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Remembering saxophone icon Pharoah Sanders, dead at 81

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

And now a moment to remember saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, who died on Saturday at the age of 81. He came to the attention of the jazz world when John Coltrane brought him into his group in 1965. As a solo artist, Pharoah Sanders had a big sound and a spiritual outlook that made him an icon unto himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHAROAH SANDERS SONG, "THE CREATOR HAS A MASTER PLAN")

SUMMERS: Ayana Contreras is a fan. She is a host and the director of content at Vocalo Radio in Chicago.

AYANA CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Hi.

SUMMERS: So, Ayana, what do you think of when you think of Pharoah Sanders? - because I understand his signature sound - it channeled a lot of different influences.

CONTRERAS: Right. You know, he was quoted in 1967 as saying, I believe in all religions so long as they're talking about one creator. And his music in one fell swoop might reference Egyptology, Buddhism, Hinduism, Muslim tenets, all sorts of notions. But one thing that remains constant is this feeling of togetherness or also this feeling of enlightenment that sort of permeates a lot of his work. I feel like one of his crossover hits, if there is such a thing in the jazz world, is "The Creator Has a Master Plan."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE CREATOR HAS A MASTER PLAN")

PHAROAH SANDERS: (Singing) The creator makes but one demand - peace and happiness through all the land.

SUMMERS: As you look, where can you hear and feel Pharoah Sanders' influence today?

CONTRERAS: I have seen that there's been a resurgence, particularly among artists such as Kamasi Washington, for instance. A lot of those folks are really inspired by the '60s, '70s precursors such as Pharoah. Here in Chicago, there's a label called International Anthem that definitely pulls from those same strains of enlightenment and joy through music. I think it's in so many spaces and places, and we're all for the better because of it.

SUMMERS: In what ways do you think he has had an impact on the culture?

CONTRERAS: I think in terms of Black culture specifically, I think he's had a huge influence.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS EVERYWHERE")

SANDERS: (Singing) Oh, love is everywhere. Love is everywhere. Oh, love is everywhere.

CONTRERAS: His music sort of crossed over even beyond sort of the, quote-unquote, "spiritual jazz" spaces. I remember growing up, his stuff came on at a cookout, and people kind of vibed to it and felt great. It's really empowering, joyful music.

SUMMERS: Now, Pharoah Sanders was 81 when he died, but a lot of music fans were talking about him just last year, when he released what was a very well-reviewed album. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

CONTRERAS: Right. So it was a collaboration with electronic music producer Floating Points. Also, the London Symphony Orchestra was involved. It was called "Promises," and it got really wonderful reviews. I think people were just ready for that. And think about where we were in the world at that time. We all needed to feel that sort of togetherness that his music really embodies.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLOATING POINTS, PHAROAH SANDERS AND THE LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA'S "MOVEMENT 1")

SUMMERS: That is Ayana Contreras from member station Vocalo Radio in Chicago. Thank you so much.

CONTRERAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLOATING POINTS, PHAROAH SANDERS AND THE LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA'S "MOVEMENT 1") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.