George Howard, 41, a jazz saxophonist who helped popularize the "quiet storm" and "smooth jazz" styles. A Philadelphia native, Howard began touring at age 15 with such rhythm and blues and soul acts as Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, First Choice and Blue Magic. Influenced by John Coltrane and Wayne Fortune, Howard chose the soprano sax because it resembled the bassoon, which he studied as a child. In 1982, after being turned down by 38 record companies, he landed a deal with Studio City-based TBA Records. His debut, "Asphalt Jungle" sold well, followed by his breakthrough album, "Dancing in the Sun" in 1985, and more than a dozen other discs. Howard, like soprano saxophonist Kenny G, was widely criticized by jazz music critics for playing "fuzac"--jazz fusion mixed with pop rhythms and melodies. During his career, Howard received several Grammy nominations and worked with artists including Dianne Reeves, Patrice Rushen, George Duke and Gerald Albright. Howard's records sold consistently and he remained a popular club and festival draw throughout the country, most recently as part of the popular Jazz Explosion tour. On Sunday in Atlanta, of cancer.