Pop Culture

Pharoah Sanders Dead at 81

Pharoah Sanders, the revered American jazz saxophonist, has died at the age of 81. Sanders’ label, Luaka Bop, confirmed the news on Twitter, writing, “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.” A cause of death has not been revealed.

Born Farrell Sanders on October 13, 1940 in Arkansas, Sanders’ career began when he moved to Oakland, California in 1959, where he attended Oakland Junior College and first met John Coltrane. After relocating to New York in 1961, he practiced with Sun Ra, who is said to have encouraged him to adopt the nickname “Pharoah”, but experienced intermittent homelessness. In 1965, Sanders became a member of John Coltrane’s band and went on to play on multiple Coltrane albums over the next two years, including 1965’s Ascension and 1966’s Meditations, as well as A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle, which was recorded a few months after Meditations but was only issued by Impulse! Records last year.

A key figure in the spiritual jazz movement, Sanders worked with numerous influential artists across the decades, including Don Cherry, Kenny Garrett, Norman Connors, Tisziji Muñoz, McCoy Tyner, Ornette Coleman, and Randy Weston. He also collaborated with Alice Coltrane on her seminal 1971 album Journey in Satchidananda and 1968’s A Monastic Trio. He released his first solo album, Pharoah’s First, in 1965, following it up with Tauhid in 1966.

In recent years, Sanders reissued several of his previous records, including Tauhid, Jewels of Thought, Deaf Dumb Blind (Summun Bukmaun Umyun), and Live In Paris (1975). His most recent LP was Promises, a collaborative album with Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra, which arrived in 2021.

After learning of the jazz legend’s death, countless friends and collaborators took to social media to pay tribute, including Sun Ra Arkestra, Nigel Godrich, Badbadnotgood, Low, Strand of Oaks, and Yasmin Williams. Sam Shepherd, aka Floating Points, wrote on Instagram: “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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