A Little <i>Night Music</i>: The Best Of David Sanborn’s Late-Night Benders

Jul 18th, 2007 // 18 Comments

During my daily YouTube trawl a few weeks back, I discovered the above clip of Pere Ubu performing “Breath,”, their typically zonked stab at a glossed-out “pop hit,” on David Sanborn’s long-mothballed after-hours show Night Music. It was pretty damn weird seeing Crocus Behemoth splutter and stutter on a stage that looked more suited to G.E. Smith, and talking to a friend with fond memories of the show and a few YouTube links of his own, I found out that for a few years Sanborn delighted in screwing with the preconceptions of the late-night audience in the era of Richard Marx. It also turns out that everybody’s pal, turbodouche Lorne Michaels, feels that, because he never made back his initial investment on the show, the episodes should rot in storage somewhere rather than be released on DVD. And so, in lieu of properly synced footage in stereophonic high-fidelity with bonus features and a commentary track, I present to you, after the jump, the blurry, pixilated best of Night Music (at least of what’s available on YouTube).

Sun freakin’ Ra parades his sparkly royal robes through a swaying, ballad-tempo tune full of kozmik synthesizer noises and Marshall Allen’s sax shrieking and squawking about as far out as you can on NBC if you want to hang onto the beer company sponsorships. I’m having a hard time even figuring what the equivalent of this would be today. Sunburned Hand of the Man on Craig Ferguson?

An even gaunter-than-usual Nick Cave backed up by longtime Ornette Coleman bassist Charlie Haden doing a doom-jazz version of the deathless “Hey Joe.” After a while, you gotta figure Sanborn was just putting together bizonkers combinations of musicians because no one from corporate had yet to tell him to knock it off.

Bongwater (with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins at the very beginning). The vocal-to-image sync is pretty wonky on this one, but as one commenter points out, Sanborn’s prodigious hair is more than worth sitting through the opening Bob Weir interview to get to the chewy art-rock freak-out center.

Milton Nascimento. Not so sure about the synth-heavy mix or Sanborn’s smoooooooooth sax break–LOL @ the late 80s–but I want Nascimento played at my funeral.

Conway Twitty with the Residents. Check please.


  1. Cassiel

    I would KILL for DVDs of these shows — the YouTube postings only scratch the surface of the outrageous collection of musicians that appeared on this show. From memory, on network TV, mind you, these also included the Pixies, John Zorn and Arto Lindsay, Diamanda Galas, Miles Davis, Van Dyke Parks, John Cale and Richard Thompson, Christian Marclay, Carla Bley, Trio Bulgarka, World Saxophone Quartet, Sonny Rollins, The Lounge Lizards, Elliott Sharp, and (I kid you not) Todd Rundgren and Taj Mahal performing a number in costume from “The Pirates of Penzance”.

    Are there, ahem, less-than-sanctioned DVDs of any of these shows floating around someplace?

  2. Ned Raggett

    HOLY shit on that last one. Well, all of them. I vaguely remember the show but I think Sanborn’s bizjazz reputation put me off. More fool me.

  3. Al Shipley

    I remember my 5th grade music teacher showing the class a tape of Night Music and my impressionable young mind being blown by Sun Ra and Artis the Spoonman (pre-Soundgarden).

    I can’t fault Michaels for not wanting to release an official DVD, from what I understand licensing musical performances or even background music can be one of the costliest parts of issuing a TV series on DVD (notice that few of the countless SNL compilations on DVD out there feature much in the way of musical guests). And as this post proves, we’re leaving in an era where it’s easy to bootleg and unofficially archive this stuff anyway. And there’s at least one official release of a Night Music segment: Sonic Youth’s 1989 appearance is on their Screaming Fields Of Sonic Love VHS/DVD.

  4. Ned Raggett

    Screaming Fields Of Sonic Love VHS/DVD

    Whoa, I missed the DVD coming out. Or has it been out?

  5. Dickdogfood

    The Christian Marclay segment changed my life a little.

  6. Hyman Decent

    @GovernmentNames ["And as this post proves, we're leaving in an era where it's easy to bootleg and unofficially archive this stuff anyway."]: What’s more, I suspect that the potential audience for DVD’s of this show is far more likely to download torrents instead of buying the releases than the typical TV-on-DVD consumer.

  7. Al Shipley

    Er, I *thought* Screaming Fields was coming out on DVD around the same time that the Corporate Ghost video collection was released a couple years ago, but it looks like it’s still forthcoming, along with the Year Punk Broke DVD. My bad.

  8. Jupiter8

    This show RULED. I remember watching this show on Sunday nights-Jools Holland co-hosted the first season, and the show featured artist-mashups not unlike what he does on “Later” (the show it was the most similar to). I also remember Graham Parker, most of Squeeze, Paul Simon, I am sure there were lots more…

    I also remember a steaming pile being heaped on this show at the time since it was sponsored by Michelob, and the “Night Music” name seemed to have come from all the Michelob/music tie ins at the time like Phil Collins “Tonight Tonight Tonight” and “Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do” by Eric Clapton…maybe Shout Factory or another company can get the rights to these…I know episodes are lingering somewhere over at Broadway Video…

  9. Feh Am Legend

    I loved that Bongwater song back in the day; a mix-tape favorite. Didn’t know Alex Van Halen played with them.

  10. betablog

    you forgot to add that it’s Screamin’ Jay & Bongwater doing a Roky Erickson song.

  11. The Illiterate

    Nice to hear the Sonic Youth is available. I remember an incredible Leonard Cohen appearance, as well.

  12. Daryl

    I would hazard a guess that the reason these aren’t available isn’t because of Lorne Michaels, but the clearance of the music performance would be way too costly to put these out.

  13. RCreed

    In the Bongwater clip, I think that’s the only video footage of April March’s Pussywillows. Weird.

  14. Anonymous

    Didn’t LL perform “Big Ole Butt” on this show? I remember catching it occasionally on CBC.

  15. Juancho

    There’s no clips of Sanborn and Phil Woods? Blasphemy!

    If there was, I think the head of every saxophonist (myself included) might explode.

  16. hamgmt

    my memory of this show is: Joe Walsh. i think he was performing “rocky mountain way” and i dunno if he was under the influence (but come on, it WAS joe walsh) but he kept forgetting the lyrics! he would sing ‘making records…’ then shrug his shoulders, seriously he shrugged at the camera and played the song but didnt sing the lines. it was too great, but i can’t seem to find anyone to back up my memory of this, so i hope it wasnt a dream!

  17. hamgmt

    eveyrone may have noticed my stupidity, so i’ll say how i noticed it too! the song i gave as an example was “life’s been good”, not “rocky mountain way”—oops! i think that’s what it was, but joe wasnt even sure, so i should get a LITTLE bit of a break! ;)

  18. Anonymous

    This was a show worth watching. Debbie Harry even did some backing vocals on Pere Ubu’s “Waiting for Mary”. I have some tapes of the show. I am trying to find a band that Sanborn introduced as performing a type of “Moroccan Roll”. They were from Morocco and were a power trio ala The Cream. Excellent rifs. Vocals were arabic, I believe. They may have been called “JA-HAR” or something like that – Anyone have any insight – I’d still like to track down music from these guys(!)

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