David Sanborn Marked For Death

I was listening to the David Bowie album David Live this morning, released in ’74 during the Diamond Dogs/Thin White Duke era.  While it’s interesting to hear Bowie in a live post-Spiders setting, singing with a soulful voice clearly ravaged by cocaine yet somehow earthy and even hopeful, I’m noticing that there is a hot, clean style to the backing band that’s a little too late-night talk show.  In particular, the horn player keeps spiraling and doing little fills and trills that annoy the shit out of me.  I feel like any moment, Don Pardo’s voice is gonna go “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!  With G.E. Smith and the Saaaaaaaturday Night Live Band!”

I did a little research, and the horn player on this thing is David Sanborn, the soft jazz villain who played with Elton John, Eric Clapton, Al Jarreau, and a host of other mistake-makers.  From looking him up on YouTube, he’s definitely a monster that must be stopped.  What was in the cocaine in the seventies and eighties that made people think saxophone had to be this way? 

In the early days of rock, sax was king, what with Little Richard and James Brown even trying to emulate its sound with their voices.  The sixties brought great surf bands such as the Belairs and Lively Ones using sax in a sparing way, coming in on a solo or bridge, and the horns of soul music sax was a honking mating call that either was a great lead instrument (ala King Curtis) or did a dutiful role backing up the melody of a soulful singer or sitting back with the trombone.  In the glam era, the return to roots rock can be felt in bands like Roxy Music and Gary Glitter, with their horns a’grownlin (even Bowie took a turn himself on sax, playing his own parts on songs like “Changes”).  And of course we can’t forget the Stones’ and Kinks’ early seventies stuff with horns a’plenty, sometimes good and sometimes not-so-good.

But somewhere between glam and the Thin White Duke, terrible saxophones became the norm for rock combos flexing their soul muscle.  Unfortunately, it seems that Sanborn’s role on Bowie’s tour really boosted Sanborn’s career, and encouraged Lou Reed and a bunch of other people who should have known better to get him on their albums and tours, too.  Pretty soon he’s appearing in the insidious Paul Simon film One Trick Pony (okay, it did have the B-52s in it, but only to make fun of them), then he’s appearing in David Letterman’s band, doing music for Scrooged and Lethal Weapon, and generally fucking up music with his stinky faux-soul sax for a good ten-fifteen years.

It looks like his star has kind of dwindled (people are doing better drugs these days, I guess–oh wait…) but there’s a chance, like syphilis, that he could spread to a new generation of minors just when it seems the incidences of his music are low.  Now is the time to strike, before he ruins any more David Bowie albums.

3 thoughts on “David Sanborn Marked For Death

  1. Umm… Back off of my man. In any career where you play sideman on about 600 songs and do 15 solo albums, there are bound to be stinkers. Hey – even Stevie Wonder gave us “Part Time Lover” and “Ebony and Ivory” in the 80s.

    On the flip side, Sanborn hosted the coolest music show EVER on the history of network TV – Night Music. They would get a bunch of diverse musicians up there and make them play together. I seem to remember Pop Staples with Nick Cave and some Bulgarian wedding band complete with clarinets on the same show. It was truly a trip.

    Plus, Sanborn has had plenty of great moments. The 1988 Grammy performance of “New York State of Mind” with Billy Joel was very cool. Plus, he did an avant garde album with Charlie Haden, Bill Frisell, Kenny Kirkland and others called “Another Hand” that completely tanked with his smooth-jazz fans.

    I’ve heard the guy play live several times and he’s unbelievably talented. If you’re gonna grade him based on some weak track on an old Bowie record, you’re missing the whole point.

  2. Hey Bowie liked him, what do you know? It seems like you love to hate things. The other post listed Sanborn’s many accomplishments. Your rant is such a cliche it’s almost as bad as the smooth jazz you deride.

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