Interview: Shawn Raiford Plays in A NIGHT OF ELEGANCE at the DoubleTree Hotel

The September 30th Show Benefits Hooked on Fishing Not on Violence

By: Sep. 28, 2023
Interview: Shawn Raiford Plays in A NIGHT OF ELEGANCE at the DoubleTree Hotel

Interview: Shawn Raiford Plays in A NIGHT OF ELEGANCE at the DoubleTree Hotel

Between Sacramento and San Francisco are many small towns dotting the Interstate 80 corridor. Farmland eventually turns to the bay, which has inspired many songs such as “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay.” Maybe not as well known is one such town, Vallejo, whose biggest draw now is its Six Flags amusement park. For one talented musician, though, Vallejo is everything. Shawn Raiford is a philanthropic saxophone genius whose music has been climbing the smooth jazz charts. His latest single, a love letter to his hometown, has been described as containing “warm melodies and intimate harmonies” that “float atop a soulful midtempo groove.” BroadwayWorld recently spoke with Shawn about his new single, his dedication to serving, and the beauty of Vallejo.

You’re a new-to-me local treasure! How long have you been playing in and around Sacramento?

I started out in 1999 but I’ve been playing in Sacramento since 2007.

When did your musical career start? Did you have formal training in jazz?

I started playing in 1999 as a joke. My grandmother was having a 75th anniversary at the church. My aunt asked me what I was going to do. I told her to put me down for a sax solo. I laughed, she laughed, you laugh. I didn’t even have one. I go back a week later and my aunt has this program made up saying “Shawn Raiford, saxophone solo.” I said, “Who the hell is Shawn Raiford?” She said, “You, fool.” She wouldn’t change the program, so all of a sudden I had to go rent a saxophone. I had to figure out how to play it. The only gospel song they had in the instruction book was “The Saints Go Marching In” and, lo and behold, I’ve been playing ever since. I’ve been blessed. I’ve loved playing and I just got back from playing in Aruba and Jamaica in May. Then, I played in Texas at a wedding. I’ve got a show this weekend and another show at the Valensin Winery on October 14th.

I hear some 70s sounds in your tracks. Where do you draw inspiration for your music?

My inspiration is the GOAT, and the GOAT to me is Grover Washington, Jr. He is, to me, one of the greatest to ever do it. Gerald Albright is the GOAT of today. When I first heard Washington’s album, “Mister Magic,” I fell in love with the saxophone. I remember watching Arsenio Hall and a guy named Kenny G. walked out and just murdered the soprano saxophone. In my Mt. Rushmore, I have Grover Washington, Jr., Kenny G., David Sanborn, Gerald Albright, and I am a huge Stanley Turrentine fan. Boney James, Eric Darius, I love them. I’ve opened for Eric Darius and Paul Taylor.

You grew up in Vallejo, which is just a short drive from Sacramento. Your new song is named after that city. What do you love about it?

That was the only city that I considered home, no matter where I was. I went to multiple schools, but my grandmother lived in Vallejo and that city holds a special place in my heart. There is nowhere else I consider home. That city is where I learned everything about life. I learned the good, the bad, and the ugly. I graduated from Vallejo High. When you mention Vallejo to me, you’ll see me smile. Vallejo is the place. It’s my genesis and, when I pass, I’m going to be buried in Vallejo. Wherever I am, I pray that someone will bring me back to Vallejo. Just make sure I’m in Vallejo. Everything on this new album that I entitled “The Next Step” has something to do with Vallejo. “930 Grant Street” will be released next year and that’s the house where I grew up in Vallejo. Then the track “I-5,” but I should have made it 80. I might change it to Interstate 80. I want to have a little something of everything Vallejo.

Are you going to play in Vallejo?’

I’m going to do a music video in Vallejo. I know I’m going to do “930 Grant Street” there. I think the only person I know who’s famous that talks more about Vallejo is a rapper that grew up in Vallejo. I knew him as Earl back in the day. He wasn’t E-40 then. Even the “Vallejo” song, we kind of put a little bit of the Bay Area in there and wanted to have old school on there. My producer played with Janet Jackson and Bobby Brown and produced Whitney Houston on a Bobby Brown song. He came up with “Vallejo” and, surprisingly, it’s not smooth jazz. Nothing about “Vallejo” is smooth jazz. I’m R&B and going back in time. It’s a tribute to the city I call home.

What brought you to Sacramento?

I was going to be a football coach and I transferred to Sacramento State University. Nineteen units prior to getting my degree, I switched to being a barber and then doing women’s hair. Then I ended up doing music. When I moved here, I just started playing and never stopped.

