June 14, 2024


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About Pharoah Sanders and his broad appeal: Video

13.10. – Happy Birthday !!! The jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders played in an unusual context on Wednesday night. He was at Baby’s All Right, the year-and-a-half-old, mostly indie-rock club in Williamsburg, during a slate of bands programmed as a birthday party for the curator, archivist and gallerist Johan Kugelberg, a man with discerning taste and a lot of friends.

The other bands included Endless Boogie, a sort of secret-handshake New York rock band that reduces rock to chains of riffs. An Endless Boogie show is a nice and regular thing, but Pharoah Sanders is a famous musician from the urgent and spiritual elite of 1960s jazz, a tenor saxophonist with a sound like midnight riptides, the last living member of John Coltrane’s final band. And so the room was full, attentive and excited: a Brooklyny, 35-and-older, not-particularly-jazz crowd, full of musicians, who nonetheless knew what they were there for.

You don’t see this kind of thing very often in sit-down Manhattan jazz clubs. Let’s not belabor that point; we know about the specialized cultural habits of Brooklynites, and if people are used to standing and drinking and socializing while they listen they’re not going to go to a table-service club where they might feel trapped.

The story here is really about Mr. Sanders and his broad appeal. His involvement toward the end of Coltrane’s band meant an involvement in jazz as free expression and folk music, rather than virtuosity and formalism; there are a lot of people out there who wish that more of jazz were like that. He’s a musician who represents more than the notes he plays; he stands for the late ’60s, but also for a generous and open way of expressing and sharing music. You hear it in his broad sound and his raspy long-tones and chaotic spirals of improvising between chords: seriousness, awareness.

From the feeling in the room, you’d think that this gig was very special or that Mr. Sanders rarely plays in New York. Neither was the case. He played in January at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola and at the Blue Note last September. And he wasn’t with his regular first-call New York band; aside from William Henderson, his usual pianist, he had the bassist Juini Booth and the drummer Greg Bandy, veteran New York musicians who have worked with Mr. Sanders off and on over the decades. (Mr. Booth played with him on Larry Young’s “Lawrence of Newark” (1973); Mr. Bandy played regularly with Mr. Sanders in the late ’70s and ’80s.)

So it was a casual gig with expected repertory — a slowly simmering, gospel-like opening into some Coltrane (a bit of “Welcome”) some standards (including “Body and Soul,” with the singer Tony Hewitt as a guest); and some vamp-based Sanders originals, including the singalong “Save Our Children,” with Mr. Sanders leading the chorus and enacting a slow, arm-swinging dance. The band carried out the mood of the music in the right way but by general standards kept the proceedings low-key. It wasn’t out to startle.

But this crowd was listening hard and well. At one point, Mr. Booth played a solo that alternated between only two notes. It was an exercise in focused simplicity, and the crowd processed exactly what was good about it: Cheers erupted when he finished. The same went for a single note played by Mr. Sanders toward the end: not particularly long or showstopping, but big and strong and decisive, full of overtones. The audience members seemed to understand that it was more than a note; they understood the power of its placement, and the information it contained, and how in a way it represented Mr. Sanders’s whole enterprise.

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