Herman Poole Blount was born 100 years ago today. He lived from May 22, 1914 to May 30, 1993. Prior to his death, he abandoned his given name and chose to be known as “Sun Ra”. He performed with a big band as “Sun Ra and his Arkestra”. This cat was unique and almost indescribable. It is probably foolish of me to even try. What we think we know about his life can be read in the Wikipedia article, but Sun Ra would have denied most of it. He claimed he was from Saturn. He may have been more than a little crazy, or he might have been putting us on. Maybe he really was from outer space.
Here is an interview recorded in Helsinki in 1971 so you can get the flavor of Sun Ra in his own words.
Sun Ra has a HUGE discography, much of which he recorded and distributed himself at live performances of the Arkestra. His record label was El Saturn Records (of course). Some of the early records may have only been pressed into a couple of hundred copies.
The music of the Arkestra is bluesy and always swings. There are some abrasive, dissonant elements from so-called “free jazz”, but Sun Ra seemed to think the avant-garde took themselves too seriously. Here is some music from the 1959 album Jazz in Silhouette. This music is completely different from the performance in the above interview.
In 1974, Sun Ra and the Arkestra created a feature length film entitled Space Is The Place.
I have watched it and words fail me when I try to give any description. Here is the whole film.
I think a big part of Sun Ra’s misson was to puzzle and shock people out of their normal way of thinking. He wanted to open people’s minds and break them out of the daily routine of their lives. Free your mind and your rear end will follow. I don’t know if I’m right or not, but I have never seen anything like Sun Ra. He would say, “ No, and you never will again”.