Sun Ra in Chronological Order: An Arkestra Listening Thread + Related Solar Sounds

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greetings, earthlings!

we begin our adventure with sonny's "first commercial recordings" (zwed, p. 51) -- four sides as pianist for wynonie harris, recorded in nashville, 1946.
listen on youtube

i've found that this article is a supremely helpful resource for the early years. here's what campbell et al. have to say:

One transition in his career about which we can safely say that "cosmic forces" were not in control took place in January 1946, when Sonny, fed up with segregation and lack of musical opportunities, bought a one-way train ticket to Chicago. He was soon out on the road in a combo led by alto saxophonist Jimmie Jackson. For three or four months they played Club Zanzibar in Nashville, where they backed the touring blues singer Wynonie Harris. An unlikely setting, maybe. But Harris already had made several hit records on the West Coast, and a brand-new local label started by a radio announcer saw fit to capitalize. Label owner Jim Bulliet cut a deal with Harris's manager, Harold Oxley, and Harris and combo (with the old fashioned rhythm section of piano and drums) made four sides. One of them was Sonny's feature, Dig This Boogie. He'd obviously learned his blues lessons. In fact, he'd developed a few tricks of his own, like deliberately dropping beats and picking them up in the next line.

some other good links as we get started:

Sun Ra, the ultimate album guide
Sun Ra Arkive

for the most part, though, we'll be going by arkestra (usually LP) release date as listed on discogs

finally, PLEASE feel free to interject with whatever chronological arcana you feel might be applicable, or to point out discrepancies, or to suggest alternate takes, bootlegs, archival material of interest, etc. ultimately this thread is about listening to as much sun ra as possible, with a minimum of academic quibbling, but i don't see any problem with the more astute among you opening doorways to ever-deeper directions of listening, even if this thread probably can't incorporate the entirety of the sun ra omniverse.

next up: the singles

budo jeru, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:04 (one year ago) link


sleeve, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:05 (one year ago) link

whoops that's SZWED, as in john f. szwed, as in the author of "space is the place: the lives and times of sun ra"

budo jeru, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:08 (one year ago) link

thank you budo jeru for starting this up! thanks for the extra links and article excerpt in the first post, as well. i know it's more work but i loooove those extra post elements. it feels like turning the page in a magazine and finding an especially good scratch n sniff perfume ad.

i'm excited to learn a lot more about sun ra. i only know a few of what i think are his better known albums (heliocentric worlds, space is the place, jazz by / sun song, the futuristic sounds of), along with other snippets of his albums that will pop up on playlists and mixes. it's all good. even in my limited listening his versatility has become so apparent. anyway, i feel like i'm ready for a deep dive.

Karl Malone, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:16 (one year ago) link

btw i started a spotify playlist here.

WARNING: i was just using the discogs release date as my guide, so it starts with supersonic jazz and goes forward from there. but i already added in the first song posted above, and i'll fill in the others as they get posted to keep it up to date.

Karl Malone, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:21 (one year ago) link

I saw Karl Malone's post this morning and cued up what of his linked discogs list is on spotify. Stunned to find about 80% of it! I'm now five albums in (When The Sun Comes Out) and am loving every minute. Sun Ra has for me been an artist who I never thought I'd have to the resolve to approach systematically so I'm thankful for this thread.

Yelploaf, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:22 (one year ago) link

Thanks bodo and Karl!

Jeff W, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:30 (one year ago) link

i haven't started a new year off so right in a very long time. 2018 is going to be different. it's an even number!

Karl Malone, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:31 (one year ago) link

Looking forward to this - great thread

raise my chicken finger (Willl), Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:37 (one year ago) link

it's an even number!
my people

weird woman in a bar (La Lechera), Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:49 (one year ago) link


Karl Malone, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 19:51 (one year ago) link

thanks for the spotify playlist, KM!

btw 2018 is the year of the DOG [from OE, docga] >>> D O C G A

or, AD COG (ad cogitationem, "toward reflection")

budo jeru, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 20:41 (one year ago) link

i dig that boogie! this is a cool thread idea ... not sure if I'll be able to do the whole thing, but will definitely be checking in.

tylerw, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 20:42 (one year ago) link

budo jeru i don't envy the task of having to decide what is "chronological". there are all these side recordings, home and rehearsal recordings, things that were recorded early but released much later. whichever way you go, i'll try to make the playlist match up where possible!

Karl Malone, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 20:44 (one year ago) link

yeah i don't plan on sweating it too much. close enough will be fine and, like i said initially, anyone is welcome to jump in with corrections / objections.

in terms of your playlist, i'll say right off the bat that sun ra plays on all of the four last songs on that wynonie harris comp, so you might add the other three after "dig this boogie"

budo jeru, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 20:52 (one year ago) link

got it! i wasn't sure if you were going to go song by song or not. release by release makes sense because holy shit there's a lot.

