December 7, 2022
New Yorker illustration by Pola Maneli of Pharoah Sanders

Pharoah Sanders Dies

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Jazz great dies in Los Angeles at the age of 81

One of the pioneers of the avant garde Jazz movement Pharoah Sanders known for his 1969 seminal work Karma died on Ember Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 81.

The late tenor saxophonist was born on October 13, 1940, in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States. His mother worked as a cook in a school cafeteria, and his father worked for the City of Little Rock. An only child, Sanders began his musical career accompanying church hymns on clarinet. His initial artistic accomplishments were in the visual arts, but when he was at Scipio Jones High School in North Little Rock, Sanders began playing the tenor saxophone.

He began his professional career playing tenor saxophone in Oakland, California. He moved to New York City in 1961 after playing with rhythm and blues bands. Sun Ra’s biographer wrote that Sanders was often homeless and Ra gave him a place to live, clothes, and encouraged him to use the name “Pharoah”. 

In 1965, he became a member of John Coltrane’s band, as Coltrane began adopting the avant-garde jazz of Albert Ayler,  Sun Ra, and Cecil Taylor. The social and political tumults of the 1960s have been cited as a major contributor in the emergence of the new stylistic trend in jazz, with a very different focus than the earlier forms of standard jazz. This new music, variously called “free jazz”, “the new thing”, or “energy music” was seen as a continuation of Coltrane’s work on albums such as A Love Supreme, exploring new thematic and musical ideas, often associated with non-western spiritual and musical traditions.

Sanders recorded with Coltrane on Ascension (recorded in June 1965), then on their dual-tenor album Meditations (recorded in November 1965). After this Sanders joined Coltrane’s final quintet, usually playing long, dissonant solos as homage to the Creator influencing Coltrane’s later style. His most recent album was Promises, a collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sam Shepherd, the electronic musician known as Floating Points was released in 2021.

Lekan Babalola with Pharoah Sanders

Tributes to the jazz icon are already pouring in, United Kingdom based jazz musician Lekan Babalola who once toured with Sanders paid tribute. “He was my mentor, he was a great and kind man who taught me a lot of things about jazz and its rich heritage. He proclaimed African spirituality through his tenor saxophone.”

“Its the end of an era.” he added. Sanders’s death was announced in a statement by his recording company Luaka Bop, which did not state the cause.

Source Luaka Bop

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