Jazz legend Pharoah Sanders dies, aged 81

Jazz legend Pharoah Sanders dies, aged 81

American spiritual jazz legend Pharoah Sanders has died aged 81.

The news was confirmed by Sanders’ label, Luaka Bop, via Twitter on Saturday (24th September). “We are devastated to share that Pharoah Sanders has passed away,” wrote the label. “He died peacefully surrounded by loving family and friends in Los Angeles earlier this morning. Always and forever the most beautiful human being, may he rest in peace”.

Born Farrell Sanders on October 13, 1940 in Arkansas, he began his career as a tenor saxophonist in Oakland, after originally learning the alto saxophone in high school. A move to New York in 1961 kicked things into gear when he crossed paths with the legendary Sun Ra. He started performing with Sun Ra and released his debut LP, ‘Pharoah’s First’ on the ESP-Disk label in 1965.

Following the release of his debut album, he made a name for himself as a member of John Coltrane’s touring band, joining in 1965 and playing on various albums with the jazz visionary up until his death from cancer in 1967. 

Sanders’ seminal 1969 album ‘Karma’ is considered a landmark of spiritual jazz, weaving in non-western influences from traditional African and South Asian music. He continued to put out records as a bandleader during the ’70s, primarily on the Impulse! label, and performed on Alice Coltrane’s seminal ‘Journey in Satchidananda’ album in 1971.

He went on to collaborate with a wealth of artists, including Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, Kenny Garrett, Norman Connors, Tisziji Muñoz, McCoy Tyner, and Randy Weston. In 2021, Sanders teamed up with Floating Points and The London Symphony Orchestra for the Mercury Prize-nominated collaborative album ‘Promises’. He also reissued several of his records in recent years, including ‘Tauhid’, ‘Jewels of Thought’, ‘Deaf Dumb Blind (Summun Bukmun Umyun)’, and ‘Live in Paris (1975)’.

“My beautiful friend passed away this morning,” tweeted Floating Points on Saturday. “I am so lucky to have known this man, and we are all blessed to have his art stay with us forever. Thank you Pharoah.”

Many people from across the electronic music community and beyond have paid tribute to Sanders. See a selection of tributes below.

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