Today is Sun Ra’s (born Herman Poole Blount 1914-1993) birthday. He was an experimental musician, composer, poet, pianist, and cosmic philosopher. I actually became enamored with his musical accomplishments just a few years ago, long after he died. A student of mine who was an avid guitarist was nearly obsessed with his music and the cosmic world and myth he created about his being born on another planet. In fact, this student did his research project about him, which included, of course, lots of samples of his music.
Sun Ra was the first to explore electronic music and free improvization. He imbued his music with his otherwordly (sprinkled with black politics) philosophy and ideas. He was obsessed with creating music, making his Arkestra practice all day, everyday, and then play gigs late into the night. Dressed in costumes a al ancient Egypt, Sun Ra and his band created otherworldly sounds and visuals. (But could also play more accessible genres like swing, beebop, and big band.) What may seem chaotic and out of control in his compositions is actually carefully notated and orchestrated, a kind of musical Jackson Pollack. Musical traditions and limitations are pushed and stretched. Voice is used as an instrument with call and response embedded within the matrix. Sun Ra’s claim to being an extra-terrestrial adds to the mystic, ethereal, supernatural, experimental nature of his music.
See and listen for yourself.
And a provocative documentary from the BBC: