Pharoah Sanders Explores Coltrane and Other Cerebral Avenues

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Pharoah Sanders
By Karen Brundage-Johnson, PhD.
By Karen Brundage-Johnson, PhD.
By Karen Brundage-Johnson, PhD.
By Karen Brundage-Johnson, PhD.
By Karen Brundage-Johnson, PhD.
By Karen Brundage-Johnson, PhD.

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The legendary jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders returned to Philadelphia after more than 20 years to kick-off the Lively Arts – Jazz Series at Montgomery County Community College. In her introduction, Helen Haynes, Director of Cultural Affairs said “we pulled off something really special tonight”.

Sanderes received a standing ovation as he proudly walked on stage- white hair and full goatee, wearing a blue and white patterned dashiki. On the eve of his 73rd birthday, Sanders lead a quartet of extraordinary accomplished musicians, including Tyrone Brown on bass; Lawrence Leathers on drums and Sander’s long-time pianist William Henderson.

Sanders opened the show, with Coltrane's contemplative
"Welcome”. Henderson laid the foundation for the tune, a spiritual ballad with rich harmonies and flowing rhythms projected by Sanders, and Leathers playing freely on mallets throughout.

Next was a Sanders' original, " JiiTu” on which he produced multiple tones out of his instrument simultaneously, while Brown walked up and down the bass. As the tune concluded, Sanders placed his saxophone up close to the microphone and played a range of sounds without blowing into it; tapping the keys and drawing out sounds percussively using the pads and the air in the horn.

Sander's approach to " Say It All Over Again” " was classic from beginning to end, leaving lots of room for improvisation; showcasing Brown’s beautiful bass tones, Henderson's rich piano phrasing and Leather's fine brush work.

This was followed by Sanders' captivating solo in which the saxophone notes appeared to soar into the sky. Sanders even showed some fancy footwork with a few dance steps that brought the audience to their feet. He was amazing as he sang directly into the bell of the saxophone! The audience was caught up in every note; some leaned forward in their seats while others bobbed their heads appreciatively.

However, it was the darkly lyrical grooves of “Nozepho”, which provided the evening's real highlight. Henderson delivered the most creative and powerful piano solo of the evening.

The set closed with another Sanders original, "The Creator Has a Master Plan," perhaps his best-known composition and one that often draws comparisons to Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." Sanders contributed some vocals to the performance, bringing to mind somewhat Leon Thomas' singing and yodeling on Sanders' classic recording, “Karma. Sanders also invited the audience to join in on the singing, while he danced away in small movements on stage.

Pharaoh Sanders is a brilliant musician and in his own unique way, doing more than his part to keep his and Coltrane's legacy burning bright.

For more than a quarter century, our Lively Art Series has a window to the world by sharing the heritage, traditions and creative expression of established and emerging artists through high-caliber performances, workshops, pre-concert lectures, and meet-the-artist receptions. For more information visit

More photos from the performance are in Ben Johnson's photo gallery

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Karen Brundage-Johnson, PhD.