Pharoah Sanders Photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

By Ron Wynn

NASHVILLE, TN — Legendary saxophonist and bandleader Pharoah Sanders, one of the last living links to the free jazz movement of the ‘60s and a member of John Coltrane’s final ensembles, passed away Saturday at 81 in Los Angeles. Sanders also recorded numerous vital albums as a bandleader for several labels, most notably a string of remarkable LPs for the Impulse label in the later 60s and through the’70s, and other labels right up until last year. 

The news was announced by the record label Luka Bop, the company that issued his final release “Promises” in 2021. “We are devastated to share that Pharoah Sanders has passed away. 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,” said the label’s message on Twitter, accompanied by a heart emoji.

Sanders was born and grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, but began his playing career in Oakland and San Francisco. Sanders worked with such musicians as Dewey Redman and Sonny Simmons before moving to New York City in 1961. He later joined John Coltrane’s group after the demise of Coltrane’s famous quintet.

During his time with Coltrane, the various ensembles made historic and often hotly disputed recordings. “Coltrane’s ensembles with Sanders were some of the most controversial in the history of jazz,” are notes from Sanders’ website. “Their music represents a near total desertion of traditional jazz concepts, like swing and functional harmony, in favor of a teeming, irregularly structured, organic mixture of sound for sound’s sake.”

Sanders became a beloved figure among jazz fans after Coltrane’s death n 1967. Among his many classics for Impulse Records was “Karma,” in 1969. The album served as a pioneer for the spiritual jazz style, and featured one of his most famous songs, “The Creator Has a Master Plan.”

Sanders most recently had been working with orchestration and strings, as well as various electronic instruments, utilizing them for his compositions. But he’ll always been remembered most for the epic recordings of the late Coltrane group and his own late ‘60s and ‘70s classic sessions.