David Sanborn, saxophonist who rebelled against pigeon hole movement, dies at 78

David Sanborn’s fiery alto saxophone playing has earned him six Grammy Awards, eight gold albums and one platinum album, and provided the soundtrack for David Bowie’s “Young”. “The Americans” and other immortal rock classics provided indelible solos and established himself as a celebrity sideman.

He died after long-term treatment for prostate cancer, according to a statement on his social media channels. He was diagnosed in 2018, but until recently maintained a regular concert schedule, with more planned for next year.

Drawing inspiration from jazz, pop and R&B, Mr. Sanborn was prolific, releasing 25 albums during a six-year career. His fifth studio album, Hideaway (1980), featured two instrumentals written with singer Michael McDonald, as well as “Temptation”, written by Giorgio Moroder. The Seduction), the love theme of icy Paul in American Gigolo.

Tim Griggs wrote in his review of the album on the Allmusic website: “Many albums released by studio musicians suffer from weak compositions and overproduction, including some by Sanborn himself.” In contrast, he continued, “Hideaway” has a “simple, funky” quality that showcases his “passionate and unique saxophone sound.”

Mr. Sanborn’s albums Hearsay (1994), Pearls (1995) and Time Again (2003) all reached number two on the Billboard Jazz Charts.

Although the records he makes under his own name are often classified as smooth jazz, Mr. Sanborn chafes at that description. So did many of his fellow saxophonists, who found his tone anything but soft.

“The sound of ‘Sanborn’ is more of an extreme tone,” saxophonist and educator Steve Neff wrote on his blog in 2012. Raw, bright, edgy and tough. Right in your face.

“What Michael Brecker did for the tenor, Sanborn did for the alto. It’s not an in-between type of sound,” Mr. Neff added. Mr. Blake and his trumpeter brother, Randy, often collaborated with Mr. Sanborn.

Mr. Sanborn has little use for labels. “I’m not very interested in what is and isn’t jazz,” he told jazz magazine DownBeat in 2017. “The gatekeepers are aggressive, but what are they guarding? Jazz has always absorbed and transformed the things around it.

“Real musicians,” he added, “have no time to spend thinking about limited categories.”

Mr. Sanborn grew up in suburban St. Louis and was influenced by the Chicago blues music, and by age 14 he was playing with Albert King and Little Milton. “I guess if push came to shove, I would describe myself as having moved beyond blues-R&B,” he told NPR in 2008. “But I mean, if you play saxophone, you can’t escape the influence of jazz.”

Jazz musicians who have recorded with Mr. Sanborn include guitarists George Benson, Mike Stern and John Scofield, bassist Ron Carter, and arranger and bandleader Gil Evan Si and Bob James.

His influence extends beyond recording. From 1988 to 1990, he hosted the television show “Music Night” (originally known as “Sunday Night”), presenting an eclectic musical mix; its lineup included Miles Davis, Sonny Rollin jazz luminaries such as Si and Pharoah Sanders, as well as the likes of James Taylor, Leonard Cohen and Sonic Youth.

Beginning in the 1980s, he also hosted a syndicated radio program, “The Jazz Show With David Sanborn.” He recently started the podcast “As We Speak,” which offers conversations with artists such as Pat Metheny and Rollins.

Mr. Sanborn was a member of the “Saturday Night Live” band and has recorded or toured with many stars, including Paul Simon, James Brown, Elton John, Steely Dan, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones.

In 1991, the Phoenix New Times, an Arizona newspaper, commented in an article about David Sanborn: “Anyone with a record collection larger than a foot long probably owns one of David Sanborn’s unmistakable An unmistakable voice, but he didn’t know it.

Mr. Sanborn has appeared on many landmark albums, such as the Eagles’ debut album, Stevie Wonder’s 1972 “Talking Book” and Bruce Springsteen’s (Bruce Springsteen)’s 1975 hit album “Born to Run.”

He gave an unforgettable star performance on Mr. Bowie’s album “Young Americans” (1975), in which his sunny and sexy solo opened the unforgettable title track. “There was no lead guitar, so I played lead guitar,” he told DownBeat. “I’m very interested in that record.”

He also toured with Mr. Bowie’s album as part of a stellar support team that also included bassist Doug Rauch and drummer Greg Errico. “On the ‘Young Americans’ tour,” he recalls, “Bowie would sometimes let the band play for 20 minutes before he came on.”

David William Sanborn was born on July 30, 1945, in Tampa, Florida, where his father was stationed in the Air Force. He grew up in Kirkwood, Missouri (a suburb of St. Louis).

His life took a major turn at the age of three, when he contracted polio, which severely damaged his left arm, right leg and lungs.

He spent a year in an iron lung, and at age 11 he took up saxophone lessons on the advice of doctors, who believed that learning the woodwinds would help him strengthen his breathing.

The disease has lasting effects, some of which are particularly challenging for horn players. As an adult, Mr. Sanborn’s lung capacity remained limited, his left arm was smaller than his right, and the dexterity of that hand was affected.

“I don’t consider myself a victim,” Salt Lake City television station KSL quoted him as saying in 2005. “This is my reality.”

After studying music at Northwestern University and studying with saxophonist J.R. Monterose at the University of Iowa, he traveled to California and joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He was just 24 when the band played to hundreds of thousands of people at the Woodstock music festival in August 1969.

Mr. Sanborn continued to tour with Stevie Wonder in 1972 and released his first solo album, “Taking Off,” in 1975. Won his first Grammy Award: Best R&B Instrumental Performance for his 1981 album “Voyeur”.

His 2008 album Here & Gone, which featured guest appearances from Eric Clapton, Derek Trucks and Joss Stone, was a tribute to Ray ·A tribute to Ray Charles and his arranger and saxophonist Hank Crawford, who had a major influence on Mr. Sanborn’s playing.

“Music is everything to me,” he told NPR. “It’s a combination of jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues. It’s not any one of those, it’s all of those mixed together. To me, that’s the essence of American music.

He is survived by his wife, Alice Soyer Sanborn, a pianist, singer and composer; his son Jonathan; two granddaughters; and his sisters Sally Sanborn and Barb Sanborn.

Mr. Sanborn continued touring into his 70s. He found that with all the changes in the music industry, touring was a better way to make a living than recording.

“You’re making a fraction of what you were making before,” he told the Tampa Bay Times in 2017. “There’s not a lot of options.”

He found life on the road increasingly onerous, but live performance remained his passion. Despite plans to reduce the number of shows per year from 200 to around 150, he embarked on a tour in 2017 to Istanbul and Nairobi.

“I still want to perform,” he said, “and if you want to perform for an audience, you have to go where the audience is.”

Sofia Poznanski contributed reporting.

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