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Sax Appeal : Candy Dulfer Feels Inspired to Make Visual and Musical Statements

April 14, 1994|BILL KOHLHAASE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You might say saxophonist Candy Dulfer's big break came when she gave Prince a piece of her mind.

Seems the Dutch-born Dulfer, already a big star in her native country, was set to open for the Purple One on the European leg of his "Lovesexy" tour, when she was abruptly canceled.

"It was a bang on the nose," she said by phone earlier this week from a hotel room in San Francisco. "I had a good name in Holland and I thought he was thinking of me as just a support act. It made me angry."

So Dulfer, who plays tonight at the Coach House, dashed off a note to his Princeness, taking him to task for his disregard. To her surprise, Prince apologized to her during the show and called her up on stage. Caught without her horn, she sent her father home to fetch it.

"It turned out it wasn't his fault at all, but some kind of a technical problem," she explained. "But I showed him something by writing the note, and he was impressed. It was something I had to do."

Prince was impressed, enough so that he later invited Dulfer to come to his Paisley Park Studios in Minneapolis to appear in the "Party Man" video. Her appearance served as her introduction to U.S. audiences, as Prince croons, "When I need trombone / A dog is handy / When I want sax / I call Candy."

Dulfer, 24, has backed such notables as Van Morrison, Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, Aretha Franklin and Pink Floyd, but she is doing very well on her own now. Her first album, "Saxuality" sold more than 500,000 copies in the United States. Her new one, "Sax-A-Go-Go," which features appearances by the J.B. (James Brown) Horns and the Tower of Power horn section, should do even better.

But it's impossible to talk of Dulfer's success without talking about her striking good looks. Prince played her appearance up in the video. And Dulfer doesn't mind.

"People are going to say these things (regarding appearance) about me anyway. My looks have only brought me good things and there's nothing wrong with me using it to my advantage.

"In Holland, all the girl musicians have tried to make that fact invisible; they looked frumpy and tried to dress like men. It seemed so unnatural. So I took it to extremes. I don't advise everybody to go out in short skirts, but if they do they shouldn't be afraid of the reactions."

And what about those album titles that play on the similarities between the words "sax" and "sex?"

"It was my idea of a joke, to get attention," she said. "I thought I was only making the one or two albums and that would be it, so I did it to get the notice."

*

She credits percussionist Sheila E. with inspiring her to make a visual, as well as musical, statement.

"It shocked me when I saw her play," she said. "Here she was playing good and looking good as well--not sexy, but in control. She had a good attitude about being a woman."

Born in Amsterdam, Dulfer is the daughter of Dutch saxophonist Hans Dulfer. She picked up soprano sax at age 6 with his encouragement.

"I wouldn't have started without him," she said. "He's always done modern things, and today leads this speed-metal jazz band. He never said I should play, never pushed me. His most important influence was to let me know that playing can be fun."

Dulfer's father also booked concerts in Amsterdam, and Dulfer remembers many of the American musicians he booked--Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster, Archie Shepp--visiting the house.

"I was too young to realize what it was all about, but it gave me a perspective on things, a chance to see what music is really all about."

She says her father exposed her to jazz, R & B and avant-garde music. Her mother, as well as friends at school, turned her on to pop music. "I think it's good to have a diverse input of music. You have to listen to everything."

By the time she was 15, she was already leading her own band, Funky Stuff, the name her group carries to this day. "I've kept the name because that's what the music's supposed to be," she explained.

But in those days, she said, funk was out of fashion. "Everybody was listening to rock and I hated it. I loved R & B and we were the only band that did it. Now, it's immensely popular."

Though she claims to admire R & B and all its related forms--soul, funk and jazz--she doesn't like being labeled a fusion-jazz player. "It makes me think of boring music. Fusion used to be good with the Brecker Brothers and (saxophonist David) Sanborn, but it's just not interesting anymore. The solos just go on and on.

"I like simple music, music with feeling. I like it when there's a concept behind it and some emotion."

"Sax-A-Go-Go" follows suit with a funky program that includes a number of beat-minded tunes from Dulfer's longtime associate Ulco Bed as well as the Average White Band's "Pickin' Up the Pieces" and Prince's "Sunday Afternoon."

*

Her current tour features "more of a big band" and is, she said, much more lively than the album. "We do a lot from the albums as well as a Tower of Power cover, a J.B. Horns cover. We put everything we like into the gig: ballads, jazz-funk, vocal things. We do (Miles Davis') 'So What'. It's sort of like a party."

She hopes that her success will encourage other women to persevere as musicians. "I hope that girls can see, through me, that it's easy to be a musician. Not that it won't be hard--there's still going to be a struggle with the sexist thing. But it's not as hard as it looks."

* Candy Dulfer and Funky Stuff play tonight at 8 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. $23.50 (nonsmoking show). (714) 496-8930; Friday at 8 p.m. at the Palace, 1735 N. Vine St., Hollywood. $19.50. (213) 462-3000, and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Ventura Theatre, 26 S. Chestnut Ave., Ventura, $17.50. (805) 648-1888.

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