David Sanborn, Influential Session Saxophonist, Dies at 78

Photo: @DavidSanborn (via X)

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished May 13, 2024

David Sanborn — the Grammy-winning saxophonist and renowned session playing star who performed and recorded across multiple genres — has died. An X (formerly Twitter) account belonging to the artist shared in a statement that Sanborn passed away May 12 following "an extended battle with prostate cancer with complications." He was 78.

"Mr. Sanborn had been dealing with prostate cavern since 2018, but had been able to maintain his normal schedule of concert until just recently," the statement reads. "Indeed he already had concerts scheduled into 2025."

One of the most commercially successful American saxophone players, Sanborn's session playing appears on beloved albums including Stevie Wonder's Talking Book, Todd Rundgren's A Wizard, A True Star, David Bowie's Young Americans, Paul Simon's Still Crazy After All These Years, Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, the self-titled debut from Jaco Pastorius, the Eagles' The Long Run, Steely Dan's Gaucho, and James Taylor's JT.

His saxophone can also be heard on recordings by Aretha Franklin, Gil Evans, Idris Muhammad, B.B. King, Ron Carter, Bryan Ferry, Eric Clapton, Roberta Flack, Robert Cray, the Rolling Stones, Gloria Gaynor, Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John, Chaka Khan, Linda Ronstadt, Michael Bolton, Bob James, Maynard Ferguson, James Brown and many others.

The artist's bio notes how growing up in St. Louis, MO, Sanborn contracted polio at age three. He was introduced to the saxophone as part of his rehabilitation therapy, with a physician advising him to take up the instrument to strengthen his chest muscles and improve his breathing.

Studying music in university, Sanborn would join Paul Butterfield's blues band in the late '60s after moving to California, appearing on four albums and performing at Woodstock Music Festival with the group in 1969. As a bandleader, Sanborn released over 20 solo albums, beginning with 1975's Taking Off. His solo material earned him six Grammy Awards, including honours for Best Contemporary Jazz Performance, Best Pop Instrumental Performance, Best R&B Instrumental Performance and Best Jazz Fusion Performance.

Sanborn also hosted and performed on radio and television programs. In 1980, he was a member of the Saturday Night Live band, and made appearances on Late Night with David Letterman that same decade. In the late '80s, he co-hosted Night Music alongside Jools Holland, and also hosted the syndicated radio program The Jazz Show with David Sanborn.

Hear Sanborn's saxophone in the players below.



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