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Legendary Saxophonist David Sanborn Dies At 78

The musician performed on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Talking Book,’ among a number of other classic records.

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David Sanborn - Photo: Scott Legato/Getty Images
David Sanborn - Photo: Scott Legato/Getty Images

Celebrated saxophone icon David Sanborn has passed away at the age of 78, according to his official X account.

The announcement read: “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. Mr. Sanborn passed Sunday afternoon, May 12, after an extended battle with prostate cancer with complications. Mr. Sanborn had been dealing with prostate cancer since 2018, but had been able to maintain his normal schedule of concerts until just recently. Indeed he already had concerts scheduled into 2025. 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.’”

Throughout his career, Sanborn played with a staggering array of musical icons, both in the studio and onstage. He toured with Stevie Wonder and played on his 1972 album, Talking Book and performed on David Bowie’s classic, “Young Americans,” in addition to touring with the late legend.

In a 2022 interview with The New York Times, Sanborn recalled working on Talking Book. He said, “I remember us working on ideas for that song on the road. I remember the chorus — ‘Maybe your baby done made some other plans’ — and just the funky underbed of the tune. A lot of these were free-floating ideas that he later formulated in the songs. We’d go into a soundcheck and he would sit down and start playing a groove or something. I don’t really know what his process was. I just remember all those tunes sounded familiar when I heard them on the record.”

He also recalled an experience partying with The Rolling Stones before working with Wonder. He said, “The Stones had invited us up to a party the night before our first show, and we partied until about seven or eight in the morning. I got back to my hotel, and I got a call from Bob Margouleff saying, ‘Hey, Stevie wants you in the studio. Can you get over here right now?’

“They played a new tune down and I played along with it a little bit to find my way. And at the end of that fiddling around, I said, ‘OK, I’m ready to do one.’ And Stevie came on the intercom and said, ‘No, no, that’s great.’ Later, the record came out, and there I was. It was my run through — I’m learning the song on the solo that I’m playing. Of course I would love to have another crack at it, but at this point in history that seems a little unlikely.”

Throughout his life, Sanborn also played with musicians including B.B. King, Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Chaka Khan, Ron Carter, George Benson, Kenny Loggins, The Eagles, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel, Roger Waters, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, and more.

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