David Sanborn didn’t have the easiest childhood. While a toddler, he suffered from polio.
“I spent a lot of my really young days on my back,” Sanborn said. “When I was on my back, I listened to music.”
He went from listening to playing music as a preteen. At 11, a doctor encouraged his parents to encourage their son to play a wind instrument for therapy. Sanborn grabbed a saxophone in 1956 and has never let go.
“It was a great time to play the sax,” Sanborn said. “Back then, rock and roll was all about sax solos, not guitar solos. Those solos were all over the music of Bill Haley, Ray Charles and Little Richard. I was like, ‘Let me have fun with the saxophone.’ I played the alto and loved it from the start. It was such a liberating instrument.”
Sanborn, 66, has enjoyed an enviable career. The influential saxophonist, who will appear Sunday at the Cotillion, has made his mark in the world of R&B, but he is also a terrific jazz musician.
His remarkable versatility enabled him to become a highly sought after session player. Sanborn played with James Brown, Roger Daltrey, Elton John, Carly Simon, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie. Yes, that’s his solo on the Thin White Duke’s “Young Americans.”
“It’s been incredible,” Sanborn said. “I’ve played with a varied group of musicians, to say the least. I’ve been a working musician all of my life, which is something I’m proud of.”
Sanborn has been more than that. He became a solo artist of considerable renown. He has won six Grammy awards. He has eight gold albums and one platinum platter.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Sanborn said. “The great thing is that I’m still out there doing my thing.”
Sanborn continues to record, play live and take chances. “I still have a lot to offer,” he said. “The great thing is that you can play music as long as you’re physically able to do so. I still have the desire and the energy to get out there and play.”
Sanborn is celebrated in the smooth jazz genre, but he is uneasy with the genre’s name.
“The name is a marketing tool,” Sanborn said. “I may be tied to that genre because of people putting me there, but all I know is that I’ve played the kind of music I’ve played all my life. To me, it’s not about the labels. It’s about the music. That’s the way it’s always been for me.”