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Clip: Pharoah Sanders

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  • Carl Z.
    Tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders burst through the gates in John Coltrane s group.
    Message 1 of 5 , Apr 20, 2006
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      <http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/04/19/DDGBEI9EI91.DTL>

      Tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders burst through the gates in John
      Coltrane's group. At 65, he's going strong.

      Daniel King, Chronicle Staff Writer

      Wednesday, April 19, 2006

      Few musicians, if any, can match it. The volume is so high, the tempo
      so fast and the tension so thick, Pharoah Sanders puts down his
      saxophone, screams and then returns to it for his sprawling
      improvisation.

      It's a moment his audience expects. The saxophone innovator has come
      to symbolize the flammability and spirituality of what's called the
      jazz avant-garde. But his glorified role in John Coltrane's quintet of
      the 1960s is so mythologized, many people overlook Sanders' vision
      beyond it.

      Now 65, Sanders, with disarming eyes and a chinstrap beard, continues
      to make some wrenching, hulking and, at the same time, serene music.
      His Bay Area reputation continues to grow, ever since he moved to
      Oakland from Little Rock, Ark., in 1959. A Los Angeles transplant for
      the past few years, he returns to San Francisco for a solo concert at
      Grace Cathedral on Friday -- his second there in 18 years.

      The event, presented by SFJazz as part of its spring series, has a
      natural fit in the hall. There's a seven-second reverberation that
      should amplify his prayerful tone just fine, judging by a tape someone
      made of his 1988 solo there.

      "When you reach a spiritual level," he says from Los Angeles, getting
      ready for the flight, "you become the instrument yourself.

      "I just want them to feel me," he adds quietly. "I just show up and
      that's it. That's what the music sounds like."

      Not entirely: His sound can be hypnotic or thunderous, depending on
      the night. Spontaneity, at least, one can predict.

      Going solo is often undesirable for saxophonists, many of whom feel
      abandoned or pressured without a rhythm section. Sanders welcomes the
      challenge.

      "I think people get the wrong idea about soloing," he says, "as if it
      means you have to play a lot of notes. It means you have more freedom
      to put more feelings through your music."

      John Hicks was Sanders' chief pianist from the '60s through the '90s.
      "He's got plenty of endurance and a strong sound, so I think he'll
      handle it," says Hicks, laughing slightly over the phone from New
      York. "I don't know many saxophone players who can do that."

      Born to a pair of musicians, Ferrell Sanders -- named "Pharoah" by Sun
      Ra, the avant-garde's Space Brother No. 1 -- moved to Oakland after
      high school, studying briefly in college before hitting the nightclubs
      -- Bop City, the Jazz Workshop and the Both/And, among them. In 1962
      Sanders left for New York. Unable to find work, he slept on the
      streets and sold his blood for cash. "I was just trying to survive,"
      he says.

      Eventually he joined Ra's Arkestra, then fell in with the saxophone
      mavericks of the time: Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp -- who'd
      go on to revolutionize jazz, drawing praise and derision from critics.

      After moving back to the East Bay, Sanders joined Coltrane's radical
      "free" group and stayed in it until Coltrane's death in 1967.

      Here, however, is what gets lost in the conventional retelling:
      Sanders did not adopt Coltrane's tone -- Coltrane adopted Sanders'.
      Their styles are compatible, but who rubbed off on whom? It's clear:
      By the late '50s, Coltrane was up to his shoulders in pentatonic
      scales and minor modes, pioneering approaches to harmony. Sanders?
      Somewhere else completely.

      Both tenors use overlapping rhythms and strong dissonance, an approach
      Sanders continued to refine into the 1970s. One of his favorite spots
      for it was the Keystone Korner in North Beach, which before closing in
      1983 had incense on the stage, mandalas on the walls and lines out the
      door. A clear fit.

      "It was the psychedelic era and people were very open to spiritual
      experiences," recalls the club's owner, Todd Barkan. "Pharoah's
      performances were becoming seances."

      Barkan, now artistic administrator of Jazz at Lincoln Center, tells of
      a "humorous" but "frightening" night at Keystone Korner "when a
      drunken guy came in. Pharoah had a bowl he'd hit with a mallet, and it
      made such an intense vibration, the guy didn't want to go on that trip
      with Pharoah. The man must've weighed 400 pounds and he started
      swinging a huge chain! Then he started toward the stage, and I had to
      call our brothers in blue next door at the police station."

