Legendary jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, a Little Rock native, was the center of attention at Friday’s ceremony at the Peabody Little Rock hotel.
Although he left the state more than 50 years ago, jazz legend Pharoah Sanders still calls Arkansas home.
The Society of American Music honored the tenor saxophonist, 72, at its national conference at the Peabody Little Rock hotel on Friday.
“I’m so honored to be here to receive this award ... I will remember this day for the rest of my life,” Sanders said as he accepted an honorary membership from the society.
The Little Rock-born, Grammy Award-winning jazz musician is known in the music world for his incorporation of international styles - most notably Moroccan - and for his improvisational performance techniques, including “sheets of sound.”
Sanders, who has performed and recorded with respected jazz musicians including Albert Ayler, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, helped develop free jazz in the New York avant-garde scene of the early 1960s.
“Trane was the Father, Pharoah was the Son, and I am the Holy Ghost,” Ayler, a fellow saxophonist, famously said of the three free-jazz pioneers.
“Each year, at our national conference, we recognize a prominent individual whohas made a significant contribution to American music or music in America,” said Katherine Preston, president of the Society of American Music. It was an honor to choose “Arkansas’ local son” as an honorary member of the society, she said.
Mayor Mark Stoloda, after recalling his days as a young tuba player, honored Sanders by proclaiming March 8 Pharoah Sanders Day in the city.
Bharath Mohan, a representative for Gov. Mike Beebe, shared a few anecdotes and presented Sanders with an Arkansas Traveler Certificate.
The jazzman, who now lives in Los Angeles, wore brightly colored clothes and finely groomed facial hair, which has grown white with age. As he quietly accepted each honor, he said: “The music speaks for me.”
John Miller, coordinator of the Arkansas Music Festival at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, said Sanders was a natural choice for the conference’s guest of honor.
Sanders’ music is “in a lot of ways cerebral” and “very emotional,” Miller said, adding that “musicologists and music educators tend to have more of an appreciation for that. So I think that they realized this would be a really good person to honor.”
Sanders, a 1994 Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame inductee, remains a musical fixture in Los Angeles, and he continues to tour internationally with his quartet.
Before he returns home today, Sanders said he hopes to visit the Capitol and to listen to some good music.
He won’t be performing during his short stint in the state, but he takes his sax with him everywhere he goes - to practice in any locale, including his downtown hotel room.
“I hope to come back soon and play some music as soon as possible,” Sanders said. “I’ve enjoyed myself here, you know. This is home.”