13 October 1940 – 24 September 2022
The musician salutes the long career of the fellow saxophonist, the master of spiritual, ‘cosmic’ jazz who was ‘like a third grandfather’ to him
When I was eight or nine, my father took me to see Pharoah Sanders in a little bitty club. I remember it was fun being out at night, but I also remember how powerful the music was, and how I feel I’ve always recognised his very unique sound on his saxophone. It’s like something from the cosmos: raspy, but super-soulful and pure, at times very beautiful, almost sweet, but he also adds lots of details like growls, without it ever sounding harsh. And his skill was beyond any type of technical comprehension. He could play something bluesy and spiritual, then just move into these incredible flurries of notes, like he was suddenly flying through clouds of supernova dust.
My dad, a big jazz fan, made sure that I kind of understood where Pharoah’s music came from. I knew how he was once homeless, how Sun Ra gave him a place to stay, and how he became such a huge part of John Coltrane’s band. Losing Coltrane so young [of cancer, at 40, in 1967] must have been like losing the sun in the sky. But you can hear a difference in John Coltrane as well when Pharoah started playing with him. Anyone who was around Pharoah as a musician can’t have failed but be influenced.
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