      "It was indicative," Barkan says, "of just how intense Pharoah's impact was."

      After a brief drop in popularity, Sanders climbed back in 1979 by
      signing to the Theresa label, where among other records (since
      released on CD by Evidence) he made the Bay Area classic "Journey to
      the One," which features the glowing "You've Got to Have Freedom."
      There's an even stronger version of that tune on "Live," which opens
      with Sanders' shock tenor in full flight.

      Here was a rhythm section -- drummer Idris Muhammad, Hicks, bassist
      Walter Booker -- as powerful as any in jazz, and with Sanders at the
      helm it scoured the Bay Area. Muhammad, 66, performed at the Boom Boom
      Room a few weeks ago, and backstage he talked about his 25 years with
      Sanders: "We'd go back to the hotels after the shows to talk about
      what'd happened. I realized the creator has a way of doing things that
      you have no control over. We bonded as a team."

      But not everyone supported Sanders.

      In 1966, the New Yorker's Whitney Balliett savaged him, likening his
      solos to "elephant shrieks, which went on and on and on." Sanders'
      performance, he claimed, "appeared to have little in common with
      music."

      In his review, Balliett quoted someone saying, "Exactly. It's not
      music and it isn't meant to be. It's simply sound, and has to be
      judged as such."

      Even Sanders' supporters gave backhanded compliments: In 1972, The
      Chronicle's Dennis Hunt called him "primitive" and "nerve-wracking,"
      then professed how much he enjoyed the music.

      His detractors have one complaint worth refuting: They hear him as
      erratic, messy and overheated. They say he plays shrieking overtones
      as an alibi for his shortage of lyrical passages. He smears the solo
      as a metaphor for freedom, they say, which by itself cannot stand the
      test of time.

      Here's what they miss: We go to Sanders not for Lester Young or Ben
      Webster or Coltrane, but for the colors and texture, the gravelly
      climax, the slippery whoosh and the prayerful ballad with touches,
      faintly, of Shepp and Jimmy Rushing and Bessie Smith echoed in the
      vibrato.

      Nowhere else in today's music -- except in the albums of David S. Ware
      -- do we find that gargling, disciplined sound. Sanders' tone reflects
      the turbulence of the 1960s, and of today.

      That's why he speaks to us, why the State Department brought him to
      Africa in the 1990s, why the Lines Ballet has frequently commissioned
      him. It's why Yoshi's sells out the instant his gigs are announced.

      In 1966, Sanders told journalist Nat Hentoff after a recording
      session, "Everything you do has to mean something, has to be more than
      just notes."

      Sanders, like Coltrane, lives that. Reflecting on Sanders' influence,
      saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who rose to fame shortly before him, says
      by phone: "If there's anyone who has that quality of freedom, it's
      Pharoah. He's probably the best tenor player in the world."

      To hear a podcast of Pharoah Sanders' music, go to
      www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sfgate/detail?blogid=5&entry_id=4457.

      Pharoah Sanders will perform at 8 p.m. Friday at Grace Cathedral, 1100
      California St., San Francisco. $25-$44. (800) 225-2277. sfjazz.org.
    • Dave Purcell
      Since Chicago jazz comes up here on occasion -- has anyone seen (or know much about) Ernest Dawkins New Horizons Ensemble? I m going to see him at a house
      Message 2 of 5 , Apr 26, 2006
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        Since Chicago jazz comes up here on occasion -- has anyone seen (or know
        much about) Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble? I'm going to see him
        at a house concert on Saturday and am pretty geeked.

        Thanks,
        dp
        np: Tom Verlaine - Songs & Other Things -- just downloaded from Emusic
        this morning...so far, so good
      • Carl Z.
        A house concert? Nice. Given his work with Henry Threadgill, I bet he ll be bopping and noisy. I think Jeff Parker (of Tortoise) plays electric guitar in
        Message 3 of 5 , Apr 26, 2006
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          A house concert? Nice. Given his work with Henry Threadgill, I bet
          he'll be bopping and noisy. I think Jeff Parker (of Tortoise) plays
          electric guitar in this band, unless this concert is acoustic.

          Carl Z.

