David Sanborn, Renowned Jazz Saxophonist and David Bowie Collaborator, Dies at 78

Jazz saxophonist David Sanborn, a six-time Grammy Award winner who played on classic records from Stevie Wonder and David Bowie, has died at the age of 78.

In a series of posts on X (formerly Twitter), his official account revealed that the musician passed away Sunday due to complications from prostate cancer. “It is with sad and heavy hearts that we convey to you the loss of internationally renowned, 6 time Grammy Award-winning, saxophonist, David Sanborn. Mr. Sanborn passed Sunday afternoon, May 12th, after an extended battle with prostate cancer with complications.”

His account notes that he had been struggling with prostate cancer since 2018, and that he recently felt well enough to resume performing live with shows scheduled through 2025. Last month, he announced the cancelation of several shows in Virginia set to take place in May, citing health issues. “For the last weeks I’ve been dealing with unbelievable pain in my spine that prohibited me from walking, let alone playing my horn,” he wrote in a statement. “We were finally able to diagnose the issue as two stressed fractures in my spine. Last week I underwent an unexpected spinal surgery. The doctors assure me the procedure was a success, but recovery is 6 to 8 weeks of doing nothing, including not playing my horn.”

Throughout his decades-long career, Sanborn became known for traipsing genres, bringing jazz sensibilities to pop, R&B and rock records. He played with musicians including Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones, James Brown, Chaka Khan, Elton John, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Steely Dan, Grateful Dead and numerous others. Of his many recordings, one of his definitive contributions was to Bowie’s “Young Americans” in 1975.

As a solo musician, he released 25 albums beginning with his 1975 debut “Taking Off.” Eight of those releases went gold, while a ninth went platinum. Sanborn was first introduced to the saxophone as part of treatment therapy after contracting polio when he was three years old. He studied music at Northwestern University and University of Iowa, and traveled to California to join the Butterfield Blues Band. After playing Woodstock with Paul Butterfield, he performed live with the Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder, contributing to the latter’s 1972 album “Talking Book.” In 1982, Sanborn won his first Grammy with “All I Need Is You” in the best R&B instrumental performance category.

Outside of music, he hosted the Lorne Michaels-produced show “Night Music” from 1988 to 1990, featuring jazz musicians including Billie Holiday and Dave Brubeck. He also hosted ABC’s “After New Year’s Eve” TV special, as well as the radio program “The Jazz Show with David Sanborn” in the 1980s and ’90s. As recently as early this year, he was hosting the “As We Speak” podcast which saw him in conversation with musicians including Samara Joy and Sonny Rollins.

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