David Sanborn Was Influential as Solo Artist, With Others

Saxophonist won six Grammys, recorded solo on 'Young Americans'
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 13, 2024 4:55 PM CDT
David Sanborn Was Influential as Solo Artist, With Others
US saxophonist David Sanborn performs on the Stravinski Hall stage at the 43rd Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland, late Thursday, July 9, 2009.   (AP Photo/Keystone/Martial Trezzini)

David Sanborn, an influential saxophonist who blended jazz, pop, and R&B in his solo work while playing with the biggest pop and rock artists of the era, died Sunday. A statement posted to his social media accounts said he'd long battled prostate cancer, CNN reports. He was 78. Eight of the more than two dozen albums he released, beginning in 1975, went gold, and one went platinum. He won six Grammys. Born in Tampa and raised in St. Louis, Sanborn began playing after being diagnosed with polio at age 3. "Music has sustained my life," he said when honored by Jazz St. Louis in March, per the St. Louis American. "As a matter of fact, it kept me alive on every level."

By 14, his website says, Sanborn was playing with the likes of Albert King and Little Milton. After college, he joined the Butterfield Blues Band and played Woodstock. His career quickly took off. Musicians he played with include Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones, James Brown, Chaka Khan, Elton John, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Steely Dan, and the Grateful Dead. His work on others' recordings included the signature sax solo on David Bowie's "Young Americans." There was no lead guitar on the Young Americans album, Sanborn later pointed out, per Rolling Stone. "So I played the role of lead guitar. I was all over that record," he said.

For years, Sanborn crossed into blues, pop, rock, and back to jazz, recording with BB King, Aretha Franklin, and Bruce Springsteen, for whom he played on Born to Run's "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out." He once told Downbeat, "I'm not so interested in what is or isn't jazz. ... Jazz has always absorbed and transformed what's around it." Sanborn added, "Real musicians don't have any time to spend thinking about limited categories." (More obituary stories.)

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