Pharoah Sanders

The man Ornette Coleman called the greatest tenor player in the world, Pharoah Sanders, has died at age 81.

He may have been the greatest tenor player in the world, but I tend to think of Pharoah Sanders as the master of spiritual jazz. His extended musical meditation on peace, called “Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah” on his 1969 album “Jewels of Thought,” remains a touchstone of spiritual pacifism for me.

Click on the image above to listen to listen to “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah” on Youtube.

At the beginning of this fifteen minute musical prayer, Sanders says:

“Peace is a united effort for co-ordinated control
Peace is the will of the people and the will of the land
With peace we can move ahead together
We want you to join us this evening in this universal prayer
This universal prayer for peace for every man
All you got to do is clap your hands.
One, two, three….”

And then he chants:

“Prince of peace, won’t you hear our pleas
And ring your bells of peace,
Let loving never cease.”

That simple chant has stuck in my mind (and heart) ever since I first heard it. It continues to support me in a world that’s inching closer to nuclear war in the Ukraine. That chant, in addition to the warmth and deep spirituality of all of Sanders’ music.

He will be sorely missed.

2 thoughts on “Pharoah Sanders”

  1. Carol, Sanders is probably best known for “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” And he didn’t record as much as you’d expect — not only did he dislike the recording industry, his brand of free jazz went out of fashion in the 1970s. To be honest, I haven’t listened to much beyond his free jazz albums; the album I know best is “Jewels of Thought” (1969), referenced in the post.

    I just discovered that Sanders was featured on a 1964 Sun Ra album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DedUDWMqByA — If you’re not accustomed to free jazz this might sound a bit chaotic, but it’s worth a listen. It definitley gives a sense of the amazing range that Sanders had: while Jewels of Thought is very accessible, this album is quite challenging.

    “Village of the Pharaohs” (1973) is more accessible, and well worth listening to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWCAOzXvk3M — The driving rhythm keeps this accessible, even though it veers far into free jazz territory.

    Right now, I’m listening to his last recording, the album titled “Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra,” which was released just last year. (Floating Points is the stage name of Sam Sheperd, an electronic musician, who composed the music for this album.) Sanders was 80 years old when he recorded this, and his playing is marvelous — it’s as good or better than anything he recorded in mid-life. Definitely worth a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mn8x0QbN4f8

    Those three Youtube links will give a sense of Sanders’s range as a musician. When you realize that he also did some R&B, you realize how broad his talent was.

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