Pharoah Sanders

American saxophonist, composer and orchestra conductor (Little Rock, 1940)

Famous for the incredible sound he brings out of his instrument thanks to several varied techniques, Pharoah Sanders is probably one of the best jazz tenor saxophonists and appears as a major figure in the development of free jazz.

He started by playing the clarinet with his church's choir, then studied the piano, the drums, the flute and the tuba before realizing the tenor saxophone was the instrument that would allow him to fully express himself.

At the end of the 1950's, he performed in many Afro-American clubs in Little Rock and then in California when he played rhythm and blues and rock'n roll.

He dreamt of becoming an abstract painter but Pharoah Sanders knew poverty when he arrived in New York in 1961; he slept many times inside buildings' halls and played alongside Don Cherry, Jogn Gilmore or Sun Ra. That was him to gave him the nickname "Pharoah".

From 1965, he gave a lot of concerts and did many recordings with John Coltrane until 1967, year of Coltrane's death.

Sanders showed a strong attraction to mysticism that would go stronger with the several bands he founded, taking us to a universe where all religions and mythology from India or Africa combine.

At the end of the 1970's, Pharoah Sanders turned to jazz rock and disco, then performed in quartet composed of John Hicks or William Henderson, Walter Booker or Ray Drummond and Idriss Muhammad and his recordings were showing a music including much more bebop elements.

The sound of the tenor (or soprano) saxophone of Pharoah flies towards over high-pitched sounds or, on the opposite, can fall in deep sounds, rough and grazed. Notes sometimes seem croaky, the timbre may shiver or tremble. He used much varied techniques to find the incredible effects that the throat, the teeth, the tongue or the vocal chords can offer.

The famous American soxophonist Albert Alyer used to define the greats of free jazz by saying: "Coltrane was the Father, Pharoah the Son and I the Holy Spirit".

Six landmark dates in the life of Pharoah Sanders

1962: moved to New York where he meets the greats of that period
1965: joined John Coltrane's orchestra
1969: his album Karma is the second best sell of jazz
1981: recorded Rejoice with Bobby Hutcherson, Elvin Jones and Billy Higgins
1990: big tour in western Africa
2007: performed at the Melbourne Jazz Festival

Radio France musical documentation biography (September 2016)