-only performance at the Kimmel Cultural Campus’s Perelman Theatre.
“I’m going to be doing the material from the “Carib” album and other stuff, too, but mainly the focus will be that. I’m really looking forward because I always love going to Philly and I love the Kimmel Center.” Sánchez said. “It also feels special, because this particular band is not exactly the one on the recording. Pretty much we’ve been really consistent with personnel. In this one, I’m bringing Ricky Rodriguez from the recording, Jhan Lee Aponte on percussion and Mark Schwartz on Haitian percussion. For instance, Osmany Paredes, an incredible pianist from Cuba — we’ve never played together. This is our opportunity for us to do that, and I feel like there’s a strong connection there. Also, we have Tony Escapa on drums. We already play his music in Bogatá and Ecuador. I’m really looking forward!”
Knowing the power of music and its ability to help us escape the heaviness that life can sometimes bring, Sánchez shared his hope for audiences.
“Honestly, I hope people close their eyes and they can go on a trip,” he said. “It’s almost like you are getting a massage. You lay on that table and then your thoughts disappear, and you just go on a journey. Take it and feel it however they want to take it… that’s what I would love for people to do. I want the music to take them out of their routines and things that we always have in our heads for whatever length that we’re playing and take them with us.”
To keep up with David Sánchez and his incredible work, visit his website at: www.davidsanchezmusic.com and follow him on Instagram @davidsanchezmusic and @davidsanchezone on Twitter. Sánchez will be performing at The Kimmel Cultural Campus’s Perelman Theater on February 18 at 8 p.m. For more details on tickets and showtimes, visit: www.kimmelculturalcampus.org.
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