RTV: Sun Ra Arkestra

Release Date: Thursday, December 11, 2014

In this RTV episode we feature selections from the Sun Ra Arkestra and listen as Marshall Allen speaks about his experiences with Sun Ra, why he plays music, and where some spirit can take you in life.

In the half-between world,
Dwell they: The Tone Scientists
In notes and tone
They speak of many things…
The tone scientists:
Architects of planes of discipline
Mathematically precise are they:
The tone-scientists
(Sun Ra)

Eclectic, outrageous, sometimes mystifying but always imbued with a powerful jazz consciousness, the music of Sun Ra has withstood its skeptics and detractors for nearly three generations. And well it should, since Sun Ra has been both apart of and ahead of the jazz tradition during that time. Like Duke Ellington and swing-era pioneer Fletcher Henderson, Sun Ra learned early on to write music in an arranged form that showcased the specific talents of his individual Arkestra members, and he has retained the services of some of these musicians to this day: John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, and Julian Priester for example since they first joined in the 1950′s.

Performance date: 09/12/2014
Episode release date: 12/11/2014

Sun Ra’s compositions were famously difficult, even for the most talented instrumentalists. Arkestra musicians tell stories of being baffled sometimes for months before they could hear music in the written notes. The intervals were mad, impossible. Sun Ra was patient though, often choosing musicians who were more intuitive than knowledgeable, who could be developed (intuitive people had more space in their minds). One could imagine the Morton Street building like a monastery, and Arkestra rehearsals akin to liturgical chant, with Arkestra players embodying the music through repetition until playing was an ecstatic experience. “Discipline and precision were nature’s ways, the ways in which the planets spun through space, by which the birds flew; and precision rather than confusion was the answer, discipline rather than freedom,” writes Szwed. Sun Ra once told an interviewer that his very reason for being on Earth (not being of Earth) was to be a teacher. People are free to think what they want, he said. They got their own minds. God just lets them go on and on and on. But people, he said, they don’t ask no questions.