A few weeks ago in my music blog I made mention of David Sanborn, a prolific jazz and pop saxophonist who celebrated his 77th birthday on July 30th.  David serves as the inspiration for this week’s playlist and blog, which celebrates horns in rock and pop music.  He, along with Kenny G and Michael Brecker made jazz more accessible to the everyday rock and pop fan in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s.  While saxophone dominates, trumpet and even clarinet are featured in the songs on the playlist.

Interestingly, David began playing saxophone at the advice of his pediatrician to strengthen his weakened chest muscles and improve his breathing which had been significantly damaged due to the effects of polio that attacked him at the age of 8.  [As an aside, wearing my pediatrician hat, remember when polio was a thing?  FDR sure did, as does David.  And if we aren’t careful, and don’t get back on track with vaccinating, the youth of our nation may be sadly remembering polio in all to personal a way.  Don’t wait.  Vaccinate!]

His early inspiration was Hank Crawford, who played with Ray Charles in the late 50s, with sax licks on such songs as Ray’s I Got A Woman.  He also was featured on B.B. King’s There Must Be A Better World Somewhere and Eric Clapton’s Journeyman.

Sanborn honed his skills and eventually played with many rock and pop musicians over the years.  He played at Woodstock with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. In addition to his jazz music career, he became a sought-after horn player by many pop and rock acts. In 1975 alone he was a session musician for Bruce Springsteen on Born To Run, Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years, Linda Ronstadt’s Prisoner In Disguise, The Eagles One Of These Nights, Cat Stevens’ Numbers, James Taylor’s Gorilla, and David Bowie’s Young Americans.  Additional collaborations are a virtual who’s who of 70’s and 80’s pop and rock acts, including Eric Clapton, Cat Stevens, Roger Daltrey, Stevie Wonder, Kenny Loggins, Al Jarreau, Pure Prairie League, Kenny G, Elton John, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Roger Waters, Steely Dan, The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, and Toto.

1968: Paul Butterfield “In My Own Dream”
1975: David Bowie “Young Americans,”
James Taylor “How Sweet It Is”
1982: Kenny Loggins “Heart To Heart,”
Bruce Springsteen “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”
2005: Lizz Wright “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”
2006: Aaron Neville “People Get Ready”
2008: Eric Clapton “I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts
Of Town”
2010: James Taylor “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,”
Joss Stone “Let The Good Times Roll”

songs featuring David sanborn on “Sultans of Swing”

Kenny G was the most highly visible saxophonist of the 80s and 90s.  He was heavily influenced by Grover Washington Jr., most known in pop circles for “Just The Two Of Us” with Bill Withers.  He collaborated with many stars of those decades, including artists with songs on the playlist:

1986: Steve Miller Band “Make The World Turn Around”
1988: Smokey Robinson “We Saved The Best For Last”
1991: Michael Bolton “Missing You Now”
1992: Celine Dion “Halfway to Heaven,”
Aaron Neville “Even If My Heart Would Break,”
Michael Bolton “You Send Me”
1993: Peabo Bryson “By The Time This Night Is Over”
1996: Babyface “Everytime I Close My Eyes,”
Toni Braxton “How Could An Angel Break My Heart,”
“That Somebody Was You”
2010: Robin Thicke “Fall Again,”
Katy Perry “Last Friday Night” (video version)
2020: The Weekend “In Your Eyes”

songs featuring kenny g on “sultans of swing”

Almost 4 decades later Kenny G is still partnering with pop stars, as evidenced by his solo on Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night,” with Kenny playing sax on the video but not on the studio recording, and more recently with The Weekend

Michael Brecker has been an equally prolific sax session player.  He has been sideman to the likes of James Taylor, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel, John Lennon, Aerosmith, Dan Fogelberg, Kenny Loggins, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Blue Oyster Cult, Carly Simon, Karen Carpenter, and a member of Saturday Night Live Band.

1972: James Taylor “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”
1975: Paul Simon “Still Crazy After All These Years”
1980: Steely Dan “Gaucho” (along with David Sanborn)
1982: Donald Fagen “IGY”
1983: Billy Joel “Keeping The Faith” and “Tell Her About It”
1986: Billy Joel “Big Man On Mulberry Street,”
Eric Clapton “Run”

songs featuring michael brecker on “sultans of Swing”

The Phenix horns, also known as the EWF horns, first made their mark with Earth, Wind & Fire, on songs such as “After The Love Has Gone,” “Can’t Hide Love,” “September,” and “Shining Star,” included on this playlist. 

They also forged a partnership with Phil Collins, appearing on the Genesis album Abacab, with hits “No Reply At All” and “Paperlate” as well as being an integral component on his solo albums Face Value and Hello I Must Be Going including hits “Behind The Lines,” “I Missed Again,” “It Don’t Matter To Me,” and even an instrumental horn selection “The West Side” among others.

The Memphis horns were made famous by their appearances on Stax records.  An offshoot of the Mar-Keys (see the instrumental “Last Night” on the playlist), they worked together for over 30 years, and are heard on the playlist in Otis Redding’s “Dock Of The Bay,” Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” and Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds.”  In addition to all their Stax work, they provided horns for the Doobie Brothers’ Taking It To The Streets, Peter Gabriel’s So, U2’s Rattle And Hum, Robert Cray’s Strong Persuader and Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark.  They also worked with Aretha Franklin, Rod Stewart, James Taylor, Neil Diamond, Jimmy Buffett, Steve Winwood, Joe Cocker, and Willy Nelson.

