Sanders, Pharoah (Farrell)

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Sanders, Pharoah (Farrell)

Sanders, Pharoah (Farrell) , influential avantgarde jazz tenor and alto saxophonist, flutist, percussionist; b. Little Rock, Ark., Oct. 13, 1940. He received piano lessons from his grandfather and studied drums and clarinet; he also played whistles and cigar tubes and sang. He took up the saxophone and flute at age 16 and played R&B locally, sitting in with visiting artists, including Bobby “Blue” Bland. In 1959, Sanders won a music scholarship to a junior college in Oakland, Calif. While there, he played with Dewey Redman, Monty Waters, and Philly Joe Jones, among other jazz musicians, and performed in blues and R&B groups. Around 1960–61, he met John Coltrane in Calif., and they spent a day trying out mouthpieces together in pawn shops. Sanders moved to N.Y. at the end of 1962 and met Coltrane again when the quartet was playing at the Half Note in 1963. From late-1964 to mid-1965, he studied and worked with Sun Ra, while saxophonist John Gilmore was with Art Blakey. He seems to have recorded with Ra and with the Latin Jazz Quintet during this time, and played with a group led by Don Cherry-Billy Higgins group. Sanders moved back to Calif., and when he saw Coltrane at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco in September 1965, Coltrane asked him to join the group; he played on some significant recordings and toured Japan with Coltrane in the summer of 1966. With Coltrane, he played free solos composed of shrieks and moans. By October 1966, he had formed his own group with Sonny Sharrock; with Coltrane’s support, they recorded in November 1966. The more accessible modal vamp of “The Creator Has a Master Plan” from Karma (1969) was something of a hit. He began incorporating influences and instruments from Africa and Asia. During this period, he also worked with Don Cherry and recorded with the Jazz Composer’s Orch. During the 1980s, he mainly performed outside of the U.S., and recordings showed him developing what is considered an astounding mastery of standards, including a ballad performance of “It’s Easy to Remember” that favorably recalled Coltrane. Blues for Coltrane, an LP on which he played, won the Grammy for Best Jazz Album in 1989. He worked with musicians from Gnawa, and journeyed to Africa in 1994. During the 1990s, he continued to incorporate world-music influences in his group and compositions; his touring group included a traditional Moroccan musician.


Pharoah (1965); Tauhid (1966); Karma (1969); Jewels of Thought (1969); Thembi (1970); Live at the East (1971); Black Unity (1971); Journey to the One (1980); Live (1982); Africa (1987); Oh Lord, Let Me Do No Wrong (1987); Message from Home (1994). J. coltrane: Ascension (1965); Live in Seattle (1965); Live at the Village Vanguard Again (1966); Concert in Japan (1966).

—Lewis Porter

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Sanders, Pharoah (Farrell)

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