You obviously love your community and take pride in giving back. Tell us about your experience volunteering to coach at-risk youth in football. What changes have you seen in young men who have that outlet?

I coached for thirty years in Vallejo and Long Beach, but my last stint was here in Sacramento coaching for the Sacramento Dragons. I took a team to Florida in 2011 for the Pop Warner Championship. I coached the kid who wrote and directed Black Panther when he was 12 years old, Ryan Coogler, and saw him at his last home game at Hornet Field at Sacramento State. Ryan was the third all-time leading receiver. The kids are more sensitive now than they were when we were kids playing and when I first started coaching in 1991. I coached until 2021. The reason I coached was because my father wasn’t in my life. The only father figures I had were football coaches. They were the ones who loved on me. I had a crazy coach who told me if I killed a man on the football field, I’d be famous. They said things back then that if they said today, they’d be banished. The kids today are less likely to play sports than we were. They have video games and other things. I think that boys need some type of football, and our sons are supposed to be the protectors of the house. How are they going to learn to protect if they are playing video games all day? On the football field, on the soccer field, he is going to learn to compete. He’s going to have to face adversity. Football teaches you a lot of things. It’s not for every kid, though.

You’re also busy with owning and operating a service helping disabled people with transportation. We need to start calling you Saxophone Saint Shawn! What drew you to helping those with disabilities?

I transport people with disabilities, and I’ve been doing that since 2016. My grandmother kept clients in her home, and they were like my brothers. Now they’re called consumers. When people didn’t understand what they were saying, I did. I had been driving for a company and the opportunity was presented to me to be a business owner transporting people with disabilities myself. I grew up with this, I know this. To me, it’s another labor of love. It’s something my grandmother did, but I’m able to transport them instead of taking care of them in my home. Grandma, you were stuck home, I’m driving them, and maybe my kids will be flying them from state to state. I went to all the Special Olympics. Bowling, track, I was the biggest cheerleader. When I played football and sports, my biggest cheerleaders were them. I hadn’t seen one of them, Ike, in 20 years, and I ran into him at a wedding. He looked at me and remembered me. We ran to each other like we were in The Color Purple, and we cried like little babies.

Jazz is a genre that I don’t get to experience much. When I think of jazz, my mind automatically goes to New Orleans. How is the jazz scene in Sacramento?

It’s not big. I’ll say this, it would be better if we had a jazz station but the jazz stations throughout the world have been cut down. I think there are about 5 or 6. There are a lot of satellite ones but not local stations. I have, in the years since we started, been booked a lot to play, but it’s come because I’ve been doing it so long. I stay booked. I’m trying to get booked outside of the Sacramento area. I want to be down in Southern California. I opened for Chuckii Booker in April. I’m trying to get outside of California. I want everyone to hear me. I want to play in front of the world.

Your single, “Vallejo,” is one of the most added tracks on the national radio charts this week. What does that mean and how can people access it?

You can go on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music,, and Amazon, you can play it 24/7. It is working. This week I’m number thirty-one on the smooth jazz charts. I finished last year at number twenty-two. The year before I finished at forty-nine.

As if you didn’t give back enough, you’re playing a benefit concert this Saturday, September 30, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Sacramento. Proceeds go to an organization called Hooked on Fishing Not on Violence. What do they represent and how did you get involved with them?

It's a friend of mine’s non-profit. He has been shot, left for dead, and then turned his life around so he’s trying to teach kids about fishing. The one thing about fishing is you learn patience. It’s a way to get kids to put the guns down, pick up a fishing pole, and sit outside and talk. They have healing circles and talk about what’s going on in their lives. How are you feeling? What’s going on in school? It’s one of those things where I just told him, put me down to play and I’ll be there. I’m about anything helping the kids. You call me, I’m on my way. I’ve invested 30 years in coaching and it’s a nonprofit organization where he’s bringing awareness to sitting down with the kids and talking. It’s a necessary evil. We need to slow down, and we don’t do it. You won’t get me on a dock with worms, but it's a very good thing for young people. It gets them to where they can sit down and focus.

Where can we see you perform next and what does the future hold for your music career? Is a full album in the works?

I’ll be in Sacramento playing a wedding on October 21st and on October 28th I’ll be playing in Frisco, TX. The full album will be out in 2024. Another album will follow in 2025! What the future holds, well, I just hope I’m playing places. I want to play anywhere and everywhere. Rooftop, alleyway, boat cruise, festival, I just want to play.

Shawn Raiford will be playing on Saturday, September 30th, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Sacramento. Proceeds from this concert benefit the non-profit organization Hooked on Fishing Not on Violence. Tickets may be found at (key phrase: Night of Elegance). For more information about Shawn Raiford’s work, visit

Photo credit: D. Lacy  

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