In Memoriam|

David William Sanborn (July 30, 1945 – May 12, 2024) was an American alto saxophonist. Though Sanborn worked in many genres, his solo recordings typically blended jazz with instrumental pop and R&B. He released his first solo album Taking Off in 1975, but had been playing the saxophone since before he was in high school and was a session musician long before its release. He was active as a session musician, playing on several albums by various artists.

One of the most commercially successful American saxophonists to earn prominence since the 1980s, Sanborn was described by critic Scott Yanow as “the most influential saxophonist on pop, R&B, and crossover players of the past 20 years.” He was often identified with radio-friendly smooth jazz, but expressed a disinclination for the genre and his association with it.

Early life
Sanborn was born in Tampa, Florida, and grew up in Kirkwood, Missouri. He contracted polio in his youth. He began playing saxophone on a physician’s advice to strengthen his weakened chest muscles and improve his breathing, instead of studying piano. Alto saxophonist Hank Crawford, at the time a member of Ray Charles’s band, was an early and lasting influence on Sanborn.

Sanborn attended college at Northwestern University and studied music. But he transferred to the University of Iowa where he played and studied with saxophonist J.R. Monterose.

Sanborn performed with blues musicians Albert King and Little Milton at the age of 14. He continued playing blues when he joined The Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1967.

Sanborn recorded on four Butterfield albums as a horn section member and soloist from 1967 to 1971. In the early morning of Monday, August 18, 1969, Sanborn appeared as a member of the band at the Woodstock Music Festival at Bethel, NY.

In 1972, Sanborn played on the track “Tuesday Heartbreak” on the Stevie Wonder album Talking Book. His work in 1975 with David Bowie on Young Americans and on the James Taylor recording of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” on the album Gorilla brought further prominence his alto saxophone voice in popular music.

In the mid-1970s, Sanborn became active in the popular jazz fusion scene by joining the Brecker Brothers band where he became influenced by Michael Brecker, and it was with the brothers that he recorded his first solo album, Taking Off, nowadays regarded as something of a jazz/funk classic.

Although Sanborn was most associated with smooth jazz, he studied free jazz in his youth with saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Julius Hemphill. In 1993, he revisited this genre when he appeared on Tim Berne’s Diminutive Mysteries, dedicated to Hemphill. Sanborn’s album Another Hand featured avant-garde musicians.

In 1985, Sanborn and Al Jarreau played two sold-out concerts at Chastain Park in Atlanta.
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Sanborn performed and hosted radio, television, and web programs. He was a member of the Saturday Night Live Band in 1980. From the late 1980s he was a regular guest member of Paul Shaffer’s band on Late Night with David Letterman. He also appeared a few times on the Late Show with David Letterman in the 1990s.

From 1988 to 1989, he co-hosted Night Music, a late-night music show on television with Jools Holland. Following producer Hal Willner’s eclectic approach, the show positioned Sanborn with many famed musicians, such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Pharoah Sanders, NRBQ, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Lou Reed, Elliott Sharp, Jean-Luc Ponty, Santana, Todd Rundgren, Youssou N’dour, Pere Ubu, Loudon Wainwright III, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Leonard Cohen, Sonic Youth, Was (Not Was), Anson Funderburgh, Warren Zevon, John Zorn, and Curtis Mayfield.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Sanborn hosted a syndicated radio program, The Jazz Show with David Sanborn.

Sanborn recorded many shows’ theme songs as well as several other songs for The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder.

In 2021 as the coronavirus pandemic paused live music performances in public venues, Sanborn hosted a series of master classes on Zoom and also virtual productions of “Sanborn Sessions” with artists such as Marcus Miller, Christian McBride, Sting, Michael McDonald, which involved live performances and interviews from his home in Westchester, New York.
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Sanborn died in Tarrytown, New York, of complications from prostate cancer, on May 12, 2024, at the age of 78. He had been diagnosed with the disease in 2018.

Awards and honors
Sanborn won six Grammy Awards and had eight gold albums and one platinum album. Sanborn won Grammy Awards for Voyeur (1981), Double Vision (1986), and the instrumental album Close Up (1988).

In 2004, Sanborn was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
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Go here to ready more on this fabulous musician’s life:

Photo: David Sanborn | from his Facebook page

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