Navigation for Sun Ra - Strange Celestial Road

Sun Ra - Strange Celestial Road

A voyage into the music and myth of jazz pioneer Sun Ra

Part 1

Sun Ra (1) Earthly Beginnings

Episode

Sun Ra’s ‘arrival’ on Earth, his early years in Alabama, the music of the south that would be a life-long influence on his own work, and his move to Chicago as part of the ‘great migration’ of African Americans out of the south.

Chicago opened up a new creative life for Sun Ra and he made some of the most surprising music of his career during his formative years in Chicago, arranging for big bands, blues singers and doo wop groups, and playing at strip clubs and Black-and-Tan theatres before his journey into space age jazz took off.

Part 2

Sun Ra (2) The Ra Ship Has Landed

Episode

In the mid 1950s Sun Ra formed the Arkestra, the cosmic big band that would become his vehicle for musical exploration for the rest of his life. In contrast to the strip club bands he'd been working with, the Arkestra was set up to "create music for the creator".

In this episode we meet some of the Arkestra's key members including John Gilmore, talk to Marshall Allen about the Arkestra's legendary rehearsal regime, and listen to the group's first recordings from Chicago as they trace a path from big band swing to space age jazz.

Part 3

Sun Ra (3) Abstraction, Politics and Noise

Episode

Sun Ra moved the Arkestra from Chicago to New York in 1960 and quickly became an integral part of the radical, politically conscious, avant-garde arts scene of the Lower East Side.

Part 3 of Strange Celestial Road examines the influence of New York on Sun Ra's music, his move towards abstraction, improvisation and noise in the midst of the social and political turmoil of the mid 1960s. We also talk to Jerry Schultz about the band's Monday night residency at Slug's Saloon, a hub of the 1960s counter culture.

Part 4

Sun Ra (4) Walking on the Moon

Episode

1969, the year of the Apollo moon landing, marked another change of scene for the Arkestra, moving from New York to Philadelphia. That year also marked a change of fortunes for Sun Ra, with his face staring out from the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.

During the 1970s Sun Ra's music developed in a kind of parallel dimension to that of other jazz musicians, bringing in electric guitars and veering towards funk but always with dissonance and chaos lurking around the fringes. In the final part of this series we explore Sun Ra's word 'equations', the elaborate cosmo dramas that the Arkestra performed around the world in the 70s, Sun Ra's space funk and his historic meeting with John Cage.

Related

A Centenary of Sun Ra

Sun Ra Orchestra of Spheres in front of Sun Ra s house in Philadelphia with Arkestra s Marshall Allen and Fred Allen L to R Andy Wright Fred Allen Marshall Allen Daniel Beban and Nell Thomas

Sun Ra and Orchestra of Spheres in front of Sun Ra's house in Philadelphia with Arkestra's Marshall Allen and Fred Allen (L-to-R Andy Wright, Fred Allen, Marshall Allen, Daniel Beban and Nell Thomas)

A look at the career of one the 20th century's great composers, band leaders and eccentrics, Sun Ra.

A mysterious and elusive figure, for most of his life Sun Ra constructed a web of myths and legends that stretch from ancient Egypt to outer space.

An early pioneer of electronic keyboards and a musician driven by the search for new sounds and ways of constructing music, Sun Ra formed a big band, the Arkestra in the 50s.

The band has survived for over six decades, even outliving its founding father, and has been responsible for some of the most out-there music ever heard on planet earth.

Orchestra of Spheres' Daniel Beban takes us for a ride through the music of Sun Ra.

Dan Beban: Sun Ra

Dan Beban discusses his series on Sun Ra, Strange Celestial Road.

