Pharoah Sanders

(1940 – 2022)

Pharoah Sanders possesses one of the most distinctive tenor saxophone sounds in jazz. Harmonically rich and heavy with overtones, Sanders’ sound can be as raw and abrasive as is possible for a saxophonist to produce.

Pharoah Sanders was born into a musical family. Sanders’ early favorites included Harold Land, James Moody, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane. Known in the San Francisco Bay Area as “Little Rock,” Sanders soon began playing bebop, rhythm & blues, and free jazz with many of the region’s finest musicians, including fellow saxophonists Dewey Redman and Sonny Simmons, as well as pianist Ed Kelly and drummer Smiley Winters. 

In 1964, Coltrane asked Sanders to sit in with his band. The following year, Sanders was playing regularly with the Coltrane group. Coltrane’s ensembles with Sanders were some of the most controversial in the history of jazz. Their music represents a near total desertion of traditional jazz concepts, like swing and functional harmony, in favor of a teeming, irregularly structured, organic mixture of sound for sound’s sake. Strength was a necessity in that band, and as Coltrane realized, Sanders had it in abundance.

Sanders made his first record as a leader in 1964. After John Coltrane’s death in 1967, Sanders worked briefly with his widow, Alice Coltrane. From the late ’60s, he worked primarily as a leader of his own ensembles. In the decades after his first recordings with Coltrane, Sanders developed into a more well-rounded artist, capable of playing convincingly in a variety of contexts, from free to mainstream. Some of his best work is his most accessible, The Creator Has A Mater Plan and Freedom are hits in the conventional sense.

His records as a leader for Impulse are some of the most highly sought after records of the modern era. Filled with lyricism and deep mysticism Sanders developed what has become to known as spiritual jazz. In recent years Sanders collaborated with British artist, Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra to create a wonderful album entitled Promises. Sanders passed away while we were creating this exhibit and we dedicate this show to him and his family.

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