I’ve been listening to more jazz lately than I usually do. Why? I’m not too sure; maybe it’s because I’m reading a lot and sometimes jazz and reading go together quite snuggly. However, that depends on what your reading. Miles Davis to Harry Potter probably won’t give you the desired affect, but Coltrane to Burroughs? Like cream in coffee: oh yeah. But it’s been a while since I read Burroughs…Right now one of the books I’m reading is Raymond Chandler’s private dick mystery novel Farewell, My Lovely. Really, I’m not a big fan of mystery movies or novels but apparently Lou Reed idolized Chandler so I decided I had to check him out. Truth be told, I’m not sure if Chandler’s worth much fuss but whatever, I’m enjoying the novel. I’ve been listening to this week’s band of the week while reading it. And the band of the week is…
SUN RA AND HIS ARKESTRA!!!
Sure, everyone who knows Sun Ra knows he’s more of a one-man thing, but still, plenty of credit goes to the fine talents he worked with throughout nearly five decades of music making.
For those who don’t know Sun Ra, he was one of the greatest and most interesting musicians of the last century. He took jazz into strange new directions, influenced bands ranging from the MC5 to Sonic Youth and claimed to be from Saturn. Until the end of his life he told people that while he was in college, he was abducted by aliens and told that his mission on Earth was to preach peace and love through music. And that’s what he did. He claimed to be of the “angel race” (not human) and that his real name was Sun Ra, and all other names he may have had before that were merely pseudonyms. Supposedly, Sun Ra was quite fervent in these beliefs.
And yes, the music of Sun Ra is as interesting as his history. He became obsessed with ancient Egypt and outer space; themes that became highly prevalent in his music. Though his music is indeed jazz, it completely shatters the notions of what jazz is supposed to sound like.
Ra was well known for strange, spacey songs like “We Travel The Spaceways”, which featured weird instrumentation and the chanting of lyrics about space and crazy cosmic shit but, it was on gorgeous pieces like “Lanquidity” that he most displayed his extraordinary talent. These two sides of Sun Ra – which Ra alluded to in the title of his album The Bad and the Beautiful – form to complete the image of Sun Ra as both genius and madman.
Many aren’t too quick to give Sun Ra much respect on account of his circus like performances, his out-of-this-world appearance and unorthodox beliefs, but upon inspection of the man’s music, he was indisputably inspired and years ahead of his time.
Much of jazz is like conservative classical music, in that it’s boring, its narrow minded and its been unable to escape its place in past time. Sun Ra made music that was beyond place, space and time, and because of that, like the Sun G-d he named himself after, Sun Ra’s music will live forever, shining like some strange celestial orb in the dark vacuum of lame jazz.