5 Celestial Live Performances in Honor of Late Jazz Legend Pharoah Sanders

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

“Trane was the Father, Pharoah was the Son, I am the Holy Ghost,” famed avant-garde jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler once said. He was referring to, of course, himself, the legendary John Coltrane, and the late great Pharoah Sanders.

During his six-decade career, Sanders used saxophone techniques like overblowing, multi-phonics, and “sheets of sound” to shape his trademark free and spiritual jazz. In over thirty solo albums, a catalog of work with Coltrane, and innumerable collaborations over the course of his career, life can be heard in Sander’s work—electricity that can only be described as celestial.

Sent from the heavens, here are five live performances in honor of late jazz legend, Pharoah Sanders, who passed away Saturday (Sept. 24).

1. “The Creator Has a Master Plan”

In 1965, Sanders became a member of Coltrane’s band, adding his signature lengthy, but urgent solos to performances. At this time, Coltrane had already begun to lean into the more avant-garde, but his later style was said to have been greatly influenced by Sanders’ experimentation on the horn.

In this live performance of “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” the song opens in a sultry flourish of tenor sax and twinkling piano … and then Pharoah happens. He erupts into a passionate cacophony of overblown notes with the conviction of a musician who will never play his instrument again.

A mix of swinging jazz, enrapturing horn, and vocals sung into the bell of the saxophone prove Sanders’ experimentation stayed with him.

2. “Heart is a Melody”

His bouncy grooves and warm melodies would explode into a panic of notes and dissolve back into sweet soft jazz. As a performer, Sanders kept audiences on their toes. In the performance below, the musician introduces his band in between a flurry of discord and delight.

3. “Africa”

Layering sound on sound and building up to the closing fever of notes, the below performance depicts Sanders as not only a skilled player but an imaginative bandleader. His voice —as spirited and intense as his playing—seems to conjure forth every accompanying note.

Throughout his career, Sanders embraced all music, exploring the endless possibilities with openness. Songs depended on racing drums one minute and steady thumping bass the next all the while highlighting African beats or spacey embellishments on the sax.

4. “Kazuko”

Sanders’ rich, meditative style of spiritual jazz was inspired by and rooted in concepts like Karma and Tawhid. The vibrations from his song, “Kazuko,” can be felt in the following video. Playing in an abandoned tunnel in San Francisco, his notes are transcendental, echoing through the soul and fluttering away to parts unknown.

5. “Body and Soul”

In the performance below, thumping jazz melts into Sanders’ sheets of sound. It’s all “Body and Soul”—soft, yet ruthless; chaotic, but contained. It’s entirely Pharaoh Sanders and nothing short of celestial.

Photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns

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