The Dutch sax sensation last toured the U.S. in 2004. Now she’s back, hitting the stage this month at the Old Pasadena JazzFest, Rodney Strong Vineyards and Jazz at the Beach, while looking forward to 2007’s Brian Culbertson All-Star Smooth Jazz Cruise. 

By Jonathan Widran & Melanie Maxwell

Sassy and seductive as ever, saxophonist Candy Dulfer is touring the U.S. this month. On July 22, she’ll sizzle with her own band at the 11th Annual Old Pasadena JazzFest, then return the next day as part of Jason Miles’ tribute to Marvin Gaye. A week later, on July 29, she and Miles take the stage at the Rodney Strong Vineyards in Healdsburg, California, as part of a double bill with Brian Culbertson and Eric Darius. Dulfer then heads back to Southern California to headline Smooth Jazz 98.1 KiFM’s Jazz at the Beach in the North San Diego coastal community of Oceanside on July 30. She has a few select dates after that in Las Vegas and Reno, then returns to her farm in Italy for a few months before joining next January’s Brian Culbertson All-Star Smooth Jazz Cruise. After that, she says, she’ll launch a full-on U.S. tour.  

No matter how popular Dulfer has been as a solo artist these past 16 years, she still enjoys balancing her time in the spotlight with high-profile side gigs. The beautiful and charismatic Holland-born-and-raised saxophonist––who first shot to global fame with the hit pop single “Lily Was Here” in 1991–– last toured the U.S. with her own band three years ago. But she did 96 dates here in 2004 as part of Prince’s Musicology tour. Dulfer had also played with the pop icon on his shorter One Night Alone tour for a handful of dates in 2002 before Najee took over. 

This year, when she hasn’t been gigging with another pop legend, Van Morrison, Dulfer has been playing her own concerts. In March, at the First-Energy Berks Jazz Fest, she performed as a special guest in two all-star tribute shows led by Miles. She added her trademark funky soul intensity to a generally low-key homage to Brazilian composer Ivan Lins, and was right in her grooving element during the Marvin Gaye tribute.        
In 2004, Dulfer had just gotten off the road after a slate of European dates with her band and was eager to get started on tracks for her next album. Then she got the call from Prince, whom she first played with at age 19 in 1989. “Everyone always wonders why I love going out with Prince and Van, who make such high creative demands, when I’ve got a successful solo career going on at the same time,” says Dulfer, whose last release in 2005, the CD/DVD package Live in Montreux 2002, perfectly chronicles her high-impact performance style. 

“But the challenge for me is seeing how I answer the call each time, and I have seen tremendous growth in my own playing as a result,” she says. “The cool thing is, when I play with Prince, I can incorporate things I learned while playing with Van, and vice versa. It’s so much fun, and I learn so much from them about being a powerful bandleader in my own right. I never want to stop learning. I really can’t afford to.”

Rather than feel scattered jumping back and forth so much, Dulfer says her performances with other artists keep her excited about writing, recording and performing her own music. “Dividing my time this way, I feel like I’m always awake creatively,” she says. “It’s easy to get into a laid-back groove doing long tours with my own band, doing the same songs over and over, doing the same solo here and there. I’ll try to shake things up a bit, like adding a reggae groove to (her first hit) ‘Lily Was Here,’ but I have to remember that people like the original way I played it as well. After months of that, I really need something that will force me to change the routine. 

“For me,” Dulfer adds, “nothing does that like another Prince tour. I have to be on my toes at all times, and I’m in this weird horn section of two alto saxes and a trombone with one of my idols, Maceo Parker. So after being this adult having to make all these major decisions as a bandleader, I’m like this 12-year-old kid again, looking over at my hero, who is my also my bandmate! Maybe part of this need to keep out there, challenging myself to get better is an inbred part of the Dutch culture. It’s very European to be a little insecure and think you’re never quite good enough, even if everyone tells you you’re brilliant. The good part of that is feeling that you have to prove yourself every time out, and that leads to much better performances. This also allows me to step back on occasion and realize that for all of my success, I’m pretty good but I’ll never be John Coltrane. And I don’t have to be for the fans to give me love. It’s just great to play for them.”

