David Sanborn
David Sanborn Image Credit: AFP

Los Angeles: Grammy-winning saxophonist David Sanborn, whose soaring solos appeared on works by David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen, has died. He was 78.

The American musician, who shifted effortlessly between rock, pop and jazz, died on Sunday "after an extended battle with prostate cancer with complications," a statement on his Facebook page said.

Sanborn had a number of albums that reached the heights of the Billboard jazz chart, but was equally at home touring with the likes of Paul Simon, Elton John, Eric Clapton or the Rolling Stones.

"Real musicians don't have any time to spend thinking about limited categories," he once told an interviewer.

Sanborn leaves behind a body of work that has seeped into popular culture in a way that casual observers may not be aware of.

"Anyone with a record collection more than a foot wide probably owns a piece of David Sanborn's unmistakable sound but doesn't know it," The Phoenix New Times said in 1991, when music collectors mostly still kept vinyl.

One of Sanborn's most famous stand-out moments is the opening riff of Bowie's "Young Americans," with a searing solo that helped give the five-decade-old track a distinctive sound that still sounds fresh today.

Born in Tampa, Florida, in 1945 to a father serving in the US Air Force, Sanborn grew up in Missouri, where, at the age of three, he developed polio.

The disease - which affects the nervous system and can cause paralysis - afflicted the right-side of his body, leaving his arm under-developed.

He took up the saxophone at the age of 11 after a doctor advised him that playing an instrument would help build his lung capacity, according to the New York Times.

Despite a prostate cancer diagnosis in 2018, Sanborn had continued to perform, the statement on his Facebook page said, noting that he had concerts scheduled into next year.

"David Sanborn was a seminal figure in contemporary pop and jazz music," it added.

"It has been said that he 'put the saxophone back into Rock 'n' Roll.'"