Sun Ra

Sun Ra (1981)
Duration: 00:28:54

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Themes: Musical Roots and Branches |

Guests: Sun Ra
Host : Deborah Ray
Producer : Deborah Ray
Executive Producer : Juanita Anderson

Summary: Sun Ra captured almost as much attention for his outlandish costumes and strange philosophical pronouncements as for his innovative jazz compositions. But it was his advocacy of "free jazz" and his early use of electronic synthesizers that inspired and influenced a wide array of other jazz musicians.

His convoluted and fanciful myth of self and his very serious musical philosophy are both on display in this 1981 program. Interviewer Deborah Ray spoke to the musician after an appearance in Detroit where he was given a key to the city.

Ray questions Sun Ra about his fascination with Egypt and his spiritual theories as well as his interest in the swing jazz music of Fletcher Henderson. Sun Ra, who took his name from the Egyptian sun god, wore elaborate robes and headdresses and claimed that he was not human, but a member of an "angel race" who came to earth from Saturn.

But while his comments can be confusing and even disconcerting, Sun Ra is clear about the seriousness of his artistic mission. He says that it is vital for African Americans to develop their cultural identity. He asserts that many black musicians have lost their cultural and ethnic connection.

"Most black musicians are not part of the black race anymore, you see, because they don't have any feeling," Sun Ra states. "They're thinking about money, they're thinking about fame, they're thinking about integration. . . . You have to develop a philosophy before people will recognize you."

Although his musings on the angel race and visitors from other planets can sound silly, or even a little crazy, it becomes clear that he has something serious in mind when he notes that he is dealing in the realm of myth. As an angel, he is not susceptible to the error that is seen as so central to human nature: "To err is human." "I'm not human," he claims. "I'm talking about precision and discipline."

Precision and discipline are what Sun Ra admired in Fletcher Henderson. "The Fletcher Henderson band represented discipline, and everybody in that played like one man," he says. Sun Ra's artistic vision is built on those qualities of precision and discipline.

"That's what I'm trying to do, to play a superior type of music, not music that deals with the body, not music that deals with the mind, but music that deals with the spirit, the way it should be," Sun Ra maintains. "You can encourage people to fight against the bad conditions on this planet, you can encourage them to change things, simply by the music."

This program offers fascinating insight into the quirky, passionate mind of a unique musical artist.

Related Production Materials held at MSU Libraries, Special Collections:
Box 1, File 14, DCA Jazz – December 31, 1979
Box 1, File 16, Hastings Street Jazz Experience – January 29, 1980
Box 1, File 17, Space Jazz – February 12, 1980
Box 5, File 15, Montreux Detroit-Jazz Highlights – March 23, 1992 – Show # 2320
Box 18, File 5, Jazz Festival Programs – 1980
Box 18, File 6, Jazz Play Bills
Box 18, File 7 Jazz Series (R.K. Assoc.)