Pharoah Sanders, Legendary Jazz Saxophonist, Dies at 81

Pharoah Sanders, the legendary tenor saxophonist who performed alongside John Coltrane in the mid-1960s, has died. He was 81.

Sanders’ death was announced on Saturday (September 24) by his record label Luaka Bop, which released the influential jazz musician’s 2021 album. Promise, a collaboration with Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra. A cause of death was not given.

“We are devastated to announce that Pharoah Sanders has passed away,” Luaka Bop continued Twitter. “He passed away peacefully this morning surrounded by loving family and friends in Los Angeles. Always and forever the most beautiful person, may he rest in peace.”

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Sanders – real name Ferrell Sanders – was born on October 13, 1940 in Little Rock, Ark encouraged him to take the name Pharaoh.

Sanders initially struggled trying to establish himself in New York. “Unable to make a living from his music, Sanders pawned his horn, worked non-musical jobs and sometimes slept on the subway,” reads the late saxophonist’s website.

Sanders eventually made a name for himself performing alongside other jazz luminaries like Don Cherry and Billy Higgins. In 1965, Sanders joined Coltrane’s group on tenor sax. During this period, Coltrane released several avant-garde masterpieces, including his 1966 album, rise. Sanders played with Coltrane until the jazz icon’s death in 1967. After Coltrane’s death, Sanders performed briefly with his widow Alice Coltrane before forging his own path as a key figure in the spiritual jazz scene.

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In 1969, Sanders released his best-known album, karma, which included the nearly 33-minute track “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” The album peaked at number 188 on the Billboard 200 in August 1969. Over the next two decades, Sanders continued to release music as a leader and sideman, collaborating with other jazz acts such as McCoy Tyner, Sonny Sharrock, Idris Muhammad and Leon Thomas.

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After an extended hiatus from the recording studio, Sanders returned in 2021 with the critically acclaimed album. Promise, a collaboration with Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra. The set peaked at number 1 billboard‘s Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.

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