Candy Dulfer is a phenomenon on the contemporary jazz stage. While it takes most young jazz musicians years to make themselves known, Candy was already an established musician with a record deal by the age of 19. Moreover, Candy, a gorgeous blonde sax player with the appearance of a top model, says she has never actually experienced a prejudiced attitude against her as one of the very few female jazz musicians who managed to break through.
Now 37, she is undoubtedly one of the highest-profile female sax players today, having worked with soul idol Prince and the father of funk, Maceo Parker, among others. She can also count jazz legend Sonny Rollins as a fan. Despite that, she can also be called a pop sensation. Dulfer has played with everyone from Beyonce to Pink Floyd, and even Q magazine, which generally stays away from jazz, singled out Candy, admitting that “she can really play.” Dulfer’s music is generally labeled in the United States as “smooth jazz,” which seems unfair. Her style of playing, outstanding improvisations and mixing of funk, soul and rhythm and blues influences, puts her a head above any other smooth jazz player.
Dulfer first picked up a saxophone at the age of 6 from her dad, who is also a sax player. Encouraged by his positive reaction to her first attempts, she took up playing saxophone seriously, and from her early years often took to the stage during her dad’s gigs. At 12, Dulfer was chosen by blues vocalist Rosa King to accompany her at the North Sea Jazz Festival — the largest jazz happening in Europe. After that, she formed her own band, Funky Stuff, who rapidly became the hottest newcomers on the Dutch music scene.
In 1987, Candy, then 17, was opening for Madonna during the pop star’s concerts in the Netherlands, and while the styles of the two were completely different the 50,000 in attendance accepted Candy’s performance warmly. Candy’s band, which throughout the following year became a hit act in the Netherlands, was also supposed to open for Prince. When Prince suddenly cancelled support acts for his gigs, Candy wrote an angry letter to him, which forced him to apologize and invite her to play with his own band. Since then, Dulfer has continuously toured with him, most notably performing with the megastar during his 2005 worldwide Musicology tour.
Working with Prince helped put her into the spotlight, and she has stayed there ever since. When she was only 19, she recorded the hit “Lily Was Here” with ex-Eurythmics guitarist Dave Stewart. Despite the song being written and produced by Stewart with Candy providing only sax improvisation, Dave granted her the royalties for the composition.
The composition became a No. 1 hit all over Europe and helped Candy start her solo career. Her debut album “Saxophonic,” released the following year, sold more than 1 million copies worldwide and was nominated for a Grammy Award. Candy’s breakthrough in the United States happened in 1997 with her fourth album, which stayed in the Billboard charts for 40 weeks.
She has released 12 albums in total, and the 13th, called “Funked Up and Chilled Out,” is due in April. She has worked with a diverse range of musicians such as trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, Van Morrison and soul diva Aretha Franklin, among others. Dulfer also hosts her own TV show in the Netherlands where she interviews prominent jazz musicians.
Dulfer’s confident stage presence, acquired in early childhood, makes her shows not only visual but also aural spectacles as she completely throws herself into performing. In a recent interview for the magazine All About Jazz she said: “Tomorrow, if somebody tells me that I’ll never be able to make albums again, I wouldn’t care. As long as I can play live, that’s the most important thing.”