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The Dutch jazz saxophonist Candy Dulfer was five when she performed, together with her father and saxophonist Hans Dulfer, for the first time. During that performance, the way was paved for her worldwide success. Since then she has shared the stage with names like Prince, Van Morrison and Pink Floyd. And this year, album number sixteen appears.

“Even when I was still in the cradle, I was surrounded by music and the saxophone. My father played a lot at home, and music was always present. If he was not playing, then there would be other music on. My parents had eclectic tastes in music. They played a lot of Jazz, but also other music, from Archie Shepp and Junior Walker to James Brown and Jimi Hendrix. But also Caribbean and African music. My mother loved pop music a great deal, like The Beatles and Bread. Everything was welcome, except Dixieland, I believe. The styles were all mixed together. Music cannot be divided into different genres. People always want to do that, but for me, music is music.

“I was allowed to appear with my father on stage when I was four. He had a really great band then, with all Surinamese and Antillean musicians. I played along, for example, on the tambourine and percussion or sang along a bit. I already loved the stage then, even though I was very shy. After that I had a drum set for a weekend, but that was a bit too loud and not a great success. I was five when I was allowed to try the saxophone for the first time. I have been playing since that moment, really.

“My father gave me one lesson once. He is also autodidactic, and I was very stubborn from an early age, so we were soon arguing about the notes. Then he said: ‘You know what, just go to the harmonie.’ I took music lessons there for four years; it was great fun! I earned my A diploma in music theory there, and after that I taught myself everything.

“One day my father gave me a Selmer Mark 6, the Stradivarius of saxophones.”

“I started with soprano, and I really wanted to carry on with that. But they already had a first soprano in the orchestra, and they really wanted an alto. After a day of crying, I chose the alto. And now I’m happy about that. I always played loud on the alto. I was afraid to be seen as a frilly girl, so I played really loud, especially in the first years. Only later did I dare to let my sensitive side show a bit more.

“My first saxophone was the practice saxophone from the music school orchestra. It was nearly falling apart. After that I switched over to a Selmer Bundy, also a practice saxophone. The best brand, but the worst saxophone. I played that for years, even professionally, because I was so attached to it. Then one day my father gave me a Selmer Mark 6, the Stradivarius of saxophones. A real beauty from an old musician who my father knew. I played that for a very long time. Now I have switched to an Amsterdam Winds, but I will always keep the Mark 6.

“The first time that I stood on stage was in Purmerend, together with my father. I was six years old then. He played with the band De Perikels. Very funky and Caribbean. They were super sweet to me; they encouraged me enormously. That was one of my favorite performances, but also a performance with my first bad review. The reviewer wrote: ‘Hans Dulfer can better leave his daughter at home from now on.’ That hurt, yes. You’re a child of six, and you just played a solo for a very enthusiastic audience for the first time. And then it says in the Purmender Courant: “Hans Dulfer can better leave his daughter at home.” That review has given me fuel throughout my life. It made a fighter out of me, so I should actually thank that man.

“I had my father as an example, a pure musician and full-time professional, but who – to keep his music pure – worked days as an auto salesman. I automatically started doing that as well. I had a job in a book store and thought that I would take it over later. I played in the evenings. Then, in one year, the collaborations with Prince, Pink Floyd and Van Morrison came across my path. Then it wasn’t possible to work there anymore. I gave out more autographs than I sold books.

“I always knew that I wanted a long career. I had it in my head that I would still want to play saxophone and have fun at 80. I have collaborated a great deal in recent years with people with long careers, like Dave Stewart and Prince. I have learned a great deal about how they handle success, pressure and stress. I once had an argument with Prince. Not so much about music, but about how you treat people.

“Now the tears come to my eyes when I think that I was 17, and that I did that then!”

“He might have been right when he said: ‘You are much too nice; you only want to be nice.’ Then I said: ‘Yes, but you could be a little nicer.’ By being so strict, he could devote himself 100% to the music and lead the world’s best bands. But because I was nice, it was actually sometimes enjoyable along the way. You have to do what suits your character best. Even now that he’s passed away, I still think every day: ‘Oh, that’s what he meant!’ I learned so much from him.

“Next year, my biography comes out. The writing led to a good bit of self-reflection. I learned from my upbringing to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. Because of that, I forgot things that were actually terrific. I never dared to be proud of myself. Take the song Lily was here, for example. I could not listen to that for about 10 years. I felt like an imposter and pretender. Now the tears come to my eyes when I think that I was 17, and that I did that then! The song has become an anthem for some people. I could not even enjoy it then, but I do now!

“In October, my new album comes out. And then there are tours through Japan, Korea & America on the schedule. This year I’ll perform again at the North Sea Jazz festival. I really think it’s a great festival, and I’m proud that I will be there again. I first performed there when I was 12, and I am still grateful that Paul Acket and Rosa King gave me that chance. For me, North Sea is still Paul Acket, even though he passed away a long time ago. When I am there, I always get a bit emotional, and I think: ‘Well, he gave all of this to me, that dear man.’”

Candy Dulfer
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