copied from: The Daily Press, Hampton Roads, VA  

Williamsburg sax player Sam Rucker finds 'Redemption' on new CD

By Mike Holtzclaw - Contact Reporter, Daily Press


In reviewing “Redemption,” the new CD from Williamsburg sax player Sam Rucker, blogger Denis Poole writes at Smooth Jazz Therapy that the song “Overcomer” has “one of the most infectious hooks you will hear all year.”

When Rucker listens to that track, he finds himself overwhelmed by many emotions that a reviewer would never guess.

Guitarist John Calisto, Rucker’s longtime friend and collaborator, died three days after recording his contribution to the song. And on the day of Calisto’s memorial service, Rucker learned that his nephew Justin Taylor — who also played guitar on “Overcomer” — had committed suicide at age 25.

“Sometimes when I hear it, I’ll be honest, I feel that sadness,” Rucker said. “But I also feel the joy they had in creating that music and the joy music gave them. Even Justin, with what he was dealing with, the peace and joy he had was from music.

“I thought about changing the title. How can you have a song called ‘Overcomer’ when two musicians passed away so tragically? But that’s the whole point: Even with tragic loss, we still overcome. With music and God’s help, we can overcome. And I will always feel joy and honor that I was able to capture them and record them and connect with what they love.”

Rucker, 46, grew up in Virginia Beach and was always surrounded by jazz. His father listened to Grover Washington, David Sanborn and Miles Davis. When Rucker would visit his aunt and uncle in Ohio, he would hear John Coltrane and Charlie Parker.

But his own musical career got off to a rough start in sixth grade.

“I dropped out of the band because I failed the test on ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’ ” he said. “I couldn’t navigate that song. But my dad had rented the horn and signed a contract for a year, so he told me that he wasn’t paying for the horn for nothing and he made me start taking private lessons. That’s one of the most influential moments of my life.”

His first step in professional music was as a producer at a studio in Virginia Beach. But he loved playing the sax and began meeting other local musicians. His first two CDs, “Feels So Right” and “Tell You Something,” were well received and earned airplay on jazz networks around the country.

He moved to Williamsburg when he got work in the technology department at Colonial Williamsburg.

“I morphed from working in the studio during the day and working on computers at night to now doing it the other way around,” he said. “But today it’s like two full-time jobs. Most jazz musicians have another hustle, another income stream. Me, man, I really enjoy technology, and of course I enjoy playing, so it’s become a good marriage between the two.”

He was not only the bandleader on “Redemption,” but also producer, spending time at studios in Hampton Roads, New York and Los Angeles along the way.

“In New York, I worked in the notorious Quad Studio, where Tupac got shot,” Rucker said. “I have to admit, I took a picture of the elevator where he got shot.”

The single “True Love” was at No. 29 last week in the Smooth Jazz Network national airplay chart. Reviewer Patrick van de Wiele, reviewing at the Keys and Chords website, wrote that the album is “interspersed with a deep spiritual vision of the survival of the soul.”

For Rucker, that sense of survival goes back to his memories of Calisto, who died of a heart condition at age 58, and of Taylor, who took his own life at 25.

“With (Calisto), he always played like that song was the last time he would ever play,” Rucker said. “He put so much into everything he played, just his heart and soul. He communicated with the guitar. I look back and think that, man, if I had delayed that recording session by one week, he wouldn’t have been on this album at all.

“That song ‘Overcomer’ is about keeping the faith and overcoming any situation. Little did I know as I recorded it, but that was for me — so I could say, ‘I lost these guys but I still have them in this music. They’ll live on forever in this music.’ ”

Mike Holtzclaw, Daily Press |