Saxophonist David Sanborn Has Died, Aged 78

by Madonna

David Sanborn, the six-time GRAMMY Award-winning saxophonist, passed away at the age of 78 after a prolonged battle with prostate cancer and its complications, according to a statement on his social media channels. Despite his diagnosis in 2018, Sanborn continued to perform regularly until recently and had concerts planned for the next year. The statement highlighted his significance in contemporary pop and jazz music, noting that he “put the saxophone back into Rock ’n Roll.”

Born in Florida in 1945 and raised in Missouri, Sanborn overcame childhood polio by playing the saxophone, which a doctor recommended to strengthen his lungs. He studied music at university and later joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, performing with them at the 1969 Woodstock festival.


In the 1970s, Sanborn became a sought-after session musician, contributing the iconic saxophone solo to David Bowie’s “Young Americans” album and performing live with Bowie on the “David Live” album in 1974. He also played on Bruce Springsteen’s “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”


Sanborn’s career spanned six decades, during which he released 25 albums that drew from jazz, pop, and R&B. His albums “Hearsay” (1994), “Pearls” (1995), and “Time Again” (2003) each reached No. 2 on the Billboard jazz chart. He also collaborated extensively, appearing on recordings with James Brown, participating in Gil Evans’ ensembles, and recording multiple albums with Carly Simon and James Taylor.


As a composer, Sanborn wrote film scores, including for the “Lethal Weapon” sequels, and co-hosted the US live music TV program “Night Music” with Jools Holland, which featured artists from Sonic Youth to Sonny Rollins.

Sanborn’s solo career flourished in the 1980s with a series of successful albums, beginning with “Voyeur” (1981), which was the first of five consecutive No. 1 hits on the US jazz album chart. He won his first GRAMMY Award in 1981 and accumulated six wins from 16 nominations over his career. His solo albums often featured guest artists like Sting, Eric Clapton, and Joss Stone, and he continued to release albums until 2015.

Pianist Bob James expressed his sorrow over Sanborn’s passing on Facebook, stating, “The news of the loss of David Sanborn to the music world has deeply saddened me. I was so privileged to share major highlights of my career in partnership with him. His legacy will live on through the recordings. Every note he played came straight from his heart, with a passionate intensity that could make an ordinary tune extraordinary. I loved David’s subtle sophisticated humor, which carried over into his music. And always made it inspiring to perform with him. He will be deeply missed.”

Our condolences go out to Mr. Sanborn’s family, friends, and colleagues.


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