When she looks back at her earliest gigs with Prince, Dulfer is sometimes surprised how kind and receptive he is to her now. As a huge fan of his music during his ’80s heyday, she couldn’t believe her luck when he chose her for one of his tours before she was 20 years old. But when she had an opportunity to record her own album––which led to ‘Lily Was Here’ and her debut album, Saxuality––she had to make a major decision. When Dulfer chose to jump ship, she didn’t have the guts to call Prince; she just sent him a short note.

“When the offer for my own album came through, we were off the road, and he was taking forever to do his next project,” she says. “I honestly don’t thrive hanging out in the studio, waiting, and again, maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I’m always afraid if I don’t take advantage of every opportunity, I may die missing out on something. But I can’t believe how bad my social skills were then. I wrote him this note, saying thanks for the opportunity, but I have to move on. For years I thought he’d be angry with me for taking the cowardly way out. But he took my age into account, and told me he understood and forgave me when he called a few years later. He hired me to do some studio stuff in the mid-’90s and we’ve been friends ever since.”

Fortunately for Dulfer, there are a few moments of rest amidst all this whirlwind of activity. Three years ago, inspired by a much-needed vacation in the countryside of Italy, she sold her home in Amsterdam and bought some farmland about 30 minutes away from the city. She and her longtime boyfriend, Thomas Bank––who is also her keyboardist and producer––love the whole vibe of the place, including the cozy high ceiling and wood beam-filled main farmhouse and the acres of land where two sheep, five cats, a dog and what Dulfer calls a “naughty pony” run free. 

They’re also proud of the old barn that they converted into a state-of-the-art home studio, where they have been laying tracks this past year for a follow-up to her 2003 album, Right in My Soul. While at this pace it seems that Dulfer will never get off the road long enough to fully enjoy her new country digs for long, she speaks wistfully about the time she and Bank do share on the farm––even when it means “cleaning up after the animals much of the day.” 

“Yeah, that’s me,” she says, “the girl who likes a little of both lifestyles. I love to go out, put on makeup and high heels and play, then come home, clean up after the animals and walk on the farm. What a beautiful thing it is not to have to lock the car, and to have a guest house where musicians can stay over when they’re working with Thomas and I on new songs. It’s pretty crazy sometimes. When I’m home for too long, I’m complaining that I’m not on tour, and when I’m on tour, I want to be back home. But generally, I stick to tours that aren’t too long, and it’s a great, balanced life. It’s really a dream lifestyle, if I only could stop a little more often to realize how lucky I am.”

For more information on Dulfer, including her complete touring schedule, visit her website at

Candy Dulfer’s touring schedule includes the following performances:

July 22-23
11th Annual Old
Pasadena JazzFest
Arboretum & Botanical Garden
301 N. Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, California
(949) 360-7800

July 29
16th Annual KJZY
Concert Series
Rodney Strong Vineyards
11455 Old Redwood Hwy.
Healdsburg, California
(949) 360-7800

July 30
Smooth Jazz 98.1
Jazz at the Beach
Oceanside Pier Amphitheater
100 Mission Ave.
Oceanside, California

2007 Brian Culbertson
All-Star Smooth Jazz Cruise
Carnival Conquest
Departing Galveston, Texas,
on January 29, 2007
Ports of call: Montego Bay,
Grand Cayman, Cozumel
(877) 529-9729

1990 Saxuality Arista
1993 Sax a Go Go RCA
1996 Big Girl RCA
1997  For the Love of You N2K
1999 What Does It Take N-Coded/Warlock
1999 Girls Night Out*   BMG
2001 Candy Live in Amsterdam* BMG
2002 Dulfer Dulfer* Eagle
2003 Right in My Soul  Eagle
2005 Live at Montreux 2002 Eagle

*International only


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