          On 4/26/06, Dave Purcell <dap@...> wrote:
          > Since Chicago jazz comes up here on occasion -- has anyone seen (or know
          > much about) Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble? I'm going to see him
          > at a house concert on Saturday and am pretty geeked.
          >
          > Thanks,
          > dp
          > np: Tom Verlaine - Songs & Other Things -- just downloaded from Emusic
          > this morning...so far, so good
          >
          >
          >
          >
          > ________________________________
          > YAHOO! GROUPS LINKS
          >
          >
          > Visit your group "fearnwhiskey" on the web.
          >
          > To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:
          > fearnwhiskey-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com
          >
          > Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to the Yahoo! Terms of Service.
          >
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          >
        • Dave Purcell
          Yeah, it s a local jazz fan who hosts shows in his apartment. I just recently learned about it even though he s apparently been doing it for 15 years. Check it
          Message 4 of 5 , Apr 26, 2006
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            Yeah, it's a local jazz fan who hosts shows in his apartment. I just
            recently learned about it even though he's apparently been doing it for
            15 years. Check it out:

            http://www.loftsociety.com/

            dp


            -----Original Message-----
            From: fearnwhiskey@yahoogroups.com [mailto:fearnwhiskey@yahoogroups.com]
            On Behalf Of Carl Z.
            Sent: Wednesday, April 26, 2006 9:45 AM
            To: fearnwhiskey@yahoogroups.com
            Subject: Re: [fearnwhiskey] Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble?


            A house concert? Nice. Given his work with Henry Threadgill, I bet
            he'll be bopping and noisy. I think Jeff Parker (of Tortoise) plays
            electric guitar in this band, unless this concert is acoustic.

            Carl Z.

            On 4/26/06, Dave Purcell <dap@...> wrote:
            > Since Chicago jazz comes up here on occasion -- has anyone seen (or
            > know much about) Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble? I'm going to
            > see him at a house concert on Saturday and am pretty geeked.
            >
            > Thanks,
            > dp
            > np: Tom Verlaine - Songs & Other Things -- just downloaded from
            > Emusic this morning...so far, so good
            >
            >
            >
            >
            > ________________________________
            > YAHOO! GROUPS LINKS
            >
            >
            > Visit your group "fearnwhiskey" on the web.
            >
            > To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:
            > fearnwhiskey-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com
            >
            > Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to the Yahoo! Terms of Service.
            >
            > ________________________________
            >



            Yahoo! Groups Links
          • Dave Purcell
            As I mentioned earlier in the week, I caught Ernest Dawkins New Horizons Ensemble at a house concert on Saturday. Holy f*cking cow. Best jazz show I ve ever
            Message 5 of 5 , May 1, 2006
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              As I mentioned earlier in the week, I caught Ernest Dawkins' New
              Horizons Ensemble at a house concert on Saturday.

              Holy f*cking cow. Best jazz show I've ever seen. One of the best shows
              I've seen, period.

              Despite driving 13+ hours from Boston to Cincinnati -- they got in about
              five minutes before showtime -- they played two long sets with
              incredible intensity and energy. As Carl predicted, they swung hard and
              blew free often, but not to the point of atonality -- comparable perhaps
              to mid-60s Coltrane but never into harder Ornette Coleman turf.

              The quartet was Dawkins on alto, tenor, and percussion, Steve Berry on
              trombone, Darius Savage on bass, and Isiah Spencer on drums. It's the
              same lineup from Dawkins' last release, "Mean Ameen," minus trumpeter
              Maurice Brown. All four are serious heavyweights, but Spencer almost
              stole the show -- his drumming is explosive but melodic, and he played
              with a huge grin on his face almost the entire night while following
              Dawkins thru some (occasionally) serious improv.

              The venue is incredible too -- it's an apartment in Cincinnati's
              university district (Paul -- it's on Calhoun by Myra's and Mole's
              Records) where this hardcore jazz fan hosts shows about once a month.
              The acoustics are amazing and the vibe is perfect -- dim lighting and
              the walls are covered with a lifelong collection of posters, postcards,
              news clippings, etc. Miles & Coltrane share the walls Michael Jordan and
              Dr. J. It's BYOB, home cooked food is provided. Just an unbelievable
              night of music & community.

              Definitely catch Dawkins' group if he's near you. And check out
              www.loftsociety.com if you're up for a roadtrip. The next show is the
              Andrew Lamb trio on May 20.

              Cheers,
              dp
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