David Sanborn, Phillip Wilson and BAG

While alto saxophonist David Sanborn has made his reputation playing Pop-Funk on record and in the studios, his first association was Jazz. In this first person account for Ethan Iverson’s Do The M@th website, he recounts how hanging out in his St. Louis home town’s bohemian section as a teenager allowed him to play with and meet musicians who formed the nucleus of the city’s Black Artists Group (BAG). They included saxophonists Oliver Lake and Julius Hemphill, trumpeter Lester Bowie and especially drummer Phillip Wilson. Naturally gregarious, and someone who would “talk non-stop”, according to Sanborn, Wilson and he became fast friends and the older musician talked others into letting the younger player sit in on many straight-ahead and avant garde Jazz sessions. One Sanborn particularly remembers was the four gigs where “I was the third alto in a little Hemphill band with Lake, me, Phillip and a local bass player.” Later Wilson, who was playing with the Butterfield Blue Band which recorded his composition “Love March”, got Sanborn a job with that combo as well. As a drummer, Sanborn says that Wilson was a colorist with deep soul who “understood the pocket”, a trait best heard as he uses an odd-meter beat on Hemphill’s Dogon A.D. LP. Yet Wilson could also play in the Chicago blues style, the saxophonist adds. “He had a certain touch, kind of light like a Jazz drummer, but also heavier like Rock. He could be really solid but loose on top, sort of like young Tony Williams and Buddy Miles at the same time.”