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Saxophonist David Sanborn has Died, Aged 78

Known for collaborating with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin, Sanborn has died following an extended battle with prostate cancer


Over many years, the six-time GRAMMY Award-winning saxophonist David Sanborn played with artists including Stevie Wonder, Elton John, BB King, Chaka Khan, Paul Simon, Todd Rundgren, and more. 

According to a statement on his social media channels, Sanborn passed away after an extended battle with prostate cancer with complications.

He was diagnosed with cancer in 2018 but had maintained his regular schedule of concerts until recently, and had more planned for next year. He was “a seminal figure in contemporary pop and jazz music,” the statement added. “It has been said that he ‘put the saxophone back into Rock ’n Roll.’”

Born in Florida in 1945 and raised in Missouri, Sanborn suffered from polio as a child, and a doctor suggested playing the saxophone to strengthen his lungs. Studying music at university, Sanborn later joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and played with them at the Woodstock festival in 1969.

In the 1970s, Sanborn began picking up session work with stars of the time — as Bowie sought to move into funk and R&B, Sanborn played the classic solo featured in Bowie’s album “Young Americans.” Sanborn also played live with Bowie, and can be heard on the classic David Live album in 1974, including on flute; he also played on Springsteen’s song Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.

Drawing from jazz, pop, and R&B, Sanborn released 25 albums over a six-decade career. His albums Hearsay (1994), Pearls (1995), and Time Again (2003), all reached No. 2 on the Billboard jazz chart.

In the 1970s, he appeared on recordings with James Brown, was a regular fixture in jazz bandleader Gil Evans’ ensembles, plus recorded four albums with Carly Simon and James Taylor.

As a composer, he also wrote film scores including the three Lethal Weapon sequels, and collaborated with Jools Holland on the US live music TV program Night Music, which hosted musicians from Sonic Youth to Sonny Rollins.

Sanborn’s solo career took off in the 1980s with a series of albums, including his sixth solo album Voyeur (1981), which was the first of five successive No. 1 hits on the US jazz album chart. He won his first GRAMMY Award in 1981, and eventually earned six wins from 16 nominations. His solo albums continued to feature star guests, including Sting, Eric Clapton, and Joss Stone. Sannborn maintained a steady album release schedule until 2015.

“The news of the loss of David Sanborn to the music world has deeply saddened me,” pianist Bob James wrote on Facebook. “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,” he added. “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 to Mr. Sanborn’s family, friends, and colleagues.

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