Two For Tuesday: David Sanborn

Alto saxophonist David Sanborn balks at being called a smooth jazz artist. Given the number of different styles he’s played over the years, it’s understandable, and it’s probably because he’s played so many styles that he’s considered a smooth jazz artist.

He had polio as a kid and was encouraged to take up the saxophone as a way to strengthen his chest muscles. By 14 he was playing with Albert King and Little Milton, and continued to play blues when he joined the Butterfield Blues Band in 1967. He played with Butterfield on that band’s last four albums, and was a featured artist on a couple of Butterfield’s albums after that. As a session man, he’s played with rock acts (including Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, and James Taylor), R&B acts (including James Brown and Donny Hathaway), and jazz acts (including Jaco Patorius, George Benson, and the Brecker brothers). As a soloist, he’s recorded almost 30 albums which cross the boundaries between jazz, funk, and fusion.

His first album, 1975’s Taking Off, is considered a minor classic in jazz/funk, a style he played with the Breckers. Here’s “Funky Banana” from that album.

The album I remember best was 1983’s Backstreet. From that album, here’s “I Told U So.”

David Sanborn, your Two For Tuesday, September 11, 2018.

12 thoughts on “Two For Tuesday: David Sanborn

  1. Oh, I like Funky Banana – cool song. I remember the polio outbreak. I was in elementary school and one of my friends got it. Fortunately, she didn’t have a bad case of it and we all got the vaccine.


    1. I remember a couple of kids in grammar school who were affected by polio, but by the time I started they had been administering the vaccine for a few years and the disease was on a steep decline. They hadn’t developed vaccines for measles and rubella yet; we had to build up immunity the old-fashioned way, get the disease and get over it. When my brother Jim got German measles (i.e rubella), they had just learned the link between the disease and birth defects, so one of Mom’s friends sent her daughter over to visit so she’d get them. Sounds terrible to deliberately get your child sick, but it worked like a vaccine.

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  2. I knew someone who had polio and he had to wear a leg was my friend’s dad. Now, many people don’t even remember or know that there was a polio crisis. That was smart of the doctor to tell this musician to start playing the sax. Little did he know, this guy would be able to make a career out of it. U fortunately, this is a type of music that I don’t care for even though I appreciate it.


    1. Interesting how many people had polio before Salk and Sabin did their work. Not everyone ended up in a wheelchair or an iron lung. Some people got over it or learned to live with it. I think the world is better off having had the vaccine, though.


  3. I think most gifted artists balk at being slotted into one genre of and even more so when the wedged into one corner of that genre. While “I Told You So” certainly makes the case for smooth jazz, “Funky Banana” begins to showcase the range of talent possessed by Mr. Sanborn. Nice post, thanks for sharing with us.


    1. The boundaries of what is and isn’t smooth jazz are so flexible that practically anything can fit in there. “Funky Banana” would just as easily fit into a smooth jazz playlist as “I Told U So.” Listen to some smooth jazz stations and you’ll even hear Motown oldies side-by-side with Kenny G.


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