In the early 1960s, tenor saxophonist Ferrell Sanders moved from Little Rock, Arkansas, to New York City, where he was renamed Pharoah by Sun Ra and started producing some of the most spiritual and intense music jazz aficionados have heard. His recordings with John Coltrane, including Live at the Village Vanguard Again!, Meditations and Ascension, are as heavy as any music in the genre, while his recordings as a bandleader (Tauhid, The Creator Has a Master Plan, Thembi, Black Unity) can be as abstract and free-jazz spacey as any music of that era (1960s and early 1970s) — or, for that matter, any other.
Sanders is most famous for those recordings, but he has released many albums since then that sound more mainstream, including the anthem "You Got To Have Freedom Now," which appeared on a namesake anthology. As a sideman, Sanders also has worked on more electric sounds with Sonny Sharrock, and he combined that with a world music perspective on his work with Bill Laswell in the 1990s. Whatever the setting, instrumentation or lineup, Sanders has a distinct and affecting sound.
In his book Song Of Praise: Homage to John Coltrane, John Sinclair discusses the Coltrane groups of the mid-1960s, in which Sanders played a large part.
"You had to be there," Sin-clair says. "There was no other place you would want to be. You had to be there to hear and see and feel the message of freedom and immense human possibility blazed across your mental sky." Times have changed, but Sanders is still here with a sound unto himself.