Tuesday, 24 January 2012

SUN RA


Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount, legal name Le Sony'r Ra;[1] May 22, 1914 – May 30, 1993) was a prolific jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher known for his "cosmic philosophy," musical compositions and performances. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He is a 1979 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

"Of all the jazz musicians, Sun Ra was probably the most controversial," critic Scott Yanow said,[2] because of Sun Ra's eclectic music and unorthodox lifestyle. Claiming that he was of the "Angel Race" and not from Earth, but from Saturn, Sun Ra developed a complex persona using "cosmic" philosophies and lyrical poetry that made him a pioneer of afrofuturism. He preached awareness and peace above all. He abandoned his birth name and took on the name and persona of Sun Ra (Ra being the Egyptian God of the Sun), and used several other names throughout his career, including Le Sonra and Sonny Lee. Sun Ra denied any connection with his birth name, saying "That's an imaginary person, never existed … Any name that I use other than Ra is a pseudonym."From the mid-1950s to his death, Sun Ra led "The Arkestra" (a deliberate re-spelling of "orchestra"), an ensemble with an ever-changing lineup and name. It was by turns called "The Solar Myth Arkestra", "His Cosmo Discipline Arkestra", the "Blue Universe Arkestra", "The Jet Set Omniverse Arkestra", as well as many other permutations. Sun Ra asserted that the ever-changing name of his ensemble reflected the ever-changing nature of his music. His mainstream success was limited, but Sun Ra was a prolific recording artist and frequent live performer. His music ranged from keyboard solos to big bands of over 30 musicians and touched on virtually the entire history of jazz, from ragtime to swing music, from bebop to free jazz. He was also a pioneer of electronic music and space music. He also used free improvisation and was one of the first musicians, of any genre, to make extensive use of electronic keyboards. Philosophy
Sun Ra's world view was often described as a philosophy, but he rejected this term, describing his own manner as an "equation"—he claimed that while philosophy was based on theories and abstract reasoning, his method was based on logic and pragmatism. Many of the Arkestra cite Sun Ra's teachings as pivotal and for inspiring such long-term devotion to the music that they knew would never make them much money. His equation was rarely (if ever) explained as a whole; instead, it was related in bits and pieces over many years, leading some to think his world view was naïve or composed of nonsensical new-age platitudes. However, Martinelli argues that, when considered as a whole, one can discern a unified world view that draws upon many sources, but is also unique to Sun Ra, writing:Sun Ra presents a unified conception, incorporating music, myth, and performance into his multi-leveled equations. Every aspect of the Sun Ra experience, from business practices like Saturn Records to published collections of poetry to his 35-year career in music, is a manifestation of his equations. Sun Ra seeks to elevate humanity beyond their current earthbound state, tied to outmoded conceptions of life and death when the potential future of immortality awaits them. As Hall has put it, 'In this era of 'practical' things men ridicule even the existence of God. They scoff at goodness while they ponder with befuddled minds the phantasmagoria of materiality. They have forgotten the path which leads beyond the stars.'

He drew on sources as diverse as the Kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, channeling, numerology, Freemasonry, and black nationalism. Sun Ra's system had distinct Gnostic leanings arguing that the god of most monotheistic religions was not the creator god, not the ultimate god, but a lesser, evil being. Sun Ra was wary of the Bible, knowing that it had been used to justify slavery. He would often re-arrange and re-word Biblical passages (along with re-working many other words, names or phrases) in an attempt to uncover "hidden" meanings. The most obvious evidence of this system was Ra's practice of renaming many of the musicians who played with him.Bassoonist/multireedist James Jacson had studied Zen Buddhism before joining Sun Ra and identified strong similarities between Zen teachings and practices (particularly Zen koans) and Ra's use of non sequiturs and seemingly absurd replies to questions. Drummer Art Jenkins admitted that Sun Ra's "nonsense" sometimes troubled his thoughts for days until inspiring a sort of paradigm shift, or profound change in outlook. Drummer Andrew Cyrille said Sun Ra's comments were "very interesting stuff … whether you believed it or not. And a lot of times it was humorous, and a lot of times it was ridiculous, and a lot of times it was right on the money.