Music details

Episode 1

‘It’s After the End of the World’ (Sun Ra) Space is the Place (Sutro Park)
Tiny Pyramids’ (Boynkins) Angels and Demons at Play (Evidence)
Fats Waller - ‘Haitian Blues’ (T. Waller) 1923-1924 Parlor Piano Solos from Rare Piano Rolls (Biograph)
Golen Gate Jubilee Quartet – ‘Golden Gate Gospel Train’ The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1 (Transparency)
The Cosmic Rays – ‘Dreaming’ (Sun Ra, Charles Orio, Calvin Barron) The Singles (Evidence)
Luis Russell and his Burning Eight – ‘Call of the Freaks’ (Barbarin) The Luis Russell Story 1929-1934 (Retrieval)
Bessie Smith – ‘Yellow Dog Blues’ (WC Handy) Bessie Smith (Nocturne)
Fletcher Henderson Orchestra – ‘Blue Rhythm’ (Henderson) Blue Rhythm (Naxos)
‘I’ve Got a Secret’ (Sun Ra) The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1 (Transparency)
Don Redman Orchestra – ‘Chant of the Weed’ (Redman, Mills) Big Bands Uptown Vol 1 (Decca)
Clarence Williams Orchestra - ‘Chocolate Avenue’ (Sun Ra) Clarence Williams and His Orchestra 1933-34 (Columbia)
‘Darn that Dream’ (Van Heusen) The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1 (Transparency)
‘The Design Cosmos II’ (Sun Ra) My Brother the Wind Vol. II (Saturn)
‘The Wind Speaks’ (Sun Ra) My Brother the Wind Vol. II (Saturn)
Fletcher Henderson - ‘Alabamy Bound’ (Henderson) 1924-1927 (EPM Musique)
‘Chicago’ (Sun Ra) Spaceship Lullaby (Atavistic)
Wynonie Harris – ‘Dig this Boogie’ (Harris) The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1 (Transparency)
Lil Green – ‘How come you do me like you do?’ (Green) The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1 (Transparency)
Fletcher Henderson Orchestra – ‘King Porter Stomp’ (Henderson) The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1 (Transparency)
Red Saunders Orchestra – ‘Jitterbuggin’ (Sun Ra) The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1 (Transparency)
Sun Ra with Stuff Smith – ‘Deep Purple’ (Sun Ra) Deep Purple  (Saturn)
‘Sonny’s Place’ (Sun Ra) The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1 (Transparency)
‘Ra Coaching Roland Williams’ (Sun Ra) Spaceship Lullaby (Atavistic)
The Nu Sounds – ‘A Foggy Day’ (Gershwin) The Singles (Evidence)
The Nu Sounds – ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ (T Waller) Spaceship Lullaby (Atavistic)
The Cosmic Rays – ‘Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie’ (Sun Ra, Charles Orio, Calvin Barron) The Singles (Evidence)
The Nu Sounds – ‘Africa’ (Sun Ra) Spaceship Lullaby (Atavistic)
The Nu Sounds – ‘Spaceship Lullaby’ (Sun Ra) Spaceship Lullaby (Atavistic)
‘Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus’ (Sun Ra) Inerstellar Low Ways (Saturn)

Episode 2

‘A Call for All Demons’ (Sun Ra) Angels and Demons at Play (Evidence)
‘Somebody Else’s World’ (Sun Ra) The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1 (Transparency)
‘Velvet’ (Sun Ra) The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1 (Transparency)
‘Saturn’ (Sun Ra) Jazz in Silhouette (Realgone)
‘Angels and Demons at Play’ (Boynkins) Angels and Demons at Play (Evidence)
Tiny Pyramids’ (Boynkins) Angels and Demons at Play (Evidence)
‘Ankhnaton’ (Sun Ra) Music From Tomorrow’s World (Saturn)
‘Transitions’ (Sun Ra) Sun Song (Saturn)
‘What’s That’ (Sun Ra) The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra (Realgone)
‘The Beginning’ (Sun Ra) The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra (Realgone)
‘Music From the World Tomorrow’ (Sun Ra) Angels and Demons at Play (Evidence)
‘Space Aura’ (Sun Ra) Interstellar Low Ways (Saturn)
‘Advice to Medics’ (Sun Ra) Supersonic Jazz (Realgone)
‘Ancient Aethiopia’ (Sun Ra) Jazz in Silhouette (Realgone)
‘Interplanetary Music’ (Sun Ra) We Travel the Spaceways (Saturn)
‘Message to Earthman’ (Sun Ra) The Singles (Evidence)
Rev. A.W. Nix – ‘White Flyer to Heaven’ (Nix) Rev. A W Nix Vol 1 1927-1928 (Document)
‘Rocket Number Nine’ (Sun Ra) Interstellar Low Ways (Saturn)
‘New Day’ (Sun Ra) The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra (Realgone)
‘Calling Planet Earth’ (Sun Ra) Space is the Place (Sutro Park)

