Pharoah Sanders, the cosmic jazz saxophonist, has died

Pharoah Sandersone of the most creative figures of the jazz who made both Indian and African music his own by bringing his saxophone to unsuspected limits, passed away this Saturday at the age of 81.

His label, Luaka Bop, announced that he died peacefully with his family and friends in Los Angeles.

Always and forever, may this beautiful human being rest in peace,” the label wrote in a statement.

Sanderswho led the movement free jazz to new heights, practically attacking his saxophone excessively blowing the mouthpiece -he collected hundreds of them-, he bit the reed and even shouted into the bell of the instrument.

This John Coltrane disciple, who played aggressive solos on Coltrane’s last album, “Live in Japan,” was often seen as a kind of successor to his master, who died suddenly in 1967.

Ornette Coleman -possibly the most important pioneer of free jazz- defined Sanders as “probably the best tenor sax player in the world”.

But Sanders, who also played soprano and alto saxophone, failed to command the unanimity of the public and never enjoyed the commercial success of Coltrane, Coleman or other historic jazz innovators.

With solos that went from shrill and squawking to silky and melodic, Sanders was described as the godfather of spiritual and even cosmic jazz, although he always rejected labels.

Among his best-known works is “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” a nearly 33-minute track from his “Karma” album, in which Sanders sounds like he’s exorcising demons, before returning to a heavenly state.

Leon Thomas sings the theme from 1969, at the height of the counterculture: “The creator has a master plan / Peace and happiness for all men.”

“Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt,” from Sanders’ seminal 1967 album “Tauhid,” builds on guitar riffs and a soft xylophone that pays homage to African tradition, as Sanders bursts into a howling saxophone.

The saxophone, extension of itself

I really don’t see the trunk anymore. I try to see myself,” he said at the presentation of “Tauhid,” his first album on the Impulse! label, which Coltrane released.

It’s not that I’m trying to scream with my trunk, I’m just trying to put all my feelings into my trunk.”

Farrell Sanders – he changed the spelling of his given name at the urging of futuristic jazz composer Sun Ra – was born and raised in segregated Little Rock, Arkansas, where he played clarinet in a school band and explored jazz with artists who came in you tour them.

After high school he moved to Oakland, California, where he first enjoyed the freedom of attending racially mixed clubs and had a first encounter with Coltrane while shopping for mouthpieces.

He later went to New York, where he became destitute, working as a cook and even selling his blood to survive.

He met Sun Ra when he was cooking at a club in Greenwich Village. Discovering his musical talent, Sun Ra and Coltrane recruited Sanders for his band. Upon Coltrane’s death he became its leader.

I have a dark sound; a lot of the young guys have a bright sound, but I like a darker sound with more roundness, more depth and feeling,” he described his style in a 1996 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.

I want to take the audience on a spiritual journey; I want to stir it up, excite it. Then I bring them back with a sense of calm,” he explained.

spiritual exploration

Sanders, who in his later years sported a long white beard and a fez hat, made his first steps in pop music, beginning with 1971’s “Thembi,” named after his wife.

But his foray into the mainstream was brief.

On 1969’s “Jewels of Thought,” Sanders explored the mysticism of Africa, opening the album with a Sufi meditation for peace.

Decades later, on “The Trance of Seven Colors,” Sanders collaborated with Mahmoud Guinia, the Moroccan master of Gnawa spiritual music and the lute.

Sanders’ 1996 album “Message from Home” delved into sub-Saharan African influences such as highlife, the pop mix of Western and traditional music that originated in Ghana.

He also explored the Indian form in his collaborations with Alice Coltrane, the jazz master’s second wife, who became a yogi.

Sanders admired Indian musicians like Bismillah Khan, who introduced the shehnai, a type of oboe often played in processions across the subcontinent; and Ravi Shankar, who internationalized the sitar.

Accustomed to sharing energy in jazz bands, he said Indian musicians managed to make “pure music.”

Pharoah Sanders, the cosmic jazz saxophonist, has died