Pharoah Sanders, the legendary tenor saxophonist who performed with John Coltrane in the mid-1960s, has passed away. He was 81.
Sanders’ passing was announced on Saturday (September 24) by his record label Luaka Bop, which released the influential jazz musician’s 2021 album, promises, a collaboration with Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra. A cause of death was not given.
“We are devastated to share that Pharoah Sanders has passed away,” Luaka Bop continued Twitter. He passed away peacefully this morning surrounded by loving family and friends in Los Angeles. Always and forever the most beautiful man, may he rest in peace.”
Born in Little Rock, Ark., on October 13, 1940, Sanders — whose real name was Ferrell Sanders — moved to the Bay Area in the late 1950s before moving to New York City, where he met fellow jazz artist Sun Ra, who encouraged him to take the name Pharaoh.
Sanders initially had a hard time trying to settle in New York. “Unable to make a living from his music, Sanders began pawning his horn, working non-musical jobs and sometimes sleeping on the subway,” reads the late saxophonist’s website.
Sanders eventually made a name for himself performing alongside fellow jazz greats like Don Cherry and Billy Higgins. In 1965, Sanders joined Coltrane’s group on tenor saxophone. During that time, Coltrane released several avant-garde masterpieces, including his 1966 album, Ascension Day. Sanders played with Coltrane until the jazz icon’s death in 1967. After Coltrane’s passing, Sanders briefly performed with his widow, Alice Coltrane, before forging his own path as a key figure in the spiritual jazz scene.
In 1969 Sanders released his most famous album, Karma, with the nearly 33-minute track ‘The Creator Has a Master Plan’. The album peaked at #188 on the Billboard 200 in August 1969. Over the next two decades, Sanders continued to release music as both a leader and a sideman, collaborating with fellow jazz acts including McCoy Tyner, Sonny Sharrock, Idris Muhammad, and Leon Thomas. .
After a long hiatus from the recording studio, Sanders returned in 2021 with the critically acclaimed album promises, a collaboration with Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra. The set peaked at number 1 on Billboard‘s Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.
This story first appeared on billboard.com.