(born July 30, 1945) is an American alto saxophonist. Though Sanborn has worked in many genres, his solo recordings typically blend jazz with instrumental pop and R&B. He released his first solo album Taking Off
in 1975, but has been playing the saxophone since before he was in high school. Sanborn has also worked extensively as a session musician, notably on David Bowie's Young Americans
(1975).One of the most commercially successful American saxophonists to earn prominence since the 1980s, Sanborn is described by critic Scott Yannow as "the most influential saxophonist on pop, R&B, and crossover players of the past 20 years." Sanborn is often identified with radio-friendly smooth jazz. However, Sanborn has expressed a disinclination for both the genre itself and his association with it.Early yearsSanborn was born in Tampa, Florida, and grew up in Kirkwood, Missouri. He suffered from polio in his youth, and began playing the saxophone on a physician's advice to strengthen his weakened chest muscles and improve his breathing. Alto saxophonist Hank Crawford, at the time a member of Ray Charles's band, was an early and lasting influence on Sanborn. Sanborn performed with blues musicians Albert King and Little Milton at the age of 14, and continued playing blues when he joined Paul Butterfield's band in 1967, after attending the University of Iowa.Although Sanborn is most associated with smooth jazz, he explored the edges of free jazz in his youth, studying with saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Julius Hemphill. In 1993, he revisited this genre when he appeared on Tim Berne's Diminutive Mysteries
, dedicated to Hemphill. Sanborn's album Another Hand
also featured leading avant garde musicians.In his three-and-a-half decade career, Sanborn has released 24 albums, won six Grammy awards and has had eight gold albums and one platinum album. He continues to be one of the most highly active musicians of his genre, with 2010 tour dates exceeding 150.
He has been a highly regarded session player since the late 1960s, playing with an array of well-known artists, such as James Brown, Bryan Ferry, Michael Stanley, Eric Clapton, Bobby Charles, Cat Stevens, Roger Daltrey, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Jaco Pastorius, the Brecker Brothers, Michael Franks, Kenny Loggins, Casiopea, Players Association, David Bowie, Todd Rundgren, Bruce Springsteen, Little Feat, Tommy Bolin, Bob James, James Taylor, Al Jarreau, Pure Prairie League, Kenny G, George Benson, Joe Beck, Donny Hathaway, Elton John, Gil Evans, Carly Simon, Guru, Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel, Kenny Garrett, Roger Waters, Steely Dan, Ween, the Eagles, The Grateful Dead, the German singer Nena, Japanese pop star Utada Hikaru. and Toto.Sanborn has won numerous awards including Grammy Awards for Voyeur
(1981), Double Vision
(1986) and the instrumental album Close Up
(1988). His solo recordings have often featured the bassist/multi-instrumentalist and producer Marcus Miller. In television, Sanborn is well known for his sax solo in the theme song for the NBC hit drama L.A. Law
. He has also done some film scoring for films such as Lethal Weapon
. In 1991 Sanborn recorded Another Hand
, which the All Music Guide to Jazz
described as a "return by Sanborn to his real, true love: unadorned (or only partly adorned) jazz" that "balanced the scales" against his smooth jazz material. The album, produced by Hal Willner, featured musicians from outside the smooth jazz scene, such as Charlie Haden, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Frisell, and Marc Ribot. His more recent albums include Closer.
In 1994 Sanborn appeared in A Celebration: The Music of Pete Townshend and The Who
, also known as Daltrey Sings Townshend
. This was a two-night concert at Carnegie Hall produced by Roger Daltrey of English rock band The Who in celebration of his fiftieth birthday. In 1994 a CD and a VHS video were issued, and in 1998 a DVD was released.In 1995 he performed in The Wizard of Oz in Concert: Dreams Come True
a musical performance of the popular story at Lincoln Center to benefit the Children's Defense Fund. The performance was originally broadcast on Turner Network Television (TNT), and issued on CD and video in 1996.
Sanborn has performed on both radio and television broadcasts; he has also acted as a host. Since the late 1980s he has been a regular guest member of Paul Shaffer's band on Late Night with David Letterman
. From 1988–89, he co-hosted Night Music
, a late-night music show on NBC television with Jools Holland. Following producer Hal Willner's eclectic approach, the show positioned Sanborn with many famed musicians, such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Pharoah Sanders, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Lou Reed, Jean-Luc Ponty, Santana, Todd Rundgren, Youssou N'dour, Pere Ubu, Loudon Wainwright III, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Leonard Cohen, Was (Not Was), and Curtis Mayfield. During the 1980s and 1990s, Sanborn hosted a syndicated radio program, The Jazz Show with David Sanborn
. Sanborn has recorded many shows' theme songs as well as several other songs for The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder
More recent activities
In 2004, Sanborn was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.In 2006, he was featured in Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band's album The Phat Pack
on the track "Play That Funky Music", a remake of the Wild Cherry hit in a big band style. Sanborn often performs at Japan's Blue Note venues in Nagoya, Osaka, and Tokyo. He plays on the song "Your Party" on Ween's 2007 release La Cucaracha
. On April 8, 2007, Sanborn sat in with the Allman Brothers Band during their annual run at the Beacon Theatre in New York City.In 2010, Sanborn toured primarily with a trio featuring jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco and Steve Gadd where they played the combination of blues and jazz found in his latest album. “Only Everything”. In 2011, Sanborn toured with keyboardist George Duke and bassist Marcus Miller as the group “DMS”.