David Sanborn

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David Sanborn
David Sanborn, Festival de Jazz Riviera Maya 2008
David Sanborn, Festival de Jazz Riviera Maya 2008
Background information
Birth nameDavid William Sanborn
Born (1945-07-30) July 30, 1945 (age 78)
Tampa, Florida, U.S.
GenresJazz, jazz fusion, blues rock, R&B, pop, blues
Instrument(s)Alto saxophone, piano
Years active1959–present
LabelsVerve, GRP, Rhino, Elektra, Warner Bros., Reprise

David William Sanborn (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.[1] He released his first solo album Taking Off in 1975, but has been playing the saxophone since before he was in high school and was a session musician long before its release.[2] He remains popular as a session musician, playing in several albums of various artists (see Discography).

One of the most commercially successful American saxophonists to earn prominence since the 1980s, Sanborn is described by critic Scott Yanow[3] as "the most influential saxophonist on pop, R&B, and crossover players of the past 20 years." He is often identified with radio-friendly smooth jazz, but he has expressed a disinclination for the genre and his association with it.[1]

Early life[edit]

Sanborn was born in Tampa, Florida, and grew up in Kirkwood, Missouri. He contracted polio in his youth.[4] He began playing saxophone on a physician's advice to strengthen his weakened chest muscles and improve his breathing, instead of studying piano. Alto saxophonist Hank Crawford, at the time a member of Ray Charles's band, was an early and lasting influence on Sanborn.[5]

Sanborn attended college at Northwestern University and studied music.[2] But he transferred to the University of Iowa where he played and studied with saxophonist J.R. Monterose.[2]


Sanborn performed with blues musicians Albert King and Little Milton at the age of 14.[4] He continued playing blues when he joined Paul Butterfield blues band in 1967.[5]

Sanborn recorded on four Butterfield albums as a horn section member and soloist from 1967 to 1971. In the early morning of Monday, August 18, 1969, Sanborn appeared as a member of the band at the Woodstock Music Festival at Bethel, NY.

In 1972 Sanborn played on the track "Tuesday Heartbreak" on the Stevie Wonder album Talking Book. His work in 1975 with David Bowie on Young Americans and on the James Taylor recording of "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)" on the album Gorilla further brought to prominence his alto saxophone voice in popular music.

In the mid-70s Sanborn became active in the popular jazz fusion scene by joining the Brecker Brothers band where he became influenced by Michael Brecker, and it was with the brothers that he recorded his first solo album, Taking Off, nowadays regarded as something of a jazz/funk classic.

Although Sanborn is most associated with smooth jazz, he studied free jazz in his youth 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 featured avant-garde musicians.

In 1985 Sanborn and Al Jarreau played two sold-out concerts at Chastain Park in Atlanta.[6]


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, Loudon Wainwright III, 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, Nena, Hikaru Utada, The Rolling Stones, Ian Hunter, and Toto.

Many of his solo recordings were collaborations with the bassist/multi-instrumentalist/composer and producer Marcus Miller, whom he met in the Saturday Night Live band in the late 1970s.

Sanborn performed with Eric Clapton on film soundtracks such as Lethal Weapon (and its sequels) and Scrooged.

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.[7] 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.

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 broadcast on Turner Network Television (TNT) and issued on CD and video in 1996.

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.[8] 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 from his album Only Everything. In 2011, Sanborn toured with keyboardist George Duke and bassist Marcus Miller as the group DMS. In 2013, Sanborn toured with keyboardist Brian Culbertson on "The Dream Tour" celebrating the 25th anniversary of the song "The Dream".

Besides playing alto saxophone as his main instrument, Sanborn plays also tenor, soprano and sopranino saxophone, saxello, flute & keyboards/piano on some recordings.[9][10][11][12]


Sanborn has performed and hosted radio, television, and web programs. He was a member of the Saturday Night Live Band in 1980. From the late 1980s he was a regular guest member of Paul Shaffer's band on Late Night with David Letterman. He also appeared a few times on the Late Show with David Letterman in the 90s.

From 1988 to 1989, he co-hosted Night Music, a late-night music show on 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, Elliott Sharp, 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), Anson Funderburgh, John Zorn, and Curtis Mayfield.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Sanborn hosted a syndicated radio program, The Jazz Show with David Sanborn.[5]

Sanborn has recorded many shows' theme songs as well as several other songs for The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder.

In 2021 as the coronavirus pandemic paused live music performances in public venues, Sanborn hosted a series master classes on Zoom and also virtual productions of "Sanborn Sessions" with artists such as Marcus Miller, Christian McBride, Sting, Michael McDonald, which involved live performances and interviews from his home in Westchester, N.Y.[13]


Sanborn plays a Selmer Mark VI alto saxophone. In the early 1980s he was endorsed by Yamaha and played their saxophones on the albums As We Speak and Backstreet and can be seen playing a Yamaha saxophone at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1981.

