Pharoah Sanders Dead At 81

Pharoah Sanders Dead At 81

Revered free jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders has died. The news was confirmed in a social-media post by Sanders’ record label Luaka Bop, who wrote: “We are devastated to share that Pharoah Sanders has passed away. He died peacefully surrounded by loving family and friends in Los Angeles earlier this morning. Always and forever the most beautiful human being, may he rest in peace.” Sanders was 81.

Born Ferrell Sanders in 1940 in Little Rock, Arkansas, Sanders began his professional jazz career playing the tenor saxophone after moving to Oakland, California in 1959. He later relocated to New York in 1961. There, he fell into the exploding local jazz scene, practicing with Sun Ra And His Arkestra (Sun Ra is said to have encouraged Sanders to adopt the stage name Pharoah) but experiencing periodic homelessness.

In 1965, Sanders officially joined John Coltrane’s band, which was beginning to explore a more experimental sound, influenced by Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, and Cecil Taylor. Sanders’ first albums with Coltrane were 1965’s Ascension and 1966’s Meditations.

Also in the ’60s, Sanders worked with Michael Mantler and Carla Bley’s Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Association album The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra (1968). He released his first solo album, Pharoah’s First, in 1965. Tauhid followed in 1966.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Sanders worked with Alice Coltrane on her Journey In Satchidananda album (he also played on Alice’s 1968 album A Monastic Trio) and released more solo works via Coltrane’s label home of Impulse! Records, including Karma (1969), Jewels Of Thought (1969), Deaf Dumb Blind (Summun Bukmun Umyun) (1970), Thembi (1971), Wisdom Through Music (1972), and many others.

Best known for leading the spiritual jazz movement and defining the 1960s jazz scene, Sanders collaborated with numerous genre greats across the decades, including Kenny Garrett, Norman Connors, Tisziji Muñoz, McCoy Tyner, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, and Randy Weston.

In more recent years, Sanders reissued a handful of his previous records, including Tauhid, Jewels Of Thought, Deaf Dumb Blind (Summun Bukmaun Umyun), and Live In Paris (1975). In 2021, Sanders released the late-career masterpiece Promises with Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra.

After learning of Sanders’ death, legions of friends and collaborators flooded social media with tributes, including Sun Ra Arkestra, Nigel Godrich, Badbadnotgood, Low, Strand Of Oaks, the Bug, Warren Defever, and Yasmin Williams. Floating Points wrote: “My beautiful friend passed away this morning. I am so lucky to have known this man, and we are all blessed to have his art stay with us forever. Thank you Pharoah.”

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