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Jazz legend Pharoah Sanders dies aged 81

Jazz great Pharoah Sanders, who pushed the boundaries of saxophone playing, has died aged 81.

His record label Luaka Bop announced the news, saying he had died “peacefully”, surrounded by family and friends in Los Angeles.

Sanders was a leading figure in what is often called spiritual jazz, which took influences from Asian and African traditions.

His expressive style made him a sought-after musical collaborator.

Born as Farrell Sanders in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1940, the saxophonist began his career in Oakland, California before moving to New York in the early 1960s.

There he collaborated with Sun Ra, who is believed to have encouraged Sanders to take the name Pharoah.

He joined John Coltrane’s band and performed with him on stage and in the studio.

Another free jazz great, Ornette Coleman, said Sanders was “probably the best tenor player in the world”.

Sanders released several albums, with his debut, Pharoah’s First, landing in 1965.

In an interview he said: “I want my sound to be like a fragrance that people will like – something fresh, like the smell of your grandmother’s cake cooking.”

In 2021 he collaborated with British electronic musician Sam Shepherd, who records under the name Floating Points.

Their work, Promises, was recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra and nominated for the Mercury Prize.

Paying tribute to Sanders on Twitter, Shepherd said: “I am so lucky to have known this man, and we are all blessed to have his art stay with us forever. Thank you Pharoah.”