Grammy-Award winner Pharaoh Sanders, one of the most renowned saxophonists in the history of jazz music, has passed away, reports CNN. He was 81.
His passing was confirmed by his record label Luaka Bop.
“We are devastated to share that Pharoah Sanders has passed away,” his label wrote on Twitter. “He died peacefully surrounded by loving family and friends in Los Angeles this past weekend. Always and forever the most beautiful human being, may he rest in peace.”
Sanders’ representative, Anna Sala, described his passing as “a huge loss for the music world.”
“His work influenced many generations of artists,” she added.
No cause of death was given,
Pharoah was born Ferrell Sanders on Oct. 13, 1940, in Little Rock, Arkansas. He fell in love with music at an early age influenced by his grandfather who led the choir at his family’s church. He began playing the clarinet but switched to the alto saxophone, then the tenor saxophone.
Around 1959, Sanders relocated to the West Coast where he attended Oakland Junior College, studying with avant-garde saxophonists like Sonny Simmons and Dewey Redman. Also at the school, he met another legendary saxophonist named John Coltrane.
At the suggestion of fellow saxophonist John Handy, he moved to New York City, where the free-jazz movement was emerging in 1962.
While in New York, he played gigs in Greenwich Village and he worked with some of the titans of experimental free jazz, including Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Sun Ra, who persuaded him to change his name to Pharaoh when he was a member of the Sun Ra Arkestra.
In 1964, Sanders recorded Pharoah, his first album as a bandleader. Shortly thereafter, he officially became a member of Coltrane’s group. He played on Coltrane's albums including Ascension, Om, and Meditations.
After Coltrane’s passing in 1967, Sanders went on to record with his widow, Alice Coltrane, an accomplished pianist and harpist, on two albums, Ptah, the El Daoud, and Journey in Satchidananda, which were released in 1970.
Sanders was a key figure in the spiritual jazz scene. His 1969 album Karma, which incorporated influences from traditional African and South Asian music, is considered one of the major early documents of the subgenre. Throughout the early 1970s, Sanders continued to release records as a bandleader, largely on the Impulse! label.
He went on release albums on Arista, India Navigation, an avant-garde jazz label, and several records on the Theresa label in the 1980s.
In 1988, Sanders won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Group for his work on Blues for Coltrane—A Tribute to John Coltrane.
Describing his musical style, Sanders said that pure expression was his greatest gift as a musician.
"I'm not so much of a technical player myself," explained Sanders in a 1995 interview. "I'm probably not that much of an intellectual player, as some other musicians. What I do is... express. That's what I do."
Floating Point, who worked with Sanders on Promises, a collaborative album in 2021, paid tribute to the jazz icon on Twitter.
My beautiful friend passed away this morning.— floating points (@floatingpoints) September 24, 2022
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 pic.twitter.com/6NdATGZve1
“My beautiful friend passed away this morning,” the post read. “I am so lucky to have known this man, and we are all blessed to have his art stay with us forever. Thank you, Pharaoh.”
We at EBONY extend our prayers and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Pharaoh Sanders.