Pharoah Sanders Essentials
Little Rock, Arkansas-born Farrell Sanders, known as Pharoah (not “Pharaoh”), came on the scene in the mid-’60s as a member of John Coltrane’s late-career ensembles on landmark Impulse! albums such as Ascension, Om, and Kulu Sé Mama. The saxophonist made history as a leader on Impulse! himself, arguably continuing where Coltrane left off—Tauhid, the first of these LPs, was released just months after Coltrane’s untimely death at age 40. Pushing beyond prescribed harmony, the technical limits of the saxophone, and the parameters of the conventional jazz band, Sanders used layered African and Afro Latin percussion, flutes, and other elements to create a new and expansive sonic mix. The beating heart of his music is the groove, driving and hypnotic, tinged at times with soul and R&B, making it a goldmine for crate diggers drawn to the allure of what came to be known as spiritual jazz. The arresting baritone of singer and lyricist Leon Thomas also played a role, resulting in what might be called Sanders’ “hit" single, the enduring “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” which was covered by Louis Armstrong. On tenor, soprano, and flute, Sanders found a voice that was raw and primal but often deeply melodic, rooted in the Coltrane aesthetic yet identifiable on its own. He died in 2022 at the age of 81, leaving a legacy that includes collaborations with Don Cherry, Alice Coltrane, Sonny Sharrock, Kenny Garrett, Chicago Underground, Joey DeFrancesco, and Sam Shepherd (aka Floating Points).