Hello, my kids! Gather around and let me tell you another story about the Great Sun Ra!!
So, if you don’t remember where we left off in the last post, click here.
For four decades, from the early fifties until his death in 1993, Sun Ra and his Arkestra baffled, dazzled and aggravated jazz fans with an uncompromising and unpredictable musical style that wandered the spectrum from finger-popping bebop to the harshest of atonal free jazz (sometimes in the same piece), and a mythology that often kept audiences off-balance and guessing. Sun Ra didn’t sell many records in his lifetime, but along with the Arkestra, he nevertheless became the stuff of legend.
Angels and Demons at Play written by Jim Knipfel
Today, we will start roughly ten years from where we left off. In those ten years, Sun Ra was finding his footing.
He actually didn’t even change his name until October 20, 1952. It was apart of the movement where many black people were changing their names to something that wasn’t linked to slavery just like Muhammed Ali and Malcolm X. My dad even changed his name a few times.
During those ten years, he was doing a lot of soul searching. He devoted himself to his music and was trying to find his sound. He was drafted for the war and chose not to go and then was arrested.
After all that he finally packed up and moved to Chicago where he really found himself.
August 1946, he ended up in Club DeLisa working under a man named Fletcher Henderson who was a composer and bandleader, on his last creative dregs. When Sun Ra joined them, he was their pianist and tried to throw in his bebop spin on their sound but none of the members were having it.
The beginning of Sun Ra’s Arkestra all happened in the amazing Chicago but it took some time for things to settle in. He tried starting something with Tommy Hunter, drummer, and Pat Patrick, saxophonist. Both were very accomplished musicians and two of Sun Ra’s close friends.
Tommy Hunter, unfortunately, got drunk and had sex with a white woman after an impromptu party. Now if you know anything about American history, you’d know that these were some crazy segregated times. Black people were killed far more often and for stupid things like having sex or even whistling at white women (Emmett Till). Sun Ra made sure that he immediately got Hunter out of Chicago and to New York.
Pat Patrick moved to Florida with his new wife but eventually, he came back and joined the group. Patrick has been in and out of the group until his death.
Along with Pat Patrick, tenor saxophonist John Gilmore and Marshall Allen were constant members of the group.
By 1955, Sun Ra finally settled on the name Arkestra for his group. By them, dozens of musicians have come in and out of the group and Sun Ra was truly born. He was the embodiment of a Science Fiction tale. He spoke in riddles and got the other fellow musicians to follow the space sounds he had in his head.
Sun Ra would create the entire sound of his music and in his Documentary, one of his members even mentions not understanding what sound he needed until years after being in the Arkestra. (the link starts where he says that he didn’t get the sound. Don’t worry, you don’t have to watch the hour-long documentary… unless you want to.)
“Somewhere in the other side of nowhere is a place in space beyond time where the Gods of mythology dwell,” Ra said. “These gods dwell in their mythocracies as opposed to your theocracies, democracies, and monocracies. They dwell in a magic world. These Gods can even offer you immortality.”- Sun Ra
Sun Ra and his Arkestra made their way to New York City in 1961 and with their intense sounding music, they mostly scared off their audiences. As my dad said in the last post, “people would leave his performance holding their ears, heads, whatever in fear because his sound was too much.” My dad even called his sound as “a dissonance and cacophony of sound”.
I love how wicked it is that I have actual people who went to see him perform and give a review and I’m living in their home!
At that time, they couldn’t really get a true audience because their music scared most people. People at that time were used to traditional jazz music and not the out of this world jazz that Sun Ra orchestrated.
The group traveled to Philidelphia in the late 60s which ended up being their base of operations. When they first arrived, their neighbors complained about their music but after some time, they became praised members of their community. They played for free for their neighbors, Danny Ray Thompson, saxophonist, owned and operated the Pharaoh’s Den, a convenience store in the neighborhood. They were friendly and drug-free and were great with the kids in the neighborhood.
Their home in Philidelphia was the home of the Arkestra until Sun Ra’s death.
The tour traveled all around the world, even to Egypt to perform.
I started losing my fun momentum. I think I sound like a wiki page so please go to Wikipedia for more information.
My next post will be all about the fun stuff. I really wanted to take you all along with my journey finding out all these amazing new things about this man.