Episode 3

‘To Nature’s God’ (Sun Ra) The Antique Blacks (Saturn)
‘The Beginning’ (Sun Ra) The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra (Realgone)
‘Dancing Shadows’ (Sun Ra) When Sun Comes Out (Saturn)
‘Solar Drums’ (Sun Ra) Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow (Saturn)
‘Cluster of Galaxies’ (Sun Ra) Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow (Saturn)
‘The Outer Heavens’ (Sun Ra) Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow (Saturn)
‘Dawn Over Israel’ (Sun Ra) Featuring Pharoah Sanders and Black Harold (ESP)
‘Dancing Shadows’ (Sun Ra) Nothing Is (Get Back)
‘The World Shadow’ (Sun Ra) Featuring Pharoah Sanders and Black Harold (ESP)
‘Celestial Fantasy’ (Sun Ra) When Angels Speak of Love (Evidence)
Amiri Baraka – ‘Storm Clouds Over the World’ (Baraka) (Ubu web)
‘A Black Mass’ (Baraka / Sun Ra) A Black Mass (Jihad Productions)
‘Calling Planet Earth’ (Sun Ra) When Sun Comes Out (Saturn)
‘The Magic City’ (Sun Ra) The Magic City (Saturn)
‘Outer Nothingness’ (Sun Ra) The Heliocentric Worlds Vol 1 (ESP)
‘Strange Strange’ (Sun Ra) Strange Strings (Saturn)
The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale – ‘Batman Theme’ (National Periodical Publications) Batman and Robin (Universe)
‘Abstract Eye’ (Sun Ra) The Magic City (Saturn)
‘Abstract I’ (Sun Ra) The Magic City (Saturn)
‘Watusa’ (Sun Ra) Space is the Place (Sutro Park)
‘The Wind Speaks’ (Sun Ra) My Brother the Wind Vol. II (Saturn)
‘Sun Thoughts’ (Sun Ra) My Brother the Wind Vol. II (Saturn)
‘Journey to the Stars’ (Sun Ra) My Brother the Wind Vol. II (Saturn)
‘The Design Cosmos’ (Sun Ra) My Brother the Wind Vol. II (Saturn)
‘The Code of Interdependence’ (Sun Ra) My Brother the Wind Vol. I (Saturn)
‘The Shadow World’ (Sun Ra) The Magic City (Saturn)
‘It’s After the End of the World’ (Sun Ra) Space is the Place (Sutro Park)
‘Somebody Else’s World’ (Sun Ra) My Brother the Wind Vol. II (Saturn)

Episode 4

‘Walking on the Moon’ (Sun Ra) My Brother the Wind Vol. II (Saturn)
‘Astro Black’ (Sun Ra) Astro Black (Impulse)
‘They’ll Come Back’ (Sun Ra) Delft Concert 1971 (VPRO)
‘We Are Another Order of Beings’ (Sun Ra) A Joyful Noise (Robert Mugge)
‘Satellites are Spinning’ (Sun Ra) Space is the Place (Sutro Park)
‘I’ll Wait For You’ (Sun Ra) Strange Worlds in My Mind (Norton)
‘I’ll Wait For You’ (Sun Ra) Strange Celestial Road (Rounder)
‘The Damned Air’ (Sun Ra) Strange Worlds in My Mind (Norton)
‘Enlightenment’ (Sun Ra) Nuits de la Fondation Maeght Vol 1 (Universe)
‘Black Forest Myth (Sun Ra) Live at Donaueschingen and Berlin Festivals (Universe)
Salah Ragab - ‘Oriental Mood’ (Ragab) The Sun Ra Arkestra Meets Salah Ragab (Golden Years of New Jazz)
‘Ohosnisixaeht’ (Sun Ra) St Louis Blues (Improvising Artists Inc)
Walt Dickerson & Sun Ra – ‘Visions’ (Ra, Dickerson) Visions (Steeplechase)
‘Yeah Man’ (Fletcher Henderson) Unity (Horo)
‘Rebellion’ (Sun Ra) The Mystery of Being (Klimt)
‘When There is No Sun’ (Sun Ra) New Steps (Horo)
‘Disco 3000’ (Sun Ra) Disco 3000 (Art Yard)
‘Lanquidity’ (Sun Ra) Lanquidity (Philly Jazz)
‘Nuclear War’ (Sun Ra) Nuclear War (Atavistic)
John Cage & Sun Ra - ‘untitled’ (Ra, Cage) John Cage Meets Sun Ra (Meltdown)
‘Strange Celestial Road’ (Sun Ra) Strange Celestial Road (Rounder)
‘Old Man River’ (Kern) The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol. 1 (Transparency)

Space is the Place

Acknowledgements

John Szwed’s book Space is the Place – The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (Mojo 2000) is the only comprehensive biography of Sun Ra available, and has been the main source of information for this series. Some passages from the book have been quoted verbatim in the series, and credit has been given at these moments. For those wishing to find out more about Sun Ra, this is the most comprehensive guide to Sun Ra’s life and music. Many thanks to John Szwed for writing such an extensive and thought provoking book.

Michael Anderson (Sun Ra Music Archivist) has published a lot of material online that was helpful for the series, and with Transparency Records has released a 14 CD box set of early Sun Ra recordings called The Eternal Myth Revealed Vol 1 (Transparency 0316).

Many thanks to Marshall Allen for the interview that we recorded at his home in Germantown, Philadelphia in November 2014.

Many thanks also to Jerry Scultz (aka Gopal Krishna) for the interview about Slugs Saloon that we recorded at his home in Golden Bay in 2010.

In addition, the films a Joyful Noise, Space is the Place and Michael Anderson’s website have been an additional source of sound clips used in the series.

Unless noted, all tracks are performed by Sun Ra and the Arkestra.

Produced and engineered by Daniel Beban for Radio New Zealand.