According to an April 1988 interview published in the jazz magazine DownBeat, he has a preference for Selmer Mark VI alto saxophones in the 140,000-150,000 serial number range, all produced in 1967. From the late 70s Sanborn played mouthpieces created by Bobby Dukoff. He is currently playing a mouthpiece designed by Aaron Drake.

Awards and honors[edit]

He has won six Grammy Awards and has had eight gold albums and one platinum album.[14]

Sanborn won Grammy Awards for Voyeur (1981), Double Vision (1986), and the instrumental album Close Up (1988).

In 2004, Sanborn was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[15]


As leader[edit]

  • This Masquerade (Warner, 2018)


  • The Best of David Sanborn (Warner Bros., 1994)[17]
  • Love Songs (Warner Bros., 1995)
  • Dreaming Girl (WEA, 2008)
  • Then Again: The Anthology (Rhino, 2012) [2-CD][18]
  • Anything You Want (Cherry Red, 2020) [3-CD]

As guest

  • Anders Wihk, Same Tree Different Fruit - on ”Thank You For The Music” (Capitol Music Group AB, 2012)

As sideman[edit]


  • Love and Happiness (1986)
  • The Super Session (1997) - David Sanborn & Friends
  • The Super Session II (1998) - David Sanborn & Friends
  • Legends: Live at Montreux 1997 (2005)
  • The Legends of Jazz: Showcase (2006)
  • Live at Montreux 1984 (2009)



  • The Wizard of Oz in Concert: Dreams Come True (1995)
    Cast member in the TV stage musical
  • Scrooged (1988)
    Played a street musician
  • Sunday Night (1988)
    Was the host of this music show
  • Magnum P.I. (1986)
    Was guest saxophonist in the episode L.A.
  • Stelle Sulla Citta (1983)[25]





  1. ^ a b Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (1996) [1992]. The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD (3 ed.). London: Penguin Group. pp. 1148–1149. ISBN 0-14-051368-X.
  2. ^ a b c "Biography". Official Community of David Sanborn. Archived from the original on May 17, 2013. Retrieved May 15, 2008.
  3. ^ Yanow, Scott. "David Sanborn – Biography" from Allmusic.com. Retrieved May 21, 2011
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Himes, Geoffrey (November 2008). "David Sanborn: The Blues and the Abstract Truth". Jazztimes.com. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Balfany, Greg (January–February 1989). "David Sanborn". Saxophone Journal. Vol. 13, no. 4. pp. 28–31.
  6. ^ "Box Score Top Grossing Concerts". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media. June 1, 1985. pp. 48–. ISSN 0006-2510.
  7. ^ Wynn, Ron (1994). All Music Guide to Jazz. San Francisco: Miller Freeman. p. 567. ISBN 0-87930-308-5.
  8. ^ "David Sanborn & Blue Note Tokyo All-Star Jazz Orchestra directed by Eric Miyashiro". Blue Note Tokyo. Blue Note Japan Inc. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  9. ^ "David Live - David Bowie | Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic.
  10. ^ "David Sanborn - as We Speak Album Reviews, Songs & More | AllMusic". AllMusic.
  11. ^ "Upfront - David Sanborn | Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic.
  12. ^ "Voyeur - David Sanborn | Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic.
  13. ^ Post-Dispatch, Daniel Durchholz | Special to the (March 18, 2022). "St. Louis upbringing inspired saxophonist David Sanborn's music career". STLtoday.com. Retrieved December 29, 2022.
  14. ^ "Gigs". davidsanborn.com. David Sanborn. Archived from the original on September 14, 2017. Retrieved May 2, 2017.
  15. ^ "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". stlouiswalkoffame.org. St. Louis Walk of Fame. Archived from the original on October 31, 2012. Retrieved April 25, 2013.
  16. ^ Jurek, Thom (April 7, 2015). "Time and the River - David Sanborn | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved May 7, 2015.
  17. ^ "The Best of David Sanborn". AllMusic.
  18. ^ "Then Again: The Anthology - David Sanborn | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic.
  19. ^ "All My Friends Are Here - Arif Mardin | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved October 22, 2019.
  20. ^ "The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion". Randybrecker.com.
  21. ^ "Rocks". Randybrecker.com.
  22. ^ "The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - Live At Woodstock (2-LP)". Bluesmagazine.nl. January 23, 2020. Retrieved March 26, 2023.
  23. ^ "Blue Moves - Elton John | Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved May 7, 2015.
  24. ^ "David Sanborn | Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved October 6, 2017.
  25. ^ a b c d "Filmography". Official Community of David Sanborn. Archived from the original on February 5, 2012. Retrieved May 16, 2008.

External links[edit]