David Caceres: Double Threat Coming Forward
The opening up of Caceres to the world of music began at an early age. It was in his family makeup. His grandfather was a jazz violinist, who led a popular swing orchestra in San Antonio in the 1930s and 1940s. His father was a saxophonist, and that led Caceres to choose sax when he started to play in the junior high school band. He had been playing some piano, starting at about the age of seven.
"There was a record that my grandfather and my great-uncle Ernie Caceres recorded, back late '60s [Ernie Caceres played some saxophone and clarinet with Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and Woody Herman]; that was the first jazz record that I started listening to. It introduced me to improvisation and some great jazz standards," he says.
But growing up in Texas, Caceres wasn't hearing much other jazz. Pop music dominated the radio waves. He was an accomplished enough musician to get to Berklee, where his jazz education took off. "I was hearing how much I had to learn, because I was in school with students that had been listening to jazz at a very early age. Like Donny McCaslin. I remember him having this vast language on the saxophone. I remember going up to him and asking who he listened to. He said Joe Henderson. I had never heard of Joe Henderson at that time. That's when I was introduced to a lot of different players. That's when I started checking out different music and got a big education there."
Digging into all those jazz recordings, as well as hearing all the music coming from classmates, was a huge part of his education, maybe more important than the academic side taking part in the classroom. He graduated with a degree in performance (under the name DeLeon, which he went by for a time after his mother remarried) and moved to New York. "Looking back," he adds, "I wish I had picked up an arranging or composition major. The playing was going to come anyway, just from being around all those cats. That was the biggest thing for me. I wanted to be able to improvise and be a performing artist."
As for his own sax influences, "Early on it was Trane John Coltrane] and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley [Adderley]. While I was grasping the language, bebop, I was also into how people were stretching out, like [Michael] Michael Brecker. Then I checked out Steve Grossman and Dave Liebman and Joe Henderson. All those guys, because I feel like I'm a rhythmic player as well. I got into Branford and his trio because of the freedom and trust they have. They can stretch, time-wise, and still not miss a beat and know exactly where they are. Branford was a big influence on me as far as that's concerned. Also David Sanborn."
At Berklee, like most students, he played in Boston jazz clubs a bit. One of the experiences involved playing in a commercial band called Urban Renewal. He was recommended to the unit by a guy who was leaving for the west coast. Recalls Caceres, "They contacted me. They said, 'We want an alto saxophonist, but we want someone who can sing a couple of songs.' I thought: I don't know the quality of my voice, but I know I can sing a tune. So, what the heck. I auditioned with the band on a gig. Brought in a couple of my tunes. I did a couple of Stevie Wonder songs and they hired me. That's really where the singing started, in that band in Boston.
"I feel like it's grown a lot since those days," Caceres says of his voice. "Even since my first CD, which I did back in '95. I really enjoy singing. The similarities are that they're coming from the same place. With the saxophone, I'm able to stretch out much more than I can vocally. Vocally, I can set the tone of the song, then pick up the saxophone and take it to another level and stretch it out. Explore a little bit more."
He spent about a year in New York. During that time he got the chance to play at a jazz festival out in Cypress, in the Mediterranean Sea. What was to be a couple of weeks turned into a couple of months. "I met a girl there. I picked up a gig. I started doing some studio work," he says, laughing at the memory. "Forget New York City and starving. When I was out there, I thought 'I'm just not ready for New York.' That's when I decided to head back to San Antonio and regroup."
Back in Texas, he soon shifted to Houston where he taught at the renowned High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, an institution that turned out people like Jason Moran, Eric Harland, Kendrick Scott, and even soul diva Beyonce.