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David Sanborn, Grammy Award-winning saxophonist, dies at 78

Saxophonist David Sanborn performs on the Stravinski Hall stage at the 43rd Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland, in July 2009. The six-time Grammy Award-winning jazz musician, who “put the saxophone back into Rock ’n Roll” in live performances with David Bowie and the Rolling Stones, has died at the age of 78. File Photo by Martial Trezzini/EPA
Saxophonist David Sanborn performs on the Stravinski Hall stage at the 43rd Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland, in July 2009. The six-time Grammy Award-winning jazz musician, who “put the saxophone back into Rock ’n Roll” in live performances with David Bowie and the Rolling Stones, has died at the age of 78. File Photo by Martial Trezzini/EPA

May 13 (UPI) -- David Sanborn, the six-time Grammy Award-winning jazz saxophonist who "put the saxophone back into Rock 'n Roll" in live performances with David Bowie and the Rolling Stones, has died at the age of 78.

Sanborn died Sunday in Tarrytown, N.Y., due to complications following a long battle with prostate cancer, according to a message posted to Sanborn's social media channels.

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"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," read the message on X.

"Mr. Sanborn passed Sunday afternoon, May 12th, after an extended battle with prostate cancer with complications."

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Sanborn was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018, but had continued to tour. His concerts were scheduled into 2025, according to the post, which called Sanborn "a seminal figure in contemporary pop and jazz music," who "put the saxophone back into Rock 'n Roll."

During his career, Sanborn blended jazz and pop, as well as rhythm and blues on more than two dozen albums and hundreds of performances with legendary artists including Stevie Wonder, James Brown and Carly Simon.

Sanborn, who was born in Florida and grew up in Missouri, credited being diagnosed with polio at age 3 in St. Louis for leaving him with a damaged left arm and a love for music.

"I used to lie in bed a lot, listening to the radio, which was my theater of imagination," Sanborn told JazzTimes in 2008. "I was actually in an iron lung for about a year, and then I was paralyzed from the neck down for another year after that. So I spent a lot of time just lying down as a kid."

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It was on a doctor's advice that Sanborn take up a wind instrument to help with his breathing following his eight-year bout with polio that he started playing the alto saxophone at age 11.

After studying music at Northwestern University, Sanborn joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band at age 24 and performed at Woodstock in August 1969. He toured with Stevie Wonder in 1972 and played saxophone on his Talking Book album before joining David Bowie on the Young Americans tour.

"On the Young Americans tour, Bowie would sometimes let the band play for 20 minutes before he came on," Sanborn told Downbeat in 2017. "I remember we had a week at the Universal Amphitheater in L.A. It was a great rhythm section with Doug Rauch on bass and Greg Enrico on drums. On the Young Americans album there was no lead guitar, so I played the role of lead guitar. I was all over that record."

In 2020, four years after Bowie died, Sanborn posted a photo in a post on X.

"The last time Bowie and I were together ... dinner in Montreux, Switzerland, July 2002."

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Sanborn recorded or toured with the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan and Paul Simon. Sanborn also can be heard in Bruce Springsteen's 1975 hit "Born to Run."

"Anyone with a record collection more than a foot wide probably owns a piece of David Sanborn's unmistakable sound, but doesn't know it," Arizona newspaper The Phoenix New Times wrote in a 1991 article about the saxophonist.

While touring and recording with legendary artists, Sanborn released his first solo album Taking Off in 1975 and earned his first Grammy for best R&B instrumental performance for "All I Need is You" on his 1981 album Voyeur. A number of artists joined Sanborn on his albums, including Clapton who also performed with the saxophonist on the film soundtracks of "Lethal Weapon" and "Scrooged."

Sanborn produced eight gold albums and one platinum album during his career, and was inducted in 2004 into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

"It's all about finding the right note at the right place and knowing when to leave well enough alone," Sanborn once said. "And that's a lifelong quest."

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