Chicago is the place
August 27, 2010 7:20 AM   Subscribe

Sounds from Tomorrow's World: Sun Ra and the Chicago Years, 1946-1961 is an exhibition drawn from the collections of the University of Chicago's Chicago Jazz Archive.
posted by Horace Rumpole (18 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, thanks for this. Sun Ra is one of the most interesting American musicians of the twentieth century, as Ezra Pound is one of the most interesting poets; both had crazy ideas, both produced a lot of what you can call either crap or, hm, less approachable material, and both produced work of amazing beauty and depth. I wish I could see the exhibit in person, but it's great to have it online.
posted by languagehat at 7:30 AM on August 27, 2010

Funny you should post this today. I'm half way through John F. Szwed's biography "Space Is The Place: The Lives And Times of Sun Ra." Excellent reading, even if a lot of the dates are fuzzy. Sun Ra's ability to transcribe and compose on the fly sounds amazing, and he was certainly ahead of his time as far as musical technology and showmanship.

Amazon also has a book from a previous exhibit that includes later leaflets and album art. It's called "Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn and Chicago's Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954-68."
posted by hyperizer at 7:34 AM on August 27, 2010

What I don't understand is this exhibition's insistence that Sun Ra was born in Birmingham. The man has said several times that he was born on Saturn; don't let anybody tell you any different.

(This is really cool, Horace Rumpole. Thanks for sharing!)
posted by .kobayashi. at 7:39 AM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Singles is a great compilation of Sun Ra's early stuff, which often veered into r&b and doo-wop. My personal favourites are Dreaming and Daddy's Gonna Tell You No Lie.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:46 AM on August 27, 2010

Some cat named Herman Blount was born in B'ham. Sun Ra materialized from the Cosmos. He will never die, because he gave up his death. If you give up your death, you will live forever.

Or at least that's what he told me one night at the Quiet Knight, circa 1974.

IMO, never enough posts about Sonny. I don't know what he would have done if he had ever had enough money to stage the productions that were in his mind, but I know they would have been fahbu-lous, b/c what he managed to do on a shoestring was mind blowing.
posted by beelzbubba at 7:57 AM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

> I don't know what he would have done if he had ever had enough money to stage the productions that were in his mind

Yeah, it pisses me off that he got so little respect and financial support. The man was a stone genius.
posted by languagehat at 8:20 AM on August 27, 2010

For anyone put-off by his less-approachable stuff, I highly recommend "Night of the Purple Moon" as a starting point.
posted by Kirk Grim at 8:51 AM on August 27, 2010

Yeah, it pisses me off that he got so little respect and financial support. The man was a stone genius.

I'd imagine there is avant-garde, then "stone genius," and beyond all that you become a citizen of the planet Saturn, where he was in 1952. This is decades before my time, but I imagine that the early 1950s were not a time when you could claim extraterrestrial origins and get much support.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:23 AM on August 27, 2010

> I imagine that the early 1950s were not a time when you could claim extraterrestrial origins and get much support.

Certainly not if you were black.
posted by languagehat at 9:51 AM on August 27, 2010

144 is 144,000...144 is TWELVES...TWELVES is DOZENS.

posted by anazgnos at 10:17 AM on August 27, 2010

So glad to have been able to see him conduct the Arkestra on several occasions, mostly in the 80s. At one performance, in Brussels in 1983, I was thrilled and honored to have my humble apartment there serve as the dressing room for him and the band. See, I lived one flight above a jazz club called Bloomdido, and my "landlord" (he actually let me live there gratis, so the word seems not quite right) was Bloomdidio's owner, operator, bartender and booking manager, and one of the provisions of my habitation there was that I'd open my door to the musicians coming through, to use as the dressing room. The Arkestra did a hell of a show that night, absolutely electric.

Also glad to say that my home state of Alabama was Sun Ra's birthplace. He's buried in Birmingham.

Thanks for the post, Horace Rumpole.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:18 AM on August 27, 2010

The Encyclopedia of Alabama has a surprisingly thoughtful entry on Sun Ra (cataloged as Herman Blount), and Szwed did a lot to clear up apocryphal stories about Sun Ra that I had heard from Chicago musicians who had encountered him in the post-war era through the time he left for the non-mystical East.

One (solar) myth that Szwed cleared up for me: I had heard that Sonny's love of costumery was linked to his penchant for dressing up in a toga and parading around the streets of Birmingham, where, the story went, he would be roundly thrashed by black & white for being different. No doubt that Sun Ra was different, on about 30 different levels, but a more likely retelling of this is that at 10, he joined the junior auxiliary of the Order of Pythias, a secret society, and later joined the Black Masonic Lodge. He clearly had a love for the cryptic, and both societies fed into Ra's love of dressing up and provided connections to thoughts of Egypt as a place of knowledge and wisdom. (side note: other famous Pythians include Hugo Black, Nelson Rockefeller and Robert Byrd.)

Musicians I met & was privileged to hang out with who played with Ra, though they parted ways: Thurman Barker, Ronnie Boykins. Phil Cohran. Fred Anderson told of having blowing sessions with John Gilmore that both he and young John Coltrane participated in, and Fred both marveled at Gilmore's ability & shook his head smiling at some of the Ra-linked concepts that Gilmore would proffer, ideas now expressed under the topic of Afro-futurism, that in 1947 seemed far-fetched.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:45 AM on August 27, 2010

after seeing Star Wars, Ra remarked that 'it was very realistic'. think i read that in Szwed's book.

thanks for the post!
posted by peterkins at 4:19 PM on August 27, 2010

I saw the Arkestra play last year in an outdoor show in Providence. Towards the end of their phenomenal set a shooting star coursed across the nightsky. I like to think it was Sun Ra checking up on how his band was doing.
posted by Kattullus at 7:52 PM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm away from my home today, and away from all my Sun Ra records. So, I've never been more grateful for youtube then I am today. This is wonderful, and it's more evidence that he's from Saturn.
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:53 PM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks for posting the Night Music link, .kobayashi. I've been wanting to see that Sun Ra clip since it aired over 20 years ago. I'm going to have to bookmark that.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:48 AM on August 28, 2010

I hope to post--in the next day or two--a link to a project that Mrs. Bubba (a photographer) and Corey G, a performance artist, have been working on. I hope to post it for them in MeFi projects (she's a MeFite, but a lurker).

The title of the book they've put together is Destinations Unknown. The book documents parts of Corey's performance "Joseph Beuys and Sun Ra meet the Blob," inspired by, natch, the performances of Beuys, the music & words of Ra, and the classic sci-fi background that many of us children of the 50s-60s-70s grew up with on late nite TV.

We saw Corey's performance as part of a festival put on at the U-M. Mrs. Bubba started working with Corey just after that, last spring, and they transfered the "stage" show to an abandoned property near here.

The three of us all admit to a fondness for Le Sony'r Ra. Long may his spirit travel the spaceways.
posted by beelzbubba at 12:52 PM on August 30, 2010

beelzbubba: that sounds like an interesting project. Could you give us a heads up in-thread here once you've put that on Projects?

Also, you're welcome for the Night Music link. I didn't know a thing about Night Music when I posted that, actually. I just thought it was a great performance. Now I'm realizing that there's a lot of live stuff on youtube that I love, and a lot of it is from Night Music. I began to think someone ought to make a post about that show. And as it turns out carsonb did. Lots of cool stuff there.
posted by .kobayashi. at 8:33 PM on August 30, 2010

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