While being interviewed for the now-defunct Jazz & Pop magazine circa 1969, rock icon Eric Clapton was hailed as the "Pharaoh Sanders of the guitar" by his interviewer -- and Clapton was mos def touched. Tenor saxophonist Ferrell "Pharaoh" Sanders spent his college years playing in the Bay Area jazz scene alongside Sonny Simmons and Ed Kelly before relocating to New York City. There, he explored the nascent avant-garde scene with luminaries Don Cherry and Sun Ra until one 1964 night he caught the ear of John Coltrane. By '65, Sanders was a regular with Coltrane's band. Then the most controversial combo in modern jazz history, Coltrane's group jettisoned most all jazz conventions (like swing and harmony) in favor of unrestrained, full-bore freedom with Sanders' and 'Trane's saxophones gone literally primal scream. (Their influence reached beyond jazz, affecting proto-punks the Stooges and Suicide and New Zealand experimentalists The Dead C.)
After 'Trane's passing in 1967, Sanders formed his own ensembles, tempering his extreme approach with engaging Afro-Latin rhythms and melodies and an Aquarian mindset. Sanders' tenor (and soprano) took on more lyrical manner and a somewhat gentler hue, but without ever mellowing out. He's recorded in contexts free and funky, churned out hard bop and cross-cultural world music, and worked with eclectic producer Bill Laswell. In the New Year, Sanders returns home for an extended run.
Jan. 3-5, 8 & 10 p.m., 2008