Y’know when people talk about heroes and have that story of when they first heard them and it all changed? I don’t have that. I’ve got no idea of the first time I heard Sun Ra, but I suspect it was a sample I didn’t recognise in some Madlib compilation I picked along the way, which doesn’t really explain how he worked his way so deeply into my music taste.
I like Jazz. I even like the wanky stuff. I really like the kaftan-wearing, Malcolm X quoting spiritual stuff. Elvin Jones’ opening gong on ‘A Love Supreme’ is the starting gun for an era of incredible spiritual Jazz but Le Sony’r Ra had been past that point on his way to much further out since the 50’s.
Incredibly prolific, and with an ever changing Arkestra that has had dozens of members over the years, think of him as Mark E Smith with Salford swapped for Saturn. Where Smith has a penchant for firing musicians on stage, Sun’s favoured P45 alternative was simply to abandon them abroad and skint.
Conscientious Objector, “psychopathic personality”, “sexually perverted”, futurologist, Egyptoligist, an influence on Coltrane (so an influence on the whole future jazz cannon too) — Sun Ra can be seen as the spark that lit the Chicago-birthed experimental Jazz that lead to ‘Spiritual Jazz’.
Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be a biopic or Wikipedia copy’n’paste-fest (if you want to read more there’s John Szwed’s ‘Space is the Place’ or ‘Blutopia’ by Graham Lock), it’s just a bit of a nod to, as far as I’m concerned, one of the greatest pioneers and futurists in modern music, born 100 years ago today.
Here’s some great full albums on YouTube that you can do some listening to: