GRAMMY-Winning Sax Player David Sanborn, Who Collaborated with Bowie, Springsteen, & More, Dead at 78; Artists Pay Tribute

David Sanborn, the Grammy-winning jazz saxophonist who also contributed to many well-known recordings by rock and pop artists, died Sunday, May 12, at the age of 78. According to a post on his official website and social media pages, Sanborn passed away “after an extended battle with prostate cancer with complications.”

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The message explains that Sanborn “had been dealing with prostate cancer since 2018, but had been able to maintain his normal schedule of concerts until just recently.” It also points out that the musician “already had concerts scheduled into 2025.”

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The post concludes, “David Sanborn was a seminal figure in contemporary pop and jazz music. It has been said that he ‘put the saxophone back into Rock ‘n Roll.”

One of Sanborn’s best-known performances was on David Bowie’s 1975 hit “Young Americans.” He also toured with Bowie in support of the Young Americans album. Sanborn’s other noteworthy guest appearances include Bruce Springsteen’s “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and Linda Ronstadt’s hit 1978 cover of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “Ooh Baby Baby.”

When Sanborn was still a teenager, he had the chance to play with such blues legends as Albert King and Little Milton. In 1967, Sanborn joined The Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1967, and he played with the group’s horn section until 1971. His stint with the band included a performance at the historic 1969 Woodstock festival.

In the early 1970s, Sanborn contributed to recordings by B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Todd Rundgren, James Brown, and many others.

In 1975, he released his debut solo effort, Taking Off, the first of more than two-dozen albums. Sanborn went on to win six Grammys for his solo work.

Sanborn’s Other Credits

Among the many other artists with whom he collaborated during his long career were George Benson, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Kenny Loggins, Carly Simon, Cat Stevens, Elton John, Chaka Khan, The Eagles, Pure Prairie League, Steely Dan, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, Roger Waters, Toto, and Eric Clapton.

From 1988 to 1990, Sanborn hosted the music-performance series Night Music, which was produced by Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels. The show regularly featured live performances that brought together artists from various musical genres.

Later, Sanborn hosted a jazz radio show, a YouTube series, and a podcast.

Artists Pay Tribute to Sanborn

In the wake of Sanborn’s death, many respected musicians took to the comments section of his Instagram page to post tributes and reactions. Here are a number of the messages:

Will Lee: “This is most terrible news. He was a huge part of my life—our lives—since forever. My condolences to the family & to the love of his life @alice_soyer, who gave him the happiest ending to his life story. We are heartbroken, but Dave’s music lives on, through all the fans, friends and countless musicians around the world who were influenced by his incredible soulful ‘make every note count’ musicianship.”

Omar Hakim: “I was really fortunate and lucky to have worked with David over the years. Sooo many amazing memories of touring, recording and working on his Night Music TV show. He was a WONDERFUL Musician and a great guy to hang out with! RIP to a true Legend!”

Candy Dulfer: “Omg my hero! Nobody like him, I am so sorry for your loss.”

Nile Rodgers: “RIP my friend. I loved working with you.”

Nathan East: “RIP David. thanks for all the good notes you left us!”

Vinnie Colaiuta: “This is so sad and surreal. Rest in peace David. I’m honored to have known you. Thank you for all the amazing music.”

Jools Holland: “So sorry to hear this he was a great man and dear friend. I send all love prayers and sincere condolences to his family and loved ones.”

Questlove: “All Due Respect.”

Vonda Shepard: “Wow, this is very sad. David opened for Al Jarreau when I was in the band… amazing memories of this tremendous musician.”

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Steve Harvey Foundation

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