Pharoah Sanders, Innovative Jazz Saxophonist, Dies at 81

Pharoah Sanders, saxophonist and pioneer of the spiritual jazz movement in the 1960s, has died at the age of 81, his label announced on Twitter.

“We are devastated to share that Pharoah Sanders has passed away,” read a statement from Sanders’ label Luaka Bop. “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.”

Born Farrell Sanders in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1940, Sanders got his start with the saxophone by renting an old one from his high school. After studying music at Oakland College, the musician got his name after he moved to New York and joined the band of the experimental jazz musician Sun Ra in 1964.

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A year later, Sanders began performing on albums with the jazz legend John Coltrane, playing on a dozen of Coltrane’s albums between 1965 and the artist’s death in 1967. Afterwards, Sanders continued to stand at the forefront of the growing spiritual jazz movement, performing alongside Coltrane’s equally prolific wife Alice on her 1968 album “A Monastic Trio” and his own acclaimed 1969 album “Karma.”

Sanders went on to release ten more albums with the record label Impulse! through 1973 before jumping to the labels Arista and Theresa in the late 70s and 80s. He continued to tour and record through the mid-2000s, with his final album coming out just last year. That album, “Promises,” was a collaboration with electronic music artist Sam Shepard and the London Symphony Orchestra and received acclaim from critics.

“My beautiful friend passed away this morning,” Shepard wrote on Instagram. “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.”