The Story 

One of the most commercially successful alto saxophonists of his generation, David Sanborn has been a potent force in blending pop, R&B and jazz since his earliest recordings as a leader in the 1970s. Described by critic Scott Yanow as “the most influential crossover player of the past 30 years,” Sanborn has transcended genres and musical boundaries throughout his entire career. 

Born in Tampa, Florida on July 30, 1945, but raised in the St. Louis suburb or Kirkwood, Missouri, Sanborn contracted polio at the age of three and struggled with the disease for eight years before taking up the saxophone on the advice of a doctor, who thought it would aid him in strengthening his chest muscles. His first major influence on the alto sax was Hank Crawford, a key player in the Ray Charles Orchestra whose direct, emotional tone he greatly admired. Sanborn made his professional debut at the age of 14 in 1959, playing with visiting bluesmen Little Milton and Albert King. By 1965, he traveled to California and joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, recording on such blues-rock classics as 1967’s The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw and 1968’s In My Own Dream and later appearing with the band at the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. Sanborn subsequently toured and recorded with Stevie Wonder and David Bowie (his solo on “Young Americans” remains a classic) and after moving the New York City became an in-demand studio session player, recording on albums by Todd Rundgren, James Taylor, Paul Simon, James Brown, Ian Hunter, Tommy Bolin, Linda Ronstadt and Bruce Springsteen. He was a featured soloist on Gil Evans’ albums Svengali and Priestess and on Claus Ogerman’s Gate of Dreams. He debuted as a leader with 1975’s Taking Off and that same year played on Beck & Sanborn with guitarist Joe Beck and on the Brecker Brothers’ self-titled debut. 

Sanborn’s breakthrough album came in 1979 with Hideaway. He won his first Grammy Award (for Best R&B Instrumental Performance) with 1981’s “All I Need Is You,” the single from his 1981 album Voyeur. Subsequent albums like 1981’s As We Speak, 1982’s Backstreet, 1984’s Straight to the Heart and 1986’s Double Vision (his first collaboration with keyboardist-producer Bob James) helped establish Sanborn as a smooth jazz icon. Moving on to television, Sanborn hosted the Night Music show from 1988 to 1990. Produced by Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, the show featured films of jazz legends like Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck and Billie Holiday as well as a remarkably eclectic mix of musicians including Sonny Rollins, Bootsy Collins, Leonard Cohen, Pharoah Sanders, Carla Bley, Ruth Brown, Allen Touissant, Yoko Ono, Phoebe Snow, Joe Cocker, Warren Zevon, Joe Sample, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Abbey Lincoln, Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny and the Kronos Quartet. 

Sanborn has released 24 albums to date, won six Grammy Awards and has had eight gold albums and one platinum album to his credit. His most recent release are 2013’s Quartette Humaine with Bob James, 2014’s Enjoy the View with vibist Bobby Hutcherson, organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Billy Hart, 2015’s Time and the River and 2016’s Bye Bye Blackbird with saxophonist Frank Catalano, organist Demos Petropoulus, guitarist Nir Felder and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. He continues to be one of the most active musicians and potent improvisers of his genre. 

The Sound 

The cry of Sanborn’s alto sax remains one of the most instantly recognizable sounds in jazz. Hear him blend Bird-like fluidity with the gutsy, emotionally-charged blowing of his alto hero Hank Crawford in the context of meaty contemporary jazz, silvery funk, smooth R&B and global seasonings. Expect a set of groove-laden jams with Sanborn’s urgent alto providing plenty of sparks along the way. Joining Sanborn on the Exit Zero Jazz Festival hit: Wycliffe Gordon (tbone), Andy Ezrin (p) Ben Williams (b), Billy Kilson (d)

When & Where: Friday, November 8, It’s A Breeze/ Hawk Haven Vineyard Stage, Cape May Convention Hall, 9:30pm

Michael Kline