PHAROAH SANDERS / “The Healing Song”

As James Brown put it, employing his succinct albeit catchy phraseology: there was a time! Back in the early seventies, in all of America’s major cities that had 50,000 or more fired-up black folk, there were cultural institutions and music venues that hosted musicians who consciously ministered to the people. Saxophonist Albert Ayler said: music is the healing force of the universe. Our organic doctors of sound were on a mission to make sure good, strong healthy doses of the musical medicine were widely available to any and all in need. pharoah sanders 22.jpg By 1970/71, Dr. Sanders’ aural medicinals was the number one prescription recommended by eleven out of ten doctors (one guy voted twice, he must have been from Chicago). The deeptitude of the situation was that some of the most potent brewing was done in out of the way places and spaces under the heavy manners of new Afrikan black folk—yeah, we spelled Afrika with a “k” as in “k” for Konscious, if you’re ready for that. Like I said, there was a time. And a place. The East was in Brooklyn, it was both a venue and a cultural organization. Under the guidance of Jitu Weusi (aka Les Campbell) they had a school, published a nationally distributed monthly—Black News; had a bookstore, hosted an annual Afrikan Arts Festival, and on and on. We might have been located in the west but we were looking to The East (by southeast—Afrika, yall, A-Free-ka, we all). Yes, Africa was our spiritual and political motherland but meanwhile we had carved out liberated zones of neo-afrikan konsciousness all over, through, around and up-under America. In the early seventies The East was the preeminent black independent institution. Many of the musicians loved playing at The East. A number of recordings were made there and this week’s classic feature is taken from one of the most famous of those recordings. Although Impulse has gone through numerous reissue projects, Pharoah Sanders Live At The East has long been out of print except for a brief Japanese-only, one-off CD. pharoah sanders 21.jpg The band on this occasion is: Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax), Stanley Clarke and Cecil McBee (bass), Joseph Bonner (piano & harmonium), Norman Connors (drums), Harold Vick (tenor sax & voices), Lawrence Killian (percussion), Billy Hart (drums), Marvin Hannibal Peterson (trumpet), Carlos Garnett (flute, voices). The song is the aptly titled "Healing Song." No explanation is needed. All you've got to do is listen and either you will get it or miss it—either way, words are not going to help you. This music not only speaks for itself, it roars and whispers. Cries and smiles. Goes all the way out, way, way out into the gone-a-sphere (like Sun Ra said, next stop Jupiter) and at the same time the music stays so deep in the pocket the audience spontaneously claps on the backbeat—from no beat to one drop all in the same song. Damn, now that’s music! One minute the whole place is erupting in shouts, whistles, hand claps and foot stomps and then towards the end of the song everything is so quiet you could hear your own hair grow as every fiber of your being strove to get closer to the source. This was when so-called “free jazz” was popular. At the end of sessions like this we flowed out into the street bold as fire breathing dragons, ready, Jack, to take on whatever needed to be took, whatever, bring it on, we were ready, or at least that’s how the music had us feeling. And the incredible mind-set was much, much more than a ego pump up. Never do I remember feeling so much love for black folk. Spontaneous. All of us. We’d smile and hug and go out of our way to help each other and strangers. No sweat. Sure we were young and un-jaded enough to believe that not only was this the way it was supposed to be but this great goodness was going to last forever, or at least for our entire lifetime. Of course our predictions were wildly off the mark but don’t put it down as some mere bullshit romantic optimism. With Pharoah and McCoy and Gary Bartz, Doug & Jean Carn, Rashaan Roland Kirk, Charlie Mingus, and on and on and on and oh so many, many musicians on and on, with all of that happening everyday and you could catch it live at least once a week if you were anywhere near one of those liberated zones I spoke of earlier, with all of those potent aural potions easily available we are to be forgiven thinking it would last forever. We were high on life. pharoah sanders 23.jpg And this recording is proof that my memories are not just a figment of my deranged imagination. No! There really was a time. Whenever I hear this music I am transported out into the gone-a-sphere of love and liberation. Or like Charles Earland once announced: this is your captain and we are now “leaving this planet!” Why don’t you come on and go with us? Pharoah will take you there. Take us all there. Guaranteed. Now you know what Jimi meant when he said: excuse me, while I kiss the sky. Go on with your bad selves, people. —Kalamu ya Salaam  

This entry was posted on Monday, December 29th, 2008 at 1:51 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “PHAROAH SANDERS / “The Healing Song””

Matt Says:
December 29th, 2008 at 12:35 pm

Great piece. Imagining the atmosphere you describe I am at once (still) inspired and envious. No wonder that the music created during that time period and environment is some of my favorite and most powerful music ever created. And your description of the music going so far out yet staying so deep in the pocket is just right and an apt description of what I find so magical about Pharoah’s music. It can sound like pure chaos and yet somehow you can still stomp your foot to it. Thanks.

taro nombei Says:
December 30th, 2008 at 7:30 am

amen. That’s wicked music, and you put it right into context.
Many thanks Kalamu

rich Says:
December 31st, 2008 at 1:19 am

lucky enough to catch Pharoah live a few years back and the magic was still in the air – I found the music deeply groovy, in the rhythmic sense, but still just jaw-dropping in terms of territory and ideas being explored. as always, kalamu, the evocative description however still makes me wish for some time travel

Marian Says:
January 3rd, 2009 at 3:00 pm

It is usually piano music that transports me, but that loopy string sound in the background (is that the bass?) hits just the right note. It is healing and invigorating.

         not one, but two basses         

it’s not a loop. it’s a human being playing bass. in fact, one bass is holding down the bottom (the loop), pretty sure it’s cecil mcbee, he was a monster at things like that. the other bassist is stanley clarke in his early jazz days when he was playing mucho, mucho acoustic bass. Pharoah got the idea of using two bass players from John Coltrane.


Beebe Says:
October 2nd, 2010 at 12:10 pm

I’ve loved this music for 35 years. I lost the vinyl, had a cassette I dubbed onto a CD and then to iPod. Have listened countless times. What a beautiful statement you have posted here. Thank you deeply.

June 17th, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Brother Kalamu, did you catch Pharoah at Boy’s & Girls High last year. Brought back memories of the East. What I find interesting is that Pharoah plays at Birdland each year, and the shows are short but good, but not the same. I wish he would perform in our hoods more often. Our young people need it more than ever.

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