Similarly the Tower of Power was a horn section that, in addition to their own instrumental work, provided horns for the likes of Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Aaron Neville, Aerosmith, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Huey Lewis, Little Feat, Heart, Paula Abdul, Santana, Stevie Nicks, Grateful Dead, Journey, Rod Stewart, and Toto, among many other acts.  Hear them on the playlist with Huey Lewis & The News’ “Back In Time,” “Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do,” or “Working For A Living.”  They credit Huey Lewis with “saving their career” in their later days.

Of course there’s Clarence Clemmons of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band fame.  He gets a memorable shout-out from the Boss on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.”  His last work was with Lady Gaga on “Edge Of Glory,” flying from his Florida home to New York to record his sax work all in one day, not long before his death.

Trevor Lawrence, heard here on Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” and “Superstition,” also played with David Sandborn at Woodstock with the Butterfield Blues Band, and was a sideman for Marvin Gaye, Ringo Starr, Joe Cocker, Harry Nilsson, Bonnie Raitt, and the Pointer Sisters, among others.

Richie Cannata is most known for his sax licks with Billy Joel in the 70s, eventually playing with Tommy Shaw, Taylor Dayne, and touring with The Beach Boys in later years.

Phil Woods provided backing sax for the likes of Billy Joel in “Just The Way You Are,” Steely Dan in “Dr. Wu,” and on Paul Simon’s album Still Crazy After All These Years with Michael Brecker and David Sanborn.

Mark Rivera, mostly known for his work with Billy Joel in later years, has also played with Hall & Oates, Peter Gabriel on So, including “Sledgehammer,” Simon & Garfunkel, John Lennon, Billy Ocean, Joe Walsh, and Ringo Starr.  His sax solo on Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” in his farewell to Shea Stadium was so inspiring it got Tony Bennett to give him applause on stage:

For those who haven’t seen the aforementioned concert, it’s worth a watch, with Billy singing with friends Tony Bennett, Garth Brooks, Steven Tyler, Roger Daltrey, John Mellencamp, John Mayer, and Paul McCartney – just fantastic.

Another great piano and horn performance from this concert with Mark playing sax and clarinet is “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”:


Junior Walker in Foreigner’s Urgent, who happened to be playing nearby when Foreigner was recording the song. He is most known for “Shotgun” with Jr. Walker & The All Stars:


Stan Getz, jazz tenor sax great, performed mostly in jazz circles, but did some guest sideman work with some rock and pop stars, including Huey Lewis check out “Perfect World,” Michael McDonald, hear him on “Love Can Break Your Heart,” and Barry Manilow with yet another of the thousands of covers of “Summertime,” with Diana Schuur.

A few other sax performances of note with great videos include:

Supertramp’s “Logical Song”:

Glenn Frey’s “You Belong To The City”:

The playlist is organized as follows:

Dire Straits “Sultans of Swing” introducing the theme, with its lyrics:

A band is blowing Dixie, double four time
You feel alright when you hear the music ring
Well now you step inside but you don’t see too many faces
Coming in out of the rain they hear the jazz go down
Competition in other places
Uh but the horns they blowin’ that sound…

…We are the Sultans of Swing

dire straits “Sultans of Swing”

Interestingly enough there are no horns in the song.  The lyrics were inspired by a jazz band playing in the corner of an almost empty pub in South London. Despite their dowdy appearance and the humble surroundings, their name? Sultans of Swing! Though the song was Dire Straits’ very first release, gaining airplay from a demo tape submitted to a prominent London DJ, it is arguably Dire Strait’s best song, especially if you consider the concert version on their Alchemy live recording.

Then follows the Blues Brothers with their iconic recognizable horn riff bring us to the horn songs.

Subsequently there are three sections of horn songs, each arranged alphabetically, with songs as follows:

  • Songs that start with a horn intro or solo, usually anywhere from 10-30 seconds long
  • Songs that include a horn solo later in the song
  • Songs that contain significant horn work throughout the song without a significant solo

Sometimes judgement had to be used when a song might have had 1, 2, or all 3 of these components to determine in which list to be placed.

Following is a retrospective of some of the works of the artists I mentioned earlier in the blog, with Hank Crawford, inspirational to David Sanborn, starting things off with 3 songs with Ray Charles, B.B. King, and Eric Clapton.  Then a segue to David Sanborn, onto Kenny G, including a few instrumentals from each, and finally Michael Brecker.

The playlist concludes with some very popular horn dominated instrumental pieces by some very mainstream jazz bands, including David Sanborn, Kenny G, Kirk Whalum, Spyro Gyra, and Chuck Mangione.

Among my favorite artists featuring horns in much of their music, dominating the playlist, are Billy Joel, Van Morrison, Steely Dan, Bruce Springsteen, Chicago, Phil Collins, Earth, Wind & Fire and Motown in general.  Some of the most memorable songs with amazing sax work over the years include Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street,” Wham’s “Careless Whisper,” Men At Work’s “Who Can It Be Now,” Glen Frey’s “You Belong To The City,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run,” James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” Billy Joel’s “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant,” Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll,” Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” Huey Lewis & The News’ “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” and Foreigner’s “Urgent.”  Give the playlist a listen to hear these and many other notable horn songs.

I hope that this music and my blog truly serve as a “revival: a new presentation of something old,” a springboard to return to the music of your youth, or perhaps to find artists you want to discover anew.  Rediscover the passion of music in your life.

Live in the moment.

Enjoy the moment.

Love the moment.

Listen to the MUSIC!