Thursday, September 3, 2015

Chicago sax player Sam Burckhardt releases new CD, will play at Green Mill


From playing with legendary musicians like Sunnyland Slim to being a founder member of the Mighty Blue Kings, Chicago sax player Sam Burckhardt has had an enduring influence on the Chicago music scene.

In celebration of his latest release, "Fly Over," Burckhardt and his group will perform Sept. 4 and Sept. 5 at The Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway Ave., Chicago. The Sam Burckhardt Quintet will perform from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sept. 4, and from 8 p.m. to midnight Sept. 5, and there is a $12 cover charge each night.

I had the chance to talk to Burckhardt about the new album.

Q - Great talking to you. In sitting down to make "Fly Over," what were you goals and do you think you accomplished them? How do you think the record is different from your past efforts? 

One of my goals is to remain creative. And this includes periodically releasing a CD.

The process forces me to plan the whole undertaking from beginning to end. I’m very happy with the results of “Fly Over." 

I collaborated with Joel Paterson. We wrote the original tunes, together, and Joel did all of the art work.

Each CD I have produced and recorded, thus far, has been a different experience, mainly because each involved different people. 

Q - Over the years, you've worked with the likes of Dr. John, Buddy Guy and Pinetop Perkins. What did you learn from those experiences? 

I think I have learned something from all the musicians I have worked with, over the years, not just the well-known ones. What is great working with very accomplished musicians is that you get to see and experience how they approach a show, how they deal with the audience, how they work with the other musicians.

With less accomplished musicians it might try to figure out what I can do to make the band and sound fuller and more cohesive. I believe if I felt that I cannot learn anything any more my playing would begin to sound stale and tired. 

Q - You also had joined Sunnyland Slim on two of his European concerts before moving to Chicago in 1982 to join his band. Why did you want to join his band, and what was the most important thing he taught you? 

I had the opportunity to accompany Eddie Boyd on drums when I was 14 and I got the bug. When I met Sunnyland three years later and I got to play with him for two nights, it intensified my desire to play music.

However, it took a visit to Chicago seven years later to make me realize that I could actually try to make a living as a musician. Sunnyland was very kind and invited me to join his band which I did in July 1982.

As to what Sunnyland taught me, it could probably fill a whole chapter of a book. However, his commitment to the audience and the band, and his integrity were exemplary.

By observing him lead the band, feature each musician in the group, and communicate with the audience, I learned much of what I do as a musician and band leader. 

Q - Who or what are your biggest musical influences and how have they impacted your music? 

Other than Sunnyland, my greatest influence as a tenor player is Lester Young, whose lyrical style I greatly admire. I love Ellington and Strayhorn and I love the way they wrote music for Duke’s orchestra.

I was fortunate to hear Count Basie and his band live in 1974 and I experienced first-hand what swing is all about. There is my music teacher Chester Gill, who planted the seed in my heart, Ron Dewar, who taught and teaches me so much about music, Floyd McDaniel and Hubert Sumlin, who were both great guitarists and very special human beings, and Othella Dallas, who worked with Duke Ellington in 1959/60 and who at the age of 90 still has the energy and thirst for music and performance of a young girl combined with an iron discipline –– truly inspirational.

Q - You were a founding member of the Mighty Blue Kings. Did you ever imagine that the band would have achieved the amount of attention that the Mighty Blues Kings did? 

Not when we started practicing in Ross Bon’s flat. But once we started playing out, it quickly became clear that the band got an especially enthusiastic response from the audience.

At the latest when I saw the lines forming out the door and around the corner when we were playing at the Green Mill, I realized that the band would go places.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and where do you see yourself fitting into it? 

I think Chicago has still a good music scene and in particular many great musicians. I see us a large guild with me as one of the tradesmen.

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