In contrast, about 20 years earlier, Pharoah Sanders had a lot farther to come—literally—to establish himself on the jazz scene. Born and raised in Little Rock, Sanders experienced the bitter and often brutal effects of racism in the South. “Arkansas was so racist, I had to get out of there,” Sanders told his manager Anna Sala in a recent Pollstar interview. “It wasn’t too good for people like me.”
For a young saxophonist, the performance opportunities were challenging, to say the least. “In Arkansas you had to play behind the curtain,” he told Sala. “They didn’t want to see black people. They fed us, we had our little place where we ate, but they didn’t allow white people in there. Most of the jobs I played, a lot of parties and weddings, that’s how it was.” In 1959 he decided to move to Oakland, where he had family on his mother’s side. He only stayed there about two years, playing around town sometimes but mostly just practicing, until a drummer named Smiley Winters encouraged him to go to New York for more opportunities.