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Sun, 10.13.1940

Pharaoh Sanders, Jazz Saxophonist born

Pharaoh Sanders

*Pharoah Sanders was born on this date in 1940.  He is a Black jazz saxophonist.  

Born Farrell Sanders was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. 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. The band director, Jimmy Cannon, was also a saxophone player and introduced Sanders to jazz. When Cannon left, Sanders, although still a student, took over as the band director until a permanent director could be found.  

During the late 1950s, Sanders would often sneak into Black clubs in downtown Little Rock to play with acts that were passing through. At the time, Little Rock was part of the touring route through Memphis, Tennessee, and Hot Springs for R&B and jazz musicians. Sanders found himself limited by the state's segregation and the R&B and jazz standards that dominated the Little Rock music scene.  After finishing high school in 1959, Sanders moved to Oakland, California, and lived with relatives. He briefly attended Oakland Junior College and studied art and music.

Once outside the Jim Crow South, Sanders could play in both Black and white clubs. His Arkansas connection stuck with him in the Bay Area with the nickname of "Little Rock."  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".  

Sander's first album, Pharoah's First, wasn't what he expected. The musicians playing with him were much more straightforward, which made the solos played by the other musicians a bit out of place.  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. Sanders first performed 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. Coltrane's later style was influenced by Sanders.  A member of John Coltrane's groups of the mid-1960s, Sanders is known for his overblowing, harmonic, and multiphonic techniques on the saxophone, as well as his use of "sheets of sound".

Starting in 1966 Sanders signed with Impulse! and recorded Tauhid that same year. His years with Impulse! caught the attention of jazz fans, critics, and musicians alike, including Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Ayler.  He has released over 30 albums as a leader and has collaborated extensively with Leon Thomas, Alice Coltrane and Tisziji Muñoz, among others. Saxophonist Coleman described him as "probably the best tenor player in the world".  

Although Sanders' voice developed differently from Coltrane, he was influenced by their collaboration. Spiritual elements such as the chanting in Om would later show up in many of Sanders' own works. Sanders would also go on to produce much free jazz, modified from Coltrane's solo-centric conception. In 1968 he participated in The Jazz Composer's Orchestra, featuring Taylor, Don Cherry, Larry Coryell and Gato Barbieri.  Sanders' music has been called "spiritual jazz" due his inspiration in religious concepts such as Karma and Tawhid, and his rich, meditative aesthetic. This style is seen as a continuation of Coltrane's work on albums such as A Love Supreme.  As a result, Sanders is considered a disciple of Coltrane or, as Albert Ayler said, "Trane was the Father, Pharoah was the Son, I am the Holy Ghost". 

In the 21st century, a resurgence of interest in jazz kept Sanders playing festivals including the 2004 Bluesfest Byron Bay, the 2007 Melbourne Jazz Festival and the 2008 Big Chill Festival, concerts, and releasing albums. He has a strong following in Japan, and in 2003 recorded with the band Sleepwalker. In 2000, Sanders released Spirits and, in 2003, a live album titled The Creator Has a Master Plan. He was awarded an NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for 2016 and was honored at a tribute concert in Washington DC on April 4, 2016.  On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Pharoah Sanders among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.   

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