“I do this because I love it, and at the end of the day, the fact that I can make a living at all doing this, I’m grateful for.”
St. Louis has always been known as a hotbed for jazz, which is fitting since one of the best-known contemporary jazz performers of all time hails from the area. David Sanborn is perhaps the most prolific performer of all time in the genre of smooth jazz. His songs are played on stations around the globe on radio, satellite, and even on television programs. David Sanborn is truly one of the best when it comes to contemporary saxophone music.
THE EARLY YEARS
David Sanborn was born on July 30, 1945, in Tampa, Florida, but moved to the Show Me State when he was a child. He grew up in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, where his musical abilities were discovered early. He suffered from a bout with polio, which actually was the stimulus for his ability to play saxophone. As a part of his physical therapy, doctors suggested that he pick up a wind instrument to help his lung capacity. As he recovered, he continued to work on his musical skills. He was so adept on the instrument that by the time he was twelve he was allowed on stage at a local club to back up musical legend Albert King.
After graduating from high school, Sanborn headed to Northwestern University but later transferred to the University of Iowa. Soon after making the move, he got married and had a child. These life-changing events made him realize it was time to expand his career prospects in order to pay the bills, so he sought out bigger venues to showcase his talent.
RISE TO FAME
Even though Sanborn was only in his early twenties, he already had a decade of experience playing on stage. A friend encouraged him to try out for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which he did, and ended up getting the job. He toured with the band for a while, which gave him more experience and the opportunity to travel the country.
He spent most of the 1970s as a traveling studio performer and ensemble musician for a number of acts. During this time, he played with some of the
biggest names in music, including David Bowie, Paul Simon, James Taylor, the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, and Stevie Wonder. He was a man in high demand and already had four of his own albums on store shelves. But as the 1970s came to a close, Sanborn decided it was time to reach out for a bigger solo career and see if he could make it on his own.
The 1980s turned out to be a major turning point in his career. He released his breakout album, Hideaway, in 1980. The following year he released Voyeur, which won Sanborn his first Grammy. He won four more Grammys in the 1980s, making him one of the most honored musicians of the decade. His popularity reached into the TV world as well, as he performed with Paul Schaffer’s band on Late Night with David Letterman, and even started his own TV show, Night Music.
The 1990s provided him with even more success. He was already an established star on smooth jazz radio, and he began incorporating other artists to play on his albums. His unique style allowed him to infuse other genres of music while keeping his core fans happy. He paired up with an orchestra on the album Pearls, toured with rock great Eric Clapton, and won another Grammy for Inside.
Sanborn continues to dominate the airwaves in the 2000s, selling millions of albums and packing arenas around the world. His collaborations with other stars, and an amazing body of solo recordings, make him one of the most influential saxophonists in jazz, pop, and R&B over the past few decades.
*The saxophone solo in James Taylor’s classic remake of “How Sweet It Is” was performed by David Sanborn.
*He recorded the theme song for the hit TV show L.A. Law.
*Sanborn performed at Woodstock with the Paul Butterfield Band.
*He appeared in the movie Scrooged with Bill Murray.