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A conversation with saxophonist Candy Dulfer, frequent Prince collaborator

Candy Dulfer plays with Maceo Parker at Funk N Roll.
Candy Dulfer plays with Maceo Parker at Funk N Roll.Carin Verbruggen
  Play Now [20:59]

by Sean McPherson

October 09, 2018

I recently had the chance to get on the phone with Candy Dulfer, the funky saxophone legend from the Netherlands in advance of her cameo appearance with Maceo Parker for the Funk N Roll Weekend. In my interview with Candy I had the chance to discuss her fruitful career as a bandleader and her legendary stints playing alongside Prince, Maceo Parker, Van Morrison and more.

In my interview with Candy Dulfer she gave us some great highlights:

Candy connected with Maceo back in 1989

"Well it was very special because even before Prince I got to meet him in Amsterdam at the time James Brown was in jail, because of all the tax problems, and Maceo, and Bobby Byrd and a whole band of James Brown's sidemen toured Europe in order to raise money for James Brown's release, but also for themselves because all of a sudden they were left with nothing, no jobs, no nothing. It was a very special tour, very emotional. I just went there as a fan but all of a sudden, through a mutual friend -- which I didn't even know I had -- he introduced me to Maceo and Maceo said, 'Oh OK, bring your horn to my hotel room and we'll just chat,' and I came and he said, 'Can you play a little bit?' I was 19 at the time, very young and a girl and he must have thought 'Who is she?' and then I played a little and he said, 'OK you're playing with us tonight.' So it was so sweet and I just played with them. I still have pictures. I was so young and I was so in awe of all of them, but from then on we just kept in touch and I'm pretty sure Maceo could hear how much I was influenced by him and how much of a fan and disciple I was of all that stuff."

When Prince and Candy first discussed Maceo Parker, Prince thought Maceo had passed Away

"At one point I was working with Prince in the early '90s. I remember a conversation at the piano at Paisley and we were talking about Maceo, about how much I loved him, about how much Prince loved him. But then Prince said to me, 'Yeah he's not alive anymore is he?' And then I said, 'Are you killing me? He's so alive!' But at that time Maceo and the J.B.'s they were touring much more in Europe. Because in the states, because James Brown wasn't around anymore, it was a little bit forgotten all the funk and the P-Funk stuff, but in the meantime they were doing so well in Europe for really young kids in their teens and early twenties. They were all listening to hip hop so the J.B.'s life was the basis for hip-hop for most of the songs, so he didn't even know. So I said 'No, he's alive. He's very much alive and doing great.' And he said 'Get him over here.' And then I had somebody call him and from then on we were together."

Like all saxophone players, Candy has musician jokes

"The definition of a semitone is two alto players playing together we would always say. Normally it's not a good idea because altos are high pitched instruments and harder to make them sound in tune, so yeah we just gelled. And of course I tried to emulate his sound when I was younger and still do. The secret's out. For some reason we fit, but we personally fit as well and you have to know that Maceo is just the sweetest, most wonderful person in the whole wide world."

Candy attributes her drive and spirit to her family

"My father always raised me very independently. He always said 'Don't take nothing from nobody, just be yourself, work hard, make sure you're -- just be nice but don't be too easy for people to be a victim. You gotta just be there and be your own boss.' I didn't have to do so much with me being a girl, but I think he also tried to harness me a little bit, to toughen me up, for the big world anyway. So that helped me. Yeah, my father has also always been a very independent man. His management, he still does it himself, he worked two jobs, he always had a very clear vision of what he wanted and the rest would follow. So when I was younger, I didn't even think about that so much, I just thought that was the normal, the status quo, that's how everyone should to do it. And later on, when I got older and got wiser, I found out not everyone can be like that and also being very lucky that people put up with that. I was twelve and I had my own band with people who were in their forties, and I was bossing them around and I'm sure they thought it was sometimes cute and funny and I played well but it was a bit weird. So it wasn't until much later in my life that I found out maybe I shouldn't always be the boss and maybe I should listen to other people and let them lead the way. So it's been an interesting route for me."

After leading her own bands since age 12, Candy learned a lot watching Prince and Van Morrison work

"Once you get asked by Van Morrison or Maceo, you just know where your place is. You just make beautiful music and you give your 100%, and you hope they like it. That's what I did with Prince and everybody and I was always very nervous. Because always with my own band and my own things I could direct the whole stuff and say, 'Oh we're going to do this and that.' But with Van Morrison and Prince I got thrown in so much into the deep end, but sometimes that's the best schooling. So I think that made me a good musician. Having to make my own stuff but also 50 percent be a guest on other people's records or on live stuff, performances. Because that made me really work, really think of new styles and it really made me sweat. And that's good. That's the way you develop your real character.

Seeing Prince write helped Candy realize composing is not her strong suit

"I got inspired very much, but much more to be a live performer than a composer. I just wanted to give up. If I saw him making amazing songs, I felt like there was no point. So for a while it worked against me a little bit in that area, but on the other hand it just gave me so much inspiration for leading a band, having a live career and to be really, really honest. That's always been my first love, playing live music and having a great band. It's always been number one for me and after that come the records because I'm just not that type of artist."

Candy lived in Minneapolis for six months when she was working with Prince

"It was so different from New York or L.A. or anything that I had ever envisioned. There were real people living there and when we weren't with Prince, there were so many sweet people taking care of me. I was so young and sometimes people would be in LA or in studios and then I had the whole staff of Paisley Park take me out to dinner or the girl from the hotel where we'd stay, she would take me to the Renaissance Fair, so I have such warm memories of the people there. I haven't been back a lot. I sometimes play there. I just played there last summer with my band and every time I come back it feels like home."

Candy never worries about the Jazz Snobs

"I had seen Sonny Rollins live when I was six, so I knew exactly where I was at that moment. Even when I got really successful, I just knew, 'Well hey but you're not Coltrane,' but it was more in my head. I think in the end if I really look back, nobody -- maybe one or two persons in my whole life -- ever said to me, 'Yeah well you don't play real jazz and you don't belong with us.' It's never the musicians actually. I've heard from those comments, they would come from European or Dutch artists or other saxophone artists that would be jealous, but never in the States. I had a really wonderful conversation once with the bass player of Roy Hargrove quintet, and I said, 'You know I'm not a good player, I don't know all these chords, I never went to school, we don't even have a school in the Netherlands and I didn't want to play jazz to start with so now I'm stuck here,' and he said 'You know what? In this stage we don't think of that, we think of 'are you really giving people tonight a wonderful time, are you really bringing something to the table?' and it gave me so much confidence. You can whine about it and think about it your whole life, but either start playing Giant Steps or shut up and play what you're good at.'"

Playing with Maceo is like playing with Beethoven

"To be in that music, it's like you're right there with Beethoven sitting next to him at the piano. It's really beautiful. I'm the same when I, sometimes I get to guest with the Tower of Power. I'll be standing on the stage with incredible horn sounds and like 'Wow this is what I've always heard on the records and now I'm standing in between them and now I hear what's really so good about it.' So trying to be in time with Maceo and not messing things up is what I look forward to most."