Jazzman Sanders finds fresh wind on Melbourne journey

Arts & Culture
Andra Jackson

FOR American jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, knowing when not to play is as important as knowing when to play. Speaking on how he interacts with pianist and long-time colleague William Henderson, he said: “Sometimes I might get in his way,” adding, “You don’t want to overplay. You want the music to flow.”

One way to achieve this is “we try to feel the music”. That guides them on when the sax should come in or when the piano should lead explorations.

Sanders, who has an early album called Wisdom Through Music, imparted just that in a weekend masterclass in which he illustrated his approach as much by playing as by talking.

Pharoah Sanders Master Class






















His Saturday class, one of a series as part of the Melbourne Jazz International Festival was packed. Those listening attentively in the BMW Edge auditorium at Federation Square included some of Melbourne’s leading sax players, such as Julien Wilson, Andy Sugg, Phil Bywater, Martha Bartz and Mal Sedergreen.

Also drawn by the rare opportunity to hear the musician who had played with jazz giant John Coltrane, were musicians on the festival program such as American pianist Jon Weber. Others were music students (one with manuscript paper at ready).

Elaborating on the interplay between himself and Henderson, Sanders said their meeting point was “a common head of chords” and “we can use that as a skeleton to move on”.

Opening with The Light at the End of the Tunnel, Sanders demonstrated his majestic sound with a tone that had clarity, warmth and resonance. He inserted fast runs, lingered over rhythmic patterns, summoned high, lush notes and played breathy phrases, taking the sound down to a hovering hum.

The audience was treated to nearly an hour of playing as the pair displayed their respective explorations of tunes such as My Favourite Things where Sanders used his famous split reed technique to conjure a wild, African jungle-like sound. In response to a question, Sanders said he tried to blow as straight as he could into the instrument so he could listen to what he was playing. “I feel like I’m the player and the audience, and if I don’t like it the audience won’t.”

Pharoah Sanders & Joe GeiaAmong his musical journeys Sanders has recorded with Moroccan musicians and he likes to engage with indigenous musicians whenever he travels. He had another cultural exchange at the workshop when local didgeridoo player Joe Geia joined him. Sanders listened intently to the drone before opting for a rhythmic response.

As well as giving something to Melbourne through his Saturday night Hamer Hall concert and the masterclass, Sanders in turn took away a piece of Melbourne in the form of a Temby Australian tenor saxophone.

He visited The Music Place in South Melbourne and tried out the local saxophone and fell for its “warmth of sound”.

To the astonishment of local sax players he traded his “venerable” Selmer Mark Six 1961 saxophone, which he had played for years, for the Temby.

The Melbourne saxophone designed by David Temby is handcrafted with silver for the plating and black nickel for the body. Mr Temby said Sanders was so thrilled with the instrument that he used for the workshop and concert that he offered to be his agent in New York.

Andra Jackson courtesy of The Age


I love the roller octave key, you must have put a lot of thought into technique. It is a much freer blowing horn and it’s plays easy.

Pharoah Sanders & David TembyIt was a wonderful day for David Temby, instrument maker extraordinaire and owner of The Music Place, when Pharoah Sanders walked in off the street. “Pharoah spent a lot of time with me today and was so impressed with my custom tenor saxophone that he sold his treasured Selmer Mk6 and has purchased his new Temby Australia Custom Tenor”, beamed Temby. “He and his band including Nat Reeves were all smiles with the sound and response of this horn – likening it to the sound of Coltrane’s horn – a huge compliment bearing in mind that Pharoah Sanders is an originator. One of the last remaining musical pioneers from the fertile New York jazz scene of the mid-’60s – which included Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and John Coltrane – Sanders’ special soaring contribution to the period is undeniable.”

Pharoah Sanders now plays his Temby Australia Custom Tenor Saxophone. Black nickel plated body with fine silver plated bell and neck. It also features revised rate carbon steel springs and Western Australian black mother of pearl key tops.