Many labels have been applied to the music performed by Dutch alto saxophonist Candy Dulfer, including, smooth jazz and funk, but it is perhaps the superlatives that her fans use to describe her music that is most accurate, words like, unbelievable, wonderful, incredible and awesome.
Speaking to me on the phone from the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, where she was performing, Dulfer said, "I just make albums that I like, and if smooth (jazz) radio picks it up, then it is a great thing. I never want it to be the other way around, making music, that hopefully radio will pick up. I don’t think that is being true to myself. A lot of people seem to like the relaxed stuff that I do."
Equally telling are her comments concerning the success that she experienced early in her career, at age nineteen, with the debut CD Saxuality, released in 1990. More than one million copies of Saxuality were sold. "My main goal wasn’t to make a video ("Lily Was Here, with Dave Stewart) or a hit album. My main goal was to be a little bit famous," she says sounding a lot like Billy Crudup’s character Russell Hammond, in Cameron Crowe’s movie Almost Famous.
Almost sounding like she imagines her star to have dimmed somewhat since 1990 the sax lady says, "I liked it while it lasted, but I never sold a million (CDs) again. I didn’t grow attached to it because it wasn’t what I was about. (Before Saxuality) I would go on stage to perform three or four songs and people would go, ‘Hmm, okay, I like it, hmm.’ By the end (of the concert), I would get the people going. When you have a hit single, however, people will start screaming before you ever get on stage. I hated it. I liked the fact that before (the fame) I had to prove myself every night. I found it a blessing that (the fame) didn’t last too long because I knew I was going to have to work really hard to maintain what I had already achieved. I think I have done a pretty good job of that, and I am proud of it. "
Other artists such as Prince, Chaka Khan, Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), Van Morrison, Maceo Parker, David Sanborn, Beyoncé, Pink Floyd, George Duke, Blondie, Jamie Cullum, Jonathan Butler, Alan Parsons and George Duke, are just a few of the higher profile artists, representing numerous musical genres, who would take exception with Candy Dulfer’s opinions about her stature in the industry. They and many artists like them should know best because she has shared the stage and/or recording studio with all of them.
Dulfer attributes hard work and risk taking as two elements that have allowed her to continue to perform at a high level. "Sometimes you have to be ambitious and do stuff that you thought you would never do. Other times you have to hold back, even though doing something else would sell more records," she says.
Watching Dulfer perform in concert, you quickly realize that her onstage persona is that of a party girl, without any of the negative connotations usually associated with that description. She simply likes to have fun and to help others have fun while they listen to her music. "I don’t think that a concert is really interesting unless the musicians communicate with each other onstage, and the band communicates with the audience. I really don’t see any point in getting onstage without having fun," she says.
Dulfer says, "I also like to surround myself with good musicians, because it makes me play better as well. You need that. You need other people to grab onto and climb up the ladder with. When I play with someone like Prince, it really makes a difference in my playing, and it makes me want to go so much higher. He is so good with his instruments and the stuff that he does, that he has time to look around, to see what is happening while he is playing. That is a sign of greatness when people are so good that they can communicate well, while playing their complicated stuff. I just finished playing with Marcus Miller a couple of days ago and it is the same thing with him. These people are so great that when you play with them you get an energy boost and feel like you can do so much more." Dulfer toured with Prince on three occasions, 1998, 2002 and 2004. She says she finds the same type of energy while performing with longtime boyfriend and bandmate Thomas Bank (keyboard player).
Listeners will hear lots of energy coming from Dulfer’s new CD Candy Store, recently released in Europe and North America. "One of the great effects of music is it gives (concertgoers) energy and makes them want to dance. Just the right combination of notes can make people jump up and go crazy. (The ability to) make people cry or laugh is such a beautiful thing. To me those emotions are important. I love to give people joy. I like to get them up and dancing," says Dulfer.
Although she never faced any real barriers to her onstage performances which began at age six (not that is not a typo!), with her father Hans Dulfer, an accomplished tenor saxophone player, she has at times as an adult had to deal with the fact that she is a woman saxophonist. "Sometimes I come in, people don’t really know me and they see a blonde girl, dressed like a woman and looking nice so they make the assumption that I can’t play. It gets a bit tiresome to have people ask you (she makes her voice deeper like a man’s), ‘Are you carrying the saxophone for your husband?’ When I do play, most of the time I surprise them, and they go, ‘You blow my mind.’ It is a lot of fun to prove people wrong," she says.
Candy Store would not be a true reflection of Dulfer’s personality or her music had she not taken some risks. She says, "There are many different styles of music on the album. I just mixed them together. I hate purists who put music into boxes. I really think that is bad and I have always felt that way. This is the way that I grew up. I am the daughter of a jazz musician, but we would go to pop concerts, listen to ska, house and disco. It was all good to me. That is what I also want the audience to find out."
Another aspect of her music that Dulfer feels distinguishes her from others is, "I try to make instrumental songs that linger a little longer, than people just liking to listen to them. A lot of instrumental songs are difficult to remember, because they are not really songs, just cute little lines. I would rather have people remember my melody and the ideas behind the songs. I can always take them (the songs) live, and stretch them out or do whatever I want with them."
Although at the time of our interview Candy Store had only been out in Europe for a couple of weeks, audiences had already settled on some favorite tunes. While early indications were that "Summertime" was the favorite tune, "La Cabana" was also receiving a lot of fan support. The tune "Music = Love," is a song Dulfer has played in concert for a few years but only recorded on Candy Store and it is also a fan favorite.
The song "11:58" from Candy Store appears to have brought Dulfer a lot of pleasure, "I was just noodling on a Wurlitzer and that line (she vocalizes from the song) kept coming through. We thought it sounded pretty good so we made a whole song out of it. It made me so proud that finally I could write something without the saxophone (as the instrument of composition). It wasn’t preconceived, it was just a beautiful melody, but I thought it was one that I could get without compromising myself. It is really from the heart. "
When she was still a teenager and recording the song and video "Lily Was Here" with Dave Stewart, she remembers him saying, ‘It is going to be a big hit, just watch and see.’ She also recalls thinking at the time, ‘Ya, sure.’ "I thought it was a joke, but it was a big hit. Different elements made that song a big hit. I believe it was the right time, the right place and the right moment," she says.
‘Lily Was Here" was a big hit, and despite the humble opinion she has of herself there is no doubting that legions of fans, musicians and producers would eagerly line up to tell you that Candy Dulfer is still a big hit today.