The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.

A True Birthday is the Day of Your Death – Sun Ra

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Seth Colter Walls tours the cosmic and eclectic music of jazz legend Sun Ra:

Sun Ra as we know him emerged in Chicago in the 1940s. After a harrowing experience applying for conscientious objector status during World War II briefly landed him in jail, Ra—then still called Sonny Blount—moved to Chicago, where he worked as an arranger for one of his idols, the big band leader Fletcher Henderson. Chicago at that time was a hotbed of African American political activism, including, among others, groups like the Black Muslims and the Black Hebrews. This fascinated Blount, who, amidst feelings of deep racial alienation, began to read the mystic texts and Egyptian histories from which he would derive his Sun Ra persona. In 1952, Sonny Blount took a new name: Le Sony’r Ra.
 At about the same time he founded the Arkestra. The group’s earliest recordings from these years sound surprisingly like traditional big band tracks when compared to their later works, yet even here there are subtle innovations and hints at what was to come. One early track, “India” (from the album Super-Sonic Jazz) makes use of electric piano long before the first “fusion” albums of the late 1960s. Another, slightly later recording, “Brainville,” features an oddly insistent baritone-sax note amid the Arkestra’s other, Ellingtonian accents. Perhaps most affecting is Ra’s solo keyboard track, “Advice to Medics,” titled after his history of playing for what his biographer John Szwed describes as a therapy-through-music group that “included catatonics and severe schizophrenics.” (The biographer reports that one patient, breaking a years-long silence, approached Ra to ask: “Do you call that music?”)
Sun Ra’s music became most abstract in the 1960s, when he and the Arkestra moved to New York and took up a residency at the East Village club, Slug’s. This is where Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones) encountered the Arkestra. Though initially skeptical, he was won over as soon as he saw the group live. “Sun-Ra,” he wrote in 1966, “wants a music that will reflect a life-sense lost in the West, a music full of Africa.…On one piece the Arkestra moves, behind Sun-Ra, in a long line through the dark, chanting and playing…a totally different epoch is conjured.” Baraka described Ra’s new record for the ESP label, The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, as “one of the most beautiful albums I have ever heard,” the product of the “first big band of the New Black Music.”

Author: Daniela

I was born in Croatia, at that time Yugoslavia. My family moved to the US when I was very young, but I still treasure the memories of my grandfather teaching me how to protect myself against the "evil eye," my grandmother shopping early every morning, at the open air market, to buy the freshest vegetables for the day's meals, and the traditions that were the underpinnings of our society. Someone once noted that "For all of us that want to move forward, there are a very few that want to keep the old methods of production, traditions and crafts alive." I am a fellow traveler with those who value the old traditions and folk wisdom. I believe the knowledge they possess can contribute significantly to our efforts to build a more sustainable world; one that values the individual over the corporation, conservation over growth and happiness over wealth.

One thought on “A True Birthday is the Day of Your Death – Sun Ra

  1. Wow, am speechless….love it. Suffice to say I totally dig it love it…a million pineapple blessings to you… vist jali sustainable on facebook

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