Sanders’ passing was announced on Saturday (Sept. 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 provided.
“We are devastated to share that Pharoah Sanders has passed away,” Luaka Bop wrote on Twitter. “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.”
Born in Little Rock, Ark., on Oct. 13, 1940, Sanders — whose real name was Ferrell Sanders — moved to the Bay Area in the late 1950s before relocating to New York City, where he met fellow jazz artist Sun Ra, who encouraged him to take the name Pharoah.
Sanders initially struggled while trying to establish himself in New York. “Unable to make a living with his music, Sanders took to pawning his horn, working non-musical jobs, and sometimes sleeping on the subway,” the late saxophonist’s website reads.
Sanders eventually made a name for himself while performing alongside fellow jazz luminaries 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. 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 best known album, Karma, which featured the nearly 33-minute track “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” The album peaked at No. 188 on the Billboard 200 in August 1969. Over the next two decades, Sanders continued releasing music as both a leader and sideman, working with fellow jazz acts including McCoy Tyner, Sonny Sharrock, Idris Muhammad and Leon Thomas.
After a lengthy 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 No. 1 on Billboard‘s Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.