With Pharoah Sanders’ blessing, this 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.
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…”.
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.
It started in 1976, when Bob approached Pharoah about doing a record together. Bob was a lawyer who had moved his family from Cleveland to Staten Island in the late ’60s to work at Western Union. A devotee of the New York downtown avant-garde jazz scene, he started his small label because, as his daughter Beth remembers it, “he loved these musicians and nobody was recording them.” He named it India Navigation after a garbage scow that ferried Cleveland’s municipal waste across Lake Erie. “It was a joke,” Beth said, “but a little ill-fated because nobody remembered the label name.”
Bob would eventually get a studio in two unused offices of Western Union’s famous Telegraph Building, a 19th century skyscraper in what was becoming the Lower Manhattan neighborhood of TriBeCa. But when he recorded this album he was still in his first studio, a large cement room in an old spring water factory in Rockland County, north of the city on the Hudson, where he lived with his wife Nancy. Bob and his family built the studio themselves. As Beth remembers it, getting Pharoah was a coup for her father. “Pharoah was his dream,” she said. “He was one of [Bob and Nancy’s] favorite musicians. He was a legend, even though he wasn't doing that well right then. And my dad was kind of shy, so somehow he managed to approach and talk to Pharoah. And I guess, knowing him, probably proposed something casual, knowing that he couldn't really do what Pharaoh might be used to.”
Bob initially proposed a saxophone and bass duo because, as he wrote to Pharoah in a letter, “this was something we could handle and afford,” but as their conversation continued, Pharoah had a “wish that the music be more complex.” By the time Pharoah showed up in Rockland County on that hot August afternoon in 1976, he had a veritable rock band in tow. Along with Bedria, Muñoz, and Jiggs, there was the late Steve Neil with his bass; the drummer Greg Bandy, whom Pharoah’s former bandmate Leon Thomas had nicknamed “Ski,” because, as Greg told us, “I was skiing through the world”; and the late percussionist Lawrence Killian who had often played and recorded with Pharoah a few years before, in a different era of his career—his congas and balafon graced Black Unity (1972) and Live at the East (1972). Ironically, this was one of the smaller groups that Pharoah had ever tried to record with.
Beth popped her head into the studio that day to find that the session was not going according to plan.. “Things were tense, to put it mildly,” she said. “I looked at Dad's face and I was like, ‘Okay, what’s wrong?.’ And he was almost beyond speaking. He didn’t have the setup, really. He had been surprised by how many people came. He was self-taught as an engineer, and he built a lot of the system, so he wasn’t slick. And it was panic time.” Greg also remembers the atmosphere of that session. “Out of all the recordings I did with Pharoah, that must have been the cheapest idea yet,” he laughed, thinking of the paltry setup. “That was one of them: ‘Oh Lord. Give us the money, otherwise, we’re gone.’ You know?”
How Bob and Pharoah managed to bounce back from that first disappointing recording session to the final album is a bit of a mystery. But we do know that Bob sent a letter in September asking Pharoah back to the studio: “we can try to get the sound the way you want it—the voices, the drums, etc.” And we also know that Pharoah did in fact come back for a second session, where he was able to address the earlier problems he had with the sound—but not in the way Bob expected. Because when they gathered for the second time, on a warm day in September, they played his quiet masterpiece “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.
The complications around the recording had so sufficiently soured Bob and Pharoah’s relationship that neither of them could recognize what Pharoah had made. “Pharoah was not happy with Bob after that,” Bedria said. “In the end, he felt like Bob didn’t step up to the plate, that he didn’t really invest enough to do a really good job. And he was disappointed, because he said, ‘Well, we could have done this ourselves. We didn’t need an investor, you know?’ So he wasn’t happy with the way it was done and he wasn't happy with the product, because he thought it could have been much better. The technical part.”
Bob was equally disappointed. “I don’t really remember him talking much about it, because it was kind of an upsetting time right after it happened,” Beth said. “I guess for anybody, if you meet your idol and for some reason they agree to do something with you, and then you and they both feel like you didn't live up to the moment, it’s hard.”
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.
In 2023 and 2024, this release will be supported by a series of unique performances around the world of The Harvest Time Project: A Tribute to Pharoah Sanders, a bespoke concert featuring the original guitarist and a selection of different musical ensembles who will come together in different iterations to reinterpret the composition “Harvest Time.” Each performance will diverge from each other as much as Pharoah’s own wildly different performances. The world premiere will take place at Le Guess Who? (Nov 12), featuring Irreversible Entanglements, Domenico Lancellotti, and special guest Tisziji Muñoz, under the musical direction of Joshua Abrams. A special workshop performance will take place at National Sawdust (Oct 14), in honor of Pharoah's birthday.
U.S. Press Inquiries:
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Mastered by Chris Bellman
Editor & Introduction by Eliza Grace Martin
Essays by Pierre Crépon and Marcus J. Moore
With research and notes by Eric Welles-Nyström, Christian Tarabini, Thomas "truckthomas" Gauffroy-Naudin, Lander Lenaerts, Pierre Crépon, Harmony Holiday, Marcus J. Moore, and Eliza Grace Martin; photography by Randi Hultin, Rob Miseur, Gian Carlo Roncaglia, Gérard Rouy, Guy Stevens, and Gorm Valentin, as well as archival material and artwork by Bob, Nancy, and Beth Cummins.
Additional research help by:
Special thanks to Ms. Wivi-Ann Wells for the kind permission to work with her mother Randi Hultin’s incredible material, and to Beth Cummins for the photos and stories from the making of the India Navigation album Pharoah. We would also greatly like to thank Mr. Rob Miseur, Mr. Guy Stevens and Mr. Gorm Valentin for allowing us to work with their photos, as well as Mr. Niels Christensen of Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen, and Marie Härtling of the Jazzinstitut Darmstadt and their collection of Wilhelm E. Liefland.
Additional thanks to Adrian Hughes, Anna Sala, Bert Vuijsje, Bertram Dingshoff, Björn Thorstensson, Clifford Allen, Charlie Fishman, Craig A. Schiffert, Cristiane Lemire, Don Palmer, Daniel Baker, Daniela Siemon, David Kleijwegt, Dean Whitbeck, Esu Ma’at, Frank Jochemsen, Gunnar Lindgren, Günther Hottman, Henrik Iversen, Honor Kerley, Kajtek Prochyra, Kehinde Alonge, Kjell Jansson, Lätitia Röse, Marc Chaloin, Mariko Yamazaki, Matt Hanks, Michael Ehlers, Mikkel Hess, Necim Boukhchana, Nicole Mckenzie, Peter Dennett, Rick Lopez, Rikke Juelund, Rita Wigt, Sergei Minakov, Sharon Howard, Sven Dolling, Teddy Hillaert, Terence Teh, Tom Klaasen, Willard Jenkins, Wim Wigt.
Pharoah Box Set Tracklist
Harvest Time Live 1977