Some of Sun Ra's songs with words featured lyrics that although simple, were inspirational and philosophical. The most famous example was "Space is the Place!". Another example was the song that went, "You made a mistake. You did something wrong. Make another mistake, and do something right!". Sometimes (typically at the end of a set) the entire Arkestra would snake out through the audience, playing and chanting something like this. Sun Ra even came up once, behind a frightened young audience member, grabbed him in a bear hug, and whispered this in his ear, while the whole band chanted and played along, in a circle around his table, with the rest of the audience watching on in amusement. (1978, in a performance in a small short-lived nightclub on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia)Sun Ra and black culture

According to Szwed[35] Sun Ra's view of his relationship to black people and black cultures "changed drastically" over time. Initially, Sun Ra identified closely with broader struggles for black power, black political influence, and black identity, and saw his own music as a key element in educating and liberating blacks. But by the heyday of black power radicalism in the 1960s, Sun Ra was expressing disillusionment with these aims, and he denied feeling closely connected to any race. In 1970 he said:

I couldn't approach black people with the truth because they like lies. They live lies … At one time I felt that white people were to blame for everything, but then I found out that they were just puppets and pawns of some greater force, which has been using them … Some force is having a good time [manipulating black and white people] and looking, enjoying itself up in a reserved seat, wondering, "I wonder when they're going to wake upInfluence and legacy

Many of Sun Ra's innovations remain important and groundbreaking: "Ra was one of the first jazz leaders to use two basses, to employ the electric bass, to play electronic keyboards, to use extensive percussion and polyrhythms, to explore modal music and to pioneer solo and group freeform improvisations. In addition, he made his mark in the wider cultural context: he proclaimed the African origins of jazz, reaffirmed pride in black history and reasserted the spiritual and mystical dimensions of music (all important factors in the black cultural/political renaissance of the 60s)."George Clinton of P-funk fame drew inspiration from Sun Ra; see P-Funk mythology. He once declared in an interview, "Yeah, Sun Ra's out to lunch... same place I eat at!"

Detroit's MC5 played a handful of shows with Sun Ra (including surviving MC5 members Michael Davis , Wayne Kramer and Dennis "Machine Gun" Thompson , under the DKT / MC5 name ), and were influenced by his works monumentally . One of their songs from their premiere album Kick Out the Jams featured a track called "Starship" , which was based upon a poem by Ra .

He was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1979. His interment was located in Elmwood Cemetery.
[edit] FilmographyFilmography

Sun Ra and his Arkestra were the subject of a few documentary films, notably Robert Mugge's A Joyful Noise (1980), which interspersed performances and rehearsals with Sun Ra's commentary on various subjects ranging from today's youth to his own place in the cosmos. There is also a feature film entitled Space Is the Place from 1974 which stars Sun Ra and his band who play themselves. The soundtrack, also by Sun Ra, is available on CD.

In 1995 his influnce was a significant factor in the foundation of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts.

More recently (2005) Don Letts' Sun Ra—Brother from Another Planet reuses some of Mugge's material and includes some additional interviews.In 2009, Points On A Space Age, a documentary by Ephrahaim Asili was released. "It's a 60-minute doc along the lines of the talking-head-intercut-with performance clips style. It works because of the interesting and passionate nature of the images of the band as well as of the audio, as the band attempts to articulate what Ra meant to them, and why they are keeping the flame alive. He “left the earth” for his next mission in 1993. The remnants of the band include Marshall Allen, Ra’s greatest discliple as well as current bandleader and keeper of the flame. Now 86, Allen also serves as recruiter for new members, and potential converts of Sun Ra’s philosophy, once based on space travel and music as a tool for evolution into a new consciousness and tuning into holy vibrations."

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