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David Sanborn, Saxophonist for David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Dead at 78

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David Sanborn, the multi-genre saxophonist who performed with David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Carly Simon, James Taylor, and many more, has died. He was 78 years old.

Sanborn’s passing was confirmed on Monday via a post on his social media. “It is with sad and heavy hearts that we convey to you the loss of internationally renowned, six-time Grammy Award-winning, saxophonist, David Sanborn,” the post read. “Mr. Sanborn passed Sunday afternoon, May 12th, after an extended battle with prostate cancer with complications.”

Born in 1945, Sanbron was introduced to the saxophone during his childhood as a means of recovering from polio. By the time he was 14, he had the opportunity to perform with blues legends like Albert King and Little Milton, the first of his many, many collaborations.

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In 1967, he joined The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, whom he played with at Woodstock two years later. In the early ‘70s, he began performing with more artists, appearing on ​​albums like B.B. King’s Guess Who, Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, and Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, a True Star.

One of Sanborn’s most memorable collaborations came in the mid-’70s when he provided saxophone for David Bowie’s band, appearing on the live album David Live. The next year, he filled out the arrangements of Bowie’s album Young Americans with his signature playing, laying down now-iconic saxophone parts with masterful growls and wails through his horn.

In 1975, Sanborn also launched his solo career, which would see him release dozens of genre-blending albums, several of which earned him Grammy Awards and the No. 1 slot on Billboard’s jazz chart.

Other artists Sanborn collaborated with in the ‘70s and ‘80s include James Brown (on the albums Hell and Reality), George Benson, James Taylor, Loudon Wainwright III, Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, Bruce Springsteen, Jaco Pastorius, Elton John, Burt Bacharach, Don McLean, Linda Rondstadt, Chaka Khan, Dr. John, The Eagles, Steely Dan, Aretha Franklin, Al Jarreau, Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, Roger Waters, Toto, Eric Clapton, and more.

Beyond recording and performing live, Sanborn also had an active media career, appearing in films and TV programs. For a period of time, he was in the Saturday Night Live band, and then co-hosted the Lorne Michaels-produced music show Sunday Night. He also hosted a radio program, The Jazz Show, a YouTube series titled Sanborn Sessions, and a podcast, As We Speak.

In recent decades, Sanborn continued his momentum, and stayed active with performing. He released his final solo album, This Masquerade, in 2018, and continued playing shows even through his battle with prostate cancer. According to the social media posts on his pages, he was booked for shows going into 2025. Read the full statement below.

Others have come forward and paid tribute to Sanborn, including Mark Hamil, who wrote “Masterful musician will be greatly missed.” Eric Clapton, John Mclaughlin, David Bowie’s official page, and others made statements honoring Sanborn as well. David Letterman’s YouTube also shared a tribute to Sanborn, which you can watch below.

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