Born in Little Rock, Arkansas at the height of the Jim Crow era, Pharoah Sanders was one of the last icons of his generation when he passed away last fall, on September 24, 2022. He was handpicked by John Coltrane and played on his late-career masterpieces, and thereafter released a string of expansive recordings under his own name for the Impulse! label, which have been cited as a pivotal influence by everyone from Prince to Iggy Pop to Marvin Gaye. With Coltrane, Sanders recorded some of the most revered — and controversial — albums in jazz history, embracing a wild, anarchic sound that would reverberate across genres for decades to come. Sanders’ subsequent solo output was similarly bold and influential, eventually winning a GRAMMY in the late ’80s.
In 2016, the National Endowment for the Arts bestowed him with its prestigious Jazz Master title, the genre’s highest honor. His last album Promises, released in 2021 with Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra, was heralded as “a late-career masterpiece,” and was awarded Album of The Year in several national newspapers around the world, including #1 in TIME Magazine and The New York Times, and #2 in The New Yorker who called it “...an extraordinary intimate experience…”.
With Pharoah Sanders’ blessing, a forthcoming box set due September 15, will present the definitive, remastered version of Pharoah, his seminal record from 1977, along with two previously unreleased live performances of his masterpiece “Harvest Time." An accompanying 24-page booklet includes a treasure trove of rarely seen photographs, archival materials, interviews with many of the participants, and a conversation with Pharoah himself.
This record’s origin story is as elusive as Pharoah himself. It was born out of a misunderstanding between Pharoah and the India Navigation producer Bob Cummins, and was recorded with a group of musicians so unlikely that they were never all in the same room again. There was the guitarist Tisziji Muñoz, who would go on to become a spiritual guru, the organist Clifton “Jiggs” Chase, who would leave jazz to take a job at Sugar Hill Records, where he would co-write and produce “The Message” for Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Bedria Sanders, Pharoah’s wife at the time and a classically trained pianist, who would play the harmonium on this record even though she had never seen a harmonium before. The confluence of surprising circumstances that surrounded the making of this record, though at the time seemed like limitations, only fueled its brilliance. It would go on to become one of Pharoah’s most beloved records, and would be recognized as one of the great works of the 20th century.
The simple misunderstanding that resulted in this album’s wholly unrepeatable sound was this: Pharoah wanted to make a certain kind of studio album, and Bob Cummins didn’t have the experience or place to pull it off. Bob suggested they make a duo record together, but Pharoah had other ideas. The first time Pharoah showed up at Bob’s studio, he brought a veritable rock band with him—electric guitar, organ, bass, drums—and surprised Bob with the number of people. Needless to say, the recording didn’t go well as well as either hoped. Pharoah was so disappointed with the sound that it hung in the balance whether the record would ever be released. But Pharoah and Bob agreed to try again, and the second time they met, Pharoah played the composition that has since been recognized as one of his greatest artistic achievements, “Harvest Time.”
There are no drums on “Harvest Time,” just guitar, bass, harmonium, and saxophone. Bedria thinks the composition was spontaneous. Tisziji remembers it that way too, recalling that Pharoah just turned to him and told him to start. “Pharoah said, ‘Man, you know, come up with something.’ So I came up with something and it stuck,” Tisziji said. “He would also often ask me for a harmony instrument; let the harmony play, set a vamp so that the guys can blow on it. So, I set that vamp up, he was fine with it, very simple. Bass player got into it, we all got into it, and I guess it became a masterpiece for people. Write two chords. Write the two-chord masterpiece in C minor. Beautiful, perfect.”
Then, Pharoah asked Bedria to name it. “I guess it’s just what came to my head because it was in the fall, you know,” she said. “It was harvest time in September. That’s my favorite time of the year.”
In her liner notes, Harmony Holiday calls the album “a love letter” to Bedria. Her presence is all over it—she was the only one of Pharoah’s wives to ever play on a record of his, and it’s clear from his wild, improvised vocals on “Love Will Find A Way,” that Bedria was the inspiration for much of the music.
After its release, Pharoah rarely spoke publicly about the record—a private figure, he rarely spoke publicly at all. But despite his silence, or perhaps because of it, Pharoah gained a mystique and with it, a cult following. At times ambient and serene, at others funky and modal, it radically departed from his earlier work and became one of his great artistic achievements, a reminder that even in chaos there can be unexpected triumph.
When we started working with Pharoah on this project, more than forty years after the record’s initial release, his attitude toward it hadn’t changed very much. He was like that as an artist, always critical of his playing and unsure of his accomplishments. The trove of bootlegs of this particular album also brought him a great deal of stress, and often made it impossible for him to even discuss the record. It took several years of conversations with him to show him how worthy it was of an official remastering. In the late summer of 2022, we began to make real progress in piecing together the story: For the first time, he began to open up about this record and was eager to talk—he even encouraged us to speak with others about it, too, something that he’d never done before. “You need to call Bedria… or Greg Bandy. They will remember.” It was exciting. After the success of Promises, we couldn’t wait for him to see the outpouring of love for him and for this album.
Unexpectedly, he passed away shortly after those conversations began. It was, at first, hard to understand what to do next. We loved him, and the reason you do all of this is not solely for the music, but also for the person who made it. It’s their personality, their humor, and their wishes that drive you forward.
This box set looks closely at this chapter of Pharoah’s life in a way that has never been done before. Through interviews, photographs, and ephemera that have never been shared, Pharoah’s personality and his intention for this record come alive. Some of this, which is the result of extensive research throughout Europe and North America by a dedicated research team, will be shared with the public throughout the fall on PharoahSanders.com/HarvestTime, with pieces by Harmony Holiday, Marcus J. Moore, and Pierre Crépon, who wrote essays that accompany this box set, among many others.
Forty-five years later, the remastering of the India Navigation album seeks to correct for the technical difficulties that plagued the recording process and to finally do the music justice, hemming closer to what Pharoah envisioned. For “Love Will Find a Way” and “Memories of Edith Johnson,” the result is a revelation. Alongside the remastered India Navigation album, we’ve also included two previously unreleased live recordings of “Harvest Time.” Performed during an intense European tour in the late summer of 1977, these exciting live versions turn the original composition on its head.
For seasoned listeners and new acolytes both, Pharoah will never sound the same.