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David Sanborn, Grammy-winning saxophonist who played on hundreds of albums, dies at 78

Posted 5/14/24

David Sanborn, the Grammy-winning saxophonist who played lively solos on such hits as David Bowie’s “Young Americans” and James Taylor’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and enjoyed …

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David Sanborn, Grammy-winning saxophonist who played on hundreds of albums, dies at 78

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NEW YORK (AP) — David Sanborn, the Grammy-winning saxophonist who played lively solos on such hits as David Bowie's “Young Americans” and James Taylor's “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and enjoyed his own highly successful recording career as a performer of melodic, contemporary jazz, has died at age 78.

A spokesperson confirmed that Sanborn died Sunday in Tarrytown, New York. The cause was complications from prostate cancer.

“The news of the loss of David Sanborn to the music world has deeply saddened me,” pianist Bob James, who collaborated with Sanborn on the Grammy-winning “Double Vision” album, 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.”

Equally versatile and prolific, Sanborn enjoyed rare fame and popularity for a saxophone player. He released eight gold albums and one platinum album; sat in frequently with the “Late Night With David Letterman” band led by Paul Shaffer; and even co-hosted a show, “Night Music,” that included appearances by Miles Davis, Eric Clapton, Lou Reed and many others.

“Jazz has always transformed and absorbed what's around it,” he told DownBeat magazine in 2017. “Real musicians don't have any time to spend thinking about limited categories.”

A native of Tampa, Florida, whose family moved to Kirkwood, Missouri, Sanborn took up the saxophone as a boy after recovering from a severe bout with polio and being advised by a doctor to strengthen his lungs. By his mid-teens, he had performed with blues greats Albert King and Little Milton, and he would soon join the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, their shows including a set at the Woodstock festival in 1969.

From the 1970s and after, Sanborn was among the busiest musicians in the business. He was a session player for dozens of top artists, from Bowie and Taylor to the Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder, and made more than 20 solo albums, including the Grammy winners “Straight to the Heart” and “Double Vision.” He continued to tour frequently even after his cancer diagnosis in 2018 and had already planned shows for next year.