Writings about Music

Pharoah Nights

Pharoah Sanders with unidentified harmonium player

Some of the greatest musical nights of my life were attending performances by Pharoah Sanders at the Village Vanguard in NYC during the late seventies. He possessed a raw power unsurpassed among musicians of our time, recalling Ben Webster in that aspect, if in a drastically different style.

My favorite album of his is titled, Pharoah, and the first track, Harvest Time, will always personify autumn for me, that being the time of year I first encountered it.

Stars Blossom from the Tunis Phantom album would appear to reveal the influence of Pharoah Sanders together with the Alap form of Indian classical music.

Interestingly, Lee Konitz and Art Tatum shared the same October 13 birthday as Sanders who has mournfully left us one day after what would have been the 96th birthday of his mentor, John Coltrane.

Pharoah had a deeply resonant speaking voice reminiscent of Charlie Parker, if more Southern sounding.

I was deeply honored to have Delayed Response from the Trembling Flowers album included with Astral Traveling by Pharoah Sanders among Song of the Day selections.

The title, Astral Traveling, from an album I have yet to hear, brings to mind the title of my Astral Palace album, based on Raga Malkauns.

Moved to sing along with one of his improvisations note for note, anticipating each note, at the Catalina Bar and Grill in West Hollywood one night, Pharoah opened his eyes while playing several times, looking out in astonishment to see who was doing this. When the song ended, the man in front of us turned around to my girlfriend, and exclaimed how her singing along in perfect unison with Sanders fully improvising for an extended period was the most amazing thing he ever heard. You see, I had deliberately sang an octave higher and very softly and discreetly thinking only Sanders would notice. Pharoah didn’t seem to mind though, inviting me to join him and his band in the green room after the last set, another great thrill.

- Michael Robinson, September 2022, Los Angeles


© 2022 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, jazz pianist and musicologist. His 187 albums include 151 albums for meruvina and 36 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University Long Beach and Dominguez Hills.