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Pharoah Sanders: Interview, performance and photos from the WBGO archive

The legendary saxophonist and composer Pharoah Sanders died Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 82. Perhaps best known for his iconic composition, “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” a collaboration with Leon Thomas, Sanders set a standard for transcendent jazz during a long and illustrious career.

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 Pollstar interview. “It wasn’t too good for people like me.” He later moved to Oakland to be with family, but after two years moved to New York City, where he became immersed in the ‘60s jazz scene there. He not only joined John Coltrane’s band, but also signed a contract with the Impulse! record label, for whom he recorded more than 10 albums.

Over the years, he refined his sound and approach which influenced multiple generations of jazz artists including Courtney Pine and Kamasi Washington. A mainstay on the international jazz festival scene, Sanders continued to perform and record until his last years

Back in 1999, Sanders appeared as a special guest with Steve Turre and Sanctified Shells in a New Year’s Eve show at Yoshi’s hosted by Alfredo Cruz for WBGO’s Jazzset that brought in Y2K. Enjoy this excerpt above which includes an interview with Sanders, as well as their performance of Sanders’ iconic composition “The Creator Has a Master Plan.”

In 2019, WBGO’s Jonathan Chimene photographed Sanders at a Jazz Foundation of America benefit concert as well as at Winter Jazz Fest in NYC. Enjoy the gallery of Jonathan’s photos above from those shows.

For over 27 years, Lee Mergner served as an editor and publisher of JazzTimes until his resignation in January 2018. Thereafter, Mergner continued to regularly contribute features, profiles and interviews to the publication as a contributing editor for the next 4+ years. JazzTimes, which has won numerous ASCAP-Deems Taylor awards for music journalism, was founded in 1970 and was described by the All Music Guide, as “arguably the finest jazz magazine in the world.”