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NEA Jazz Master Ferrell “Pharoah” Sanders is a legendary jazz saxophonist who has shown a remarkable facility in performing in a variety of styles—from free to mainstream—displaying what has been called “hard-edged lyricism.” Emerging from John Coltrane’s groups of the mid-1960s, Sanders is known for his distinctive sound. His work embodies the spiritual foundation of avant-garde jazz, and he has shaped his own sonic world that encompasses the primal wails and fierce energy of the late Coltrane and the stomping R&B of his Little Rock youth, Asian modes, and Moroccan grooves, while balancing his explosive improvisations with gentle ballads of sublime simplicity.
Pharoah’s saxophone sound is unforgettable—deep, raw, humming with overtones and laden with fervent feeling and serene beauty. Sanders’s recordings include the classic “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” from his 1969 album Karma, and his 1996 album, Message from Home, a compelling mix of funky African chants, pastoral songs, and highlife grooves. “I like a dark sound with more roundness, more depth and feeling in it,” Sanders said at the time. His recorded history includes over forty albums as a leader. All Music Guide lists over eight hundred credits as a composer and/or a multi-reedist (soprano, tenor, flute, piccolo, and clarinet) spanning decades all the way back to 1955. Saxophonist Ornette Coleman once described him as “probably the best tenor player in the world.”
Pharoah Sanders is . . . from the urgent and spiritual elite of 1960s jazz, a tenor saxophonist with a sound like midnight riptides, the last living member of John Coltrane’s final band.
—New York Times
He’s a musician who represents more than the notes he plays; he stands for the late ’60s, but also for a generous and open way of expressing and sharing music. You hear it in his broad sound and his raspy long-tones and chaotic spirals of improvising between chords: seriousness, awareness.