Chances are any cursory listen to classic rock radio yields at least one soaring saxophone solo by David Sanborn. Even TV isn’t off-limits to his impassioned highs, namely Saturday Night Live when the show went into syndication. Indeed, Sanborn is known as much for spicing up others’ music as his own, including legends like James Taylor, David Bowie and Paul Simon.
Five decades into his career, he’s decided to pay respects to some of the players who inspired him to take up the alto sax. Here & Gone, his 23rd solo release, features classics by the likes of Hank Crawford and Ray Charles performed by Sanborn and guests, including Eric Clapton, Derek Trucks and Joss Stone.
“In the back of my mind, I think I just always wanted to directly acknowledge my debt,” Sanborn says. “But there was nothing ever really specific. It just seemed to be the right time to do that.”
Sanborn started playing sax as a child, part of his rehabilitation from polio. Growing up in St. Louis, he frequented teen dances during the summer where local and regional acts, including bluesmen like Albert King and Little Milton, were regulars. Sanborn exuded enough passion to earn invitations from both to perform with them before he even graduated high school.
“They were very generous and didn’t kick me off the stage,” he says. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is a good job.’ I think for them it was a bit of a novelty, but they also understood I had a great love for music and were supportive and encouraging.”
Sanborn later made a name for himself with the Butterfield Blues Band and as a session player for Stevie Wonder. His extensive portfolio with artists across the musical spectrum comes from, he says, being himself.
“Whatever situation I walked into, there was never any expectation other than play this how you hear it,” Sanborn says. “I’ve never had to sublimate my personality, other than playing something appropriate to the context.”