September 24, 2022. Central Park East.
As i rolled through the mini tunnel i said to myself, ‘Pharoah Sanders played in this tunnel,’ and i smiled. While i definitely got my tunnels wrong (the one he played in was in San Francisco), the thought of Pharoah Sanders- wherever he may be in the world- gives me great joy.
A day or two prior to this moment though, a(nother) brief thought flashed through my mind: him not being here. It flashed through my mind a couple of times, but i let it pass. It’s not something i wanted to focus on. However, it was a similar thought i had about Michael Jackson, months before his passing. ‘MJ is gonna die at the age of 50,’ i kept thinking. When he turned 50 and it didn’t happen, i felt relieved in my wrongness.
But then it happened. Just as it happened with Pharoah Sanders. i don’t particularly believe in coincidences. That said, it is fascinating to me that the day i pass through this tunnel, mistakenly thinking this person had history in this particular spot, was the day he traveled to meet the ancestors.
Those who know me well enough know what Pharoah Sanders means to me. When i feel an immense amount of stress, or am having an extreme depressive episode, i turn to his music to feel peace. Interestingly, the day before his physical transition, i released a documentary charting the love i, and others have, for one of Metallica’s most despised albums, St. Anger. In it, i describe feeling “blanketed in love” whenever i listen to it, “an experience similar to when i listen to Earth Wind & Fire, or Pharoah Sanders.”
i am glad i had the opportunity to acknowledge him in such a public way, even if it appears as a small gesture of appreciation, amidst a larger film about an album from a seemingly opposing genre… an opposition stubbornly upheld by humans.
The first time i ever saw Pharoah Sanders perform, i uncontrollably cried rivers before he even played a note. He walked on stage, and i cried. Despite me being in almost nosebleed seats, his presence resonated throughout that whole room. On that evening, along with Ravi Coltrane, he paid tribute to his dear friends (and Ravi’s parents) Alice and John.
i had an opportunity to see Mr. Sanders two other times after that. Both times i was front and center- or as they say in the metal community, on/at the rail. You see me in the video below, bobbing my head and dancing a bit in the hat and glasses.
i can’t remember who i gave it to, in order to pass it on that evening, but i wrote a note of thanks, labeling it, ‘To Baba Pharoah Sanders.’ i even knitted or crocheted a small bag to put the note in. Hopefully he received it.
The other show i was at (at the same venue) was with the great Gary Bartz, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the album, Another Earth.
“It’s like he’s playing, like, pure light at you. It’s way beyond the language. it’s way beyond the emotion.”
Lakecia Benjamin said more in those few words than i could ever say with this whole post. “You hear Pharoah Sanders, you immediately are filled with joy.”
But right now, i feel conflicted. i feel joy, knowing he is is a place where he is no longer in pain. i feel joy that he has now finally met the Prince Of Peace. Simultaneously my heart feels sorrow. i have been crying since i heard the news last night. i woke up crying, before i decided to write this piece.
Last night, i was on the phone with a friend, and i randomly saw that Coolio had passed. That, of course, threw me aback. My friend mentioned that someone else had passed as well, but didn’t say the name. i think he figured i already knew; however, given that i didn’t mention Mr. Sanders’ name, he decided to speak up. i was speechless, and the only words i could utter at the moment were “WHAT??!! WHAT??!!” There are several people i would be sad about when they leave this earth. However, Pharoah Sanders is one of the few names that, if i were to hear of their physical transcendence, i know it would automatically be difficult for me- Angela Bofill and H.R. (of Bad Brains) are the other two.
And now one of the three is gone.
Knowing this could have been his final public appearance brings tears to my eyes:
i thought about the tattoo i have on the back of my leg- it says ‘Love Is Everywhere’, inspired by the Pharoah Sanders song of the same name. It is one of three jazz-inspired tattoos i have, paying tribute to Mr. Sanders, Herbie Hancock and John Coltrane. One of the Coltrane-inspired pieces is no longer, after losing it due to my legs getting messed up from getting hit by a truck. i won’t get into that here, as you can read about it in past posts. i even have a Pharoah Sanders song as one of the ringtones on my phone.
i understand that the words i write here are not comprised of the world’s greatest post. They just seem jumbled and incoherent, honestly. It’s quite difficult to compose a series of words, describing how i feel right now. i feel a bit stuck actually, because what i’m feeling transcends words. My connection to this person’s art conveyed more than words. Words just seem trivial, but it’s a common way to communicate feelings. Any type of feelings.
Pharoah Sanders composed a soundtrack of peace, in the midst of great turmoil. it was not a series of sounds to encourage passivity; it was a force of encouragement, awareness and activity… It was a gateway to an understanding of our higher selves.
Thank you for your contribution to the beauty of humanity, Baba Pharoah Sanders. You showed us that we truly can access the love that is in us all. All we have to do is listen, and realize that it’s there.