David Sanchez: A Perfect Blend

In the courtyard of Hotel El Convento, a 16th century convent in old San Juan, Puerto Rico, tenor saxophonist David Sanchez feels at home.

"Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, you know, that's who I am. That's me. I remember when I used to come here, around this area. We used to walk all the way back through El Moro with the family, basically my mom and my sister and my brother..."

Sanchez, 29, now lives in New York, but he visits his parents in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico where he grew up, as often as possible. He is rooted here, not just in the music but in the language and rhythms of island life.

"To me, everything is rhythm. Because you are alive whenever they hear a heartbeat. This conversation, this dialogue, the beautiful dialogue has a rhythm also."

When he is not playing saxophone, there is hardly a moment when David's hands are not busy with panderas and bongos and claves - any percussion instrument he can find.

"I wanted to become a drummer, but [there were] too many drummers when I was 12. So they said 'sorry, you've got to pick another instrument.' I said, 'how about saxophone?' So I was practicing a little bit of saxophone and a lot of percussion."

Percussion is such an inspiration to him that its spirit permeates his playing and teaching.

Classically trained, David Sanchez began his journey into Latin jazz with help from pianist Eddie Palmieri, who nurtured him. To Sanchez: "Eddie's like - if you talk about Latin American music you have to mention Eddie's name because Eddie's like one of the innovators of the music. And I learned so much and at the same time it was a great exposure for me. He always has supported me and liked me a lot."

In an unusual duo performance at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, Sanchez and Palmieri delighted the audience.

Palmieri was delighted too: "I've only done this twice in my career. I went from Mr. Gil Henderson to this young Puerto Rican phenom, and he stood out from the beginning. And I respect him. The problem is that I happen to love him very, very much."

Eddie Palmieri hasn't been the only one to notice this young saxophonist and to showcase his talent.

The great trumpeter and bandleader Dizzy Gillespie invited him to join his United Nation orchestra. David Sanchez was Dizzy's last protégé, and one of the youngest.

"I was like 20, 21, you know," Sanchez says. "That's like, wow. But I was very quiet. You know, I didn't speak much. But I was just looking and observing all of that. I said, 'Wow, this music. It's about music. It's not about jazz, it's not about rock, it's not about funk, it's not about...rhumba. It's about music'."

Since Dizzy's death in 1993, the United Nation orchestra has carried on under the leadership of saxophonist Paquito De Rivera, who recognizes a kindred spirit i this young master.

To say David Sanchez is a Latin jazz player is just not enough. Whether he is performing with a big band, with a string orchestra, in Cuba with Chucho Valdez, or with his own quintet, Sanchez stands out with his personal blend of African, Caribbean, Brazilian, and American music.

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