David Sanborn Biography

In Bio, Chicago Song on February 17, 2012 at 11:42 pm

David Sanborn (born July 30, 1945) is an American alto saxophonist. David SanbornThough 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 years

Sanborn 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’ 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 group Nena, and Japanese pop star Utada Hikaru.

Sanborn has won numerous awards including Grammy Awards for Voyeur (1981), Double Vision (1986), a Change of Heart (Chicago Song) (1987) and the instrumental album Close Up (1988). 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 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. 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.

Broadcasting activities

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, 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 where they played the combination of blues and jazz found in his latest album. “Only Everything”. In 2011, Sanborn will tour with keyboardist George Duke and bassist Marcus Miller as the group “DMS”.



As leader

  • Taking Off (1975)
  • Beck & Sanborn, with Joe Beck (1975)
  • David Sanborn (1976)
  • Promise Me the Moon (1977)
  • Heart to Heart (1978)
  • Hideaway (1979)
  • Voyeur (1981)
  • As We Speak (1981)
  • Backstreet (1982)
  • Straight to the Heart (1984)
  • Double Vision, with Bob James (1986)
  • A Change of Heart (1987)
  • Close Up (1988)
  • Another Hand (1991)
  • Upfront (1992)
  • Hearsay (1994)
  • The Best of David Sanborn (1994)
  • Pearls (1995)
  • Love Songs (1995)
  • Songs from the Night Before (1996)
  • Inside (1999)
  • The Essentials (2002)
  • Time Again (2003)
  • Closer (2005)
  • Original Album Classics (5 CD box set of 5 albums reissued in replica LP covers)
  • Here and Gone (2008)
  • Only Everything (2010)

As sideman

With Hubert Laws

  • The Chicago Theme (CTI, 1974)


  • Legends: Live at Montreux 1997 (Released: 2005)
  • The Legends of Jazz: Showcase (Released: 2006)



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


  • Eric Clapton & Friends in Concert (1999)
  • Burt Bacharach: One Amazing Night (1995)
  • The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts (1996)
  • Forget Paris (1995)
  • Celebration: The Music of Pete Townshend and The Who (1994)
  • Michael Kamen: Concert for Saxophone (1991)
  • Benny Carter: Symphony in Riffs (1989)
  • The 2nd Annual Soul Train Music Awards (1988)
  • The 1st Annual Soul Train Music Awards (1987)
  • One Trick Pony (1980)
  • Late Night with David Letterman / The David Letterman Show (occasionally, 1986)
  • Saturday Night Live (15 March 1980)
  • Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)
  • Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)
  • Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)
  • Psycho III (1986)
  • Finnegan Begin Again (1985)
  • Stelle Sulla Citta (1983)
  • Moment to Moment (1975)
  • Forget Paris (1995)
  • Tequila Sunrise (1988)
  • Lethal Weapon (1987)
  • Psycho III (1986)
  • Murphy’s Romance (1985)
  • Saturday Night Live (1975)

Gear List

  • Saxophone
    Selmer Mark VI Alto Saxophone
    Manufacturer: Selmer
    Location: Paris, France
    Retail Value (approx): $6,000 (US)
  • Reeds
    Vandoren V16 reeds
    Each reed lasts David roughly a week.
  • Mouthpiece
    A modified Dukoff D8 Metal Alto Sax Mouthpiece
  • Ligature
    A Harrison Ligature
  • Bell Jar
    To keep his reeds humidified without over-soaking them, David soaks the reeds in water in a bell jar. First he soaks them for a couple of hours in the jar, and then empties out most of the water so that the reeds won’t get wet, but will still stay humid. He finds this technique extremely valuable.
  • References
  1. a b Cook, Richard; Brian Morton (1996) [1992]. The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD (Third ed.). London: Penguin Group. pp. 1148–1149.ISBN 0-14-051368-X.
  2. ^ “Biography”. Official Community of David Sanborn. Retrieved 2008-05-15.
  3. ^ Yannow, Scott “David Sanborn — Biography” from, URL accessed 21 May 2011
  4. a b c Balfany, Greg (January/February 1989). “David Sanborn”. Saxophone Journal 13 (4): pp. 28–31
  5. ^ “Sessions”. Official Community of David Sanborn. Retrieved 2008-05-15
  6. ^ Wynn, Ron (1994). All Music Guide to Jazz. San Francisco: Miller Freeman. p. 567. ISBN 0879303085
  7. a b “Discography”. Official Community of David Sanborn. Retrieved 2008-05-16.
  8. a b c d “Filmography”. Official Community of David Sanborn. Retrieved 2008-05-16.
  9. ^ “Lethal Weapon (1987) Full cast and crew”. IMDB. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  10. ^ “Gear List”. Official Community of David Sanborn. Retrieved 2008-05-16.

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