Pharoah Sanders, the acclaimed US jazz saxophonist, has passed away at the age of 81. News of Sanders’ death was confirmed by the Luaka Bop record label, who had released his 2021 collaborative album with Floating Points and London Symphony Orchestra, Promises. No cause of death has been revealed.
“We are devastated to share that Pharoah Sanders has passed away,” the label wrote. “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.”
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Sanders was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1940, and introduced to the tenor saxophone – his soon-to-be trademark instrument – by the director of his high school’s band. Moving to California as a young adult, Sanders initially performed in the Bay Area jazz scene, befriending John Coltrane in the process, before moving to New York City in the early ’60s, where he experienced great difficulty.
“Unable to make a living with his music, Sanders took to pawning his horn, working non-musical jobs, and sometimes sleeping on the subway,” Sanders’ official website reads. “During this period he played with a number of free jazz luminaries, including Sun Ra, Don Cherry, and Billy Higgins.”
Along with becoming a member of Coltrane’s band in the mid-’60s, Sanders began to record and release his own solo albums, with his unique brand of free and spiritual jazz growing throughout this time. This singular approach to his craft led to Sanders being regarded as one of the greatest tenor saxophone players in the world.
Though a prolific artist in terms of recording and performance, for a long time, acclaim for Sanders’ work was mainly restricted to jazz audiences. However, experienced a career resurgence in the early ’00s, going on to tour extensively on a global scale. His final album, Promises, a collaboration with Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra, was released in March 2021 to widespread critical acclaim.
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