Sax Player, Late-Night Fixture David Sanborn Dies at 78

Sad news to report this afternoon. Renowned jazz saxophonist died yesterday at age 78 after a long battle with prostate cancer.

The six-time Grammy winner performed with a galaxy of stars over the years, including artists like David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, and Paul Simon, but he was also a regular face in some of the biggest house bands in late night—and then on his own show.

He got his start in late night in 1979 when he joined the Saturday Night Live band for its fifth season. When Paul Simon and James Taylor were tapped to co-host an episode that season, Sanborn served as a standalone musical guest—the only time an SNL band member has done so. (Sanborn’s first-ever SNL appearance was during the season 2 premiere, as part of musical guest Taylor’s band.) 

Following his time in Studio 8H, Sanborn could frequently be seen on another NBC late-night show. When SNL bandmate Paul Shaffer formed The World’s Most Dangerous Band on Late Night with David Letterman, Sanborn frequently sat in with the group on Thursday (and later, Friday) nights, gamely participating in comedy bits for the show whenever requested. 

Sanborn even co-hosted his own late-night program for two seasons, the musical showcase Sunday Night, alongside co-host Jools Holland. That show, which eventually changed its name to Night Music, was produced by SNL creator Lorne Michaels.

Sanborn had been battling prostate cancer since 2018, but maintained his normal touring schedule until just recently.

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