Early Junction: Door of the Cosmos

One of the quirks of being in Japan is the 9 hour time difference between here and the UK, which means I’m just getting up when folk back home are going to bed; and one of the consequences is that BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction is on (via the internet) in the morning. It’s playing as a write this, in fact. Yesterday morning there was a track by Sun Ra, which reminded me that 2014 is the centenary of his birth. It prompted me to look back at an old post I’d written about him where I found the track included there had been deleted from Youtube. I therefore decided to post a new version, including a different track.

Sun Ra was one of the most extraordinary composers and bandleaders of the 20th Century,  was born Herman Poole Blount in Bimingham, Alabama, on 22nd May 1914. From the 1950s, until his death in 1993, he led various combinations of musicians in bands with various permutations of names involving the word Arkestra, such as the Blue Universe Arkestra and the Solar Myth Arkestra. He himself played keyboards, sometimes solo and sometimes with huge bands  of over 30 musicians; his music touched on virtually the entire history of jazz, from ragtime to swing music, from bebop to free jazz, as well as soul and pop. He was also  one of the first musicians, in any genre, to make extensive use of electronic keyboards.

He never achieved mainstream commercial success, but was a prolific recording artist with a cult following, partly fuelled by his outrageous claims to have been born not on Earth but on Saturn and the fact that much of his music was to do with space travel. Quoted in Jazziz magazine

They really thought I was some kind of kook with all my talk about outer space and the planets. I’m still talking about it, but governments are spending billions of dollars to go to Venus, Mars, and other planets, so it’s no longer kooky to talk about space

Quite. In fact, Sun Ra developed a complex performing identity based on his music, “cosmic” philosophy, and poetry. He abandoned his birth name, took on the persona of Sun Ra (Ra being the ancient Egyptian god of the sun), and often dressed in the style of an ancient Egyptian pharoah, as in the video clip. In other words, he was very odd.

Sun Ra’s music is eclectic, outrageous and sometimes downright mystifying, but it also has a marvellous coherence to it maintained as his style evolved over four decades and is consistently imbued with a powerful sense of the Jazz tradition.  Anyway, whatever I think, the music of Sun Ra has withstood its skeptics and detractors for generations and long may it continue to do so. The world needs more of his kind of eccentric.

Here’s a number called Door of the Cosmos. See what you think.

2 Responses to “Early Junction: Door of the Cosmos”

  1. Michael Kenyon Says:

    (Again) worth having a look at Ocean of Sound on Sun Ra as David Toop attended his first UK concert and describes it vividly. He also links the interest in outer space as a yearning to escape US racism by leaving for space/Africa.

    I do think he exaggerated the philosophy and gear to sell a few more records, being viewed as a bit mad often equals more interest and sales, see Lee Perry.

  2. Apparently Sun Ra also wrote the “Concert for the Comet Kohoutek”. (Kohoutek appears in a handful of songs by modern beat combos as well.)

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