Monday, May 17, 2010

Space is the Place

When I was an impressionable youth, my dream was to win the Publisher's Clearing house Sweepstakes. Their contests were a scam of sorts for you didn't have much chance of winning a not very big award (back then the top prize was only $100,000) although you didn't really have to buy anything (otherwise it would have been a lottery, which was illegal then.) Still, I dutifully tore out the stamps and sent in my subscriptions: Popular Science, Esquire (for a 16-year old!) and Downbeat. It was the only music magazine available. I knew a little about Jazz- I'd heard Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis and of course Louis Armstrong- but I was pretty uninformed. When each issue of Downbeat arrived I would study it intensely. There was a section about regional clubs- New York, LA, Philadelpha, Boston, Minneapolis and Chicago- who was playing where, and with who. Every so often there would be an article about a guy named Sun Ra who had an "Arkestra." He said he was from the planet Saturn, and he was always referred to as "innovative" and "eccentric." Just the kind of music I was looking for. His LPs and 45s were never in the record stores.

Jump forward 14 years, I had been in and out of the music scene for some time, when news came that Sun Ra was finally coming to Minneapolis. A couple of us guys who had been in the same band went, and it was everything I had imagined. He, and his outlandish musicians were truly "out of this world." Sun Ra was an old man then, although he continued to perform for many years after wards. He was eccentric, to be sure, but he was a true innovator, and he was a true visionary, and he remained true to his vision. Nowadays, his music is easy to get (Amazon has more than a dozen titles) his Greatest Hits - Easy Listening For Intergalactic Travel is a good place to start.

He never came back to Minnesota- he was scheduled to play at a nightclub I used to frequently work in, but was caught in a blizzard. We were waiting at a nearby bar when heard the news, along with another avid fan- Tony Bennett.

By Professor Batty


Anonymous Niranjana said...

In the nineties, my husband used to play in a band which opened for Sun Ra one time. The Arkestra was then under the direction of Marshall Allen, I'm instructed to say.

You both should meet. Seriously.

Blogger Mary said...

Interesting timing on your Sun Ra post- my radio station is doing its annual "Day and Night of the Sun" - 24 hours (Pacific time) of Sun Ra this coming Saturday (22May2010). 89.7FM in the San Francisco Bay Area, go to and click Netcast, or look for KFJC on iTunes under Radio under Eclectic. At this time, I (DJ Cousin Mary) will not be doing a shift but that could change.

I saw Marshall Allen last year in San Francisco - he is still raising the roof. Never saw Sun Ra, so thanks for you interesting post.

Blogger Professor Batty said...

Niranjana and Mary ~ whenever Sun Ra's name comes up in conversations with musicians, there are always big smiles- although most people have never heard of him. I'm glad you both made a connection- there are some pretty good videos on YouTube...

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