Karl Malone, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 20:58 (one year ago) link

stoked for this thread and ready to get schooled!

global tetrahedron, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 21:04 (one year ago) link

i think my favorite moment from this first recording session is the piano accompaniment during the trumpet solo on "my baby's barrelhouse blues" and then into the last vocal stanza or whatever.

also the lyrics !!! geez

i'm gonna snatch me a picket off o' somebody's barbwire fence,
i'm gonna beat you 'side your head until you learn some sense

budo jeru, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 21:28 (one year ago) link

when i first heard this early ra arrangement i said: that's so ra! but he didn't play on it so it doesn't really count here...

scott seward, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 21:55 (one year ago) link

yeah that's a killer side.

also cf. szwed:

... he began rehearsing the band for Saunders and playing in the relief band that filled in when Saunders was off. Every week Saunders handed him new arrangements for the floor show, but during rehearsals Sonny began to make small changes -- a note here and there, an alternation in a chord -- but as time went on the changes became increasingly dramatic. During rehearsal one day Saunders walked in, looked over an arrangement, and shook his head when he saw the crossed-out notes and inserted harmonies: "I give you these nice, clean arrangements each week, and look what you do with them! ... But, damn, they sure sound good, though." Sonny was now rewriting arrangements used to accompany singers like B.B. King, Laverne Baker, Dakota Staton, Joe Williams, Johnny Guitar Watson, Sarah Vaughan, and Lorenz Alexandria.

and then, on the instrumental side, there's his amazing arrangement of 'summertime' (also for red saunders)

budo jeru, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 22:22 (one year ago) link

Lorez Alexandria***

budo jeru, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 22:23 (one year ago) link

OK I'm already confused, I'll have to try and damp down my OCD in this thread

Jazz By Sun Ra/Sun Song has ten songs, but only five are in the playlist? Maybe this is a Spotify availability thing idk

Technically (at least acc. to Szwed) the tracks "Super Blonde", "Soft Talk", "Springtime In Chicago" and "Medicine For A Nightmare" were recorded in "early 1956", as opposed to the Sun Song sessions from July, so those four tracks should come before the Sun Song/Jazz By Sun Ra tracks as opposed to the rest of the Supersonic Jazz tracks

really enjoying the early records, thanks for this thread

also keep in mind that lots of the remasters are now on Bandcamp

sleeve, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 01:57 (one year ago) link

man it all goes weird when you get to "India", huh? jazz heads back then must have not known what hit 'em

I can def. hear the exotica influence on this track, Martin Denny percussion vibes

sleeve, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:05 (one year ago) link

Jazz By Sun Ra/Sun Song has ten songs, but only five are in the playlist? Maybe this is a Spotify availability thing idk

nah, i just fucked up. fixed!

i'm really getting ahead of myself anyway - i was just planning on adding to the playlist as this thread progresses, but i jumped the gun yesterday and already started adding the first few albums.

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:06 (one year ago) link

Technically (at least acc. to Szwed) the tracks "Super Blonde", "Soft Talk", "Springtime In Chicago" and "Medicine For A Nightmare" were recorded in "early 1956", as opposed to the Sun Song sessions from July, so those four tracks should come before the Sun Song/Jazz By Sun Ra tracks as opposed to the rest of the Supersonic Jazz tracks

on this though, i have to make clear upfront that i probably won't be this meticulous. i don't have the szwed book so i was just planning on placing the albums/singles into the playlist in full as we cover them in this thread, according to their release date, rather than splitting them up in the playlist according to their recording date.

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:09 (one year ago) link

haha that's fine, unless you looked at everything in advance I'm sure we'd miss some (for example, we've already missed some tracks that appeared much later on "Purple Night". we can note tracks w/different/older dates when we get to those albums in order of release.

now I need to go back and listen to those other five tracks! thanks.

sleeve, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:17 (one year ago) link

there's also this recent find from the archives, which is great and not on Youtube unfortunately:

recorded 1955

sleeve, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:22 (one year ago) link

I was just reading his wiki bio and had not realized he was buried in Birmingham. I guess I'd assumed he was buried in Philadelphia. I think I'll try to make a brief pilgrimage to his grave in 2018.

WilliamC, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 03:02 (one year ago) link

the magic city

the late great, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 03:24 (one year ago) link

So this thread could potentially go on forever, right?

At least it's good music and not greatest outtakes of The Eagles or some such.

Moodles, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 03:39 (one year ago) link

i'm on board though as always spotify is out for me. are we going to cover the doo-wop stuff at all? because man i love his doo-wop stuff, and if we're getting into his mambo i want to talk about "teenager's letter of promises".

bob lefse (rushomancy), Wednesday, 3 January 2018 03:45 (one year ago) link

sleeve: thanks for your diligence. it's sure to be useful at almost every point (i'll do my best, too). and yeah, pointing out discrepancies as they come up between release / recording date -- that's what i had in mind. otherwise i'd just feel incapacitated. we'll sort it all out as we go.

rushomancy: we'll definitely cover the doo wop stuff. re: listening, since KM is doing spotify, i'm trying to post youtube links as we go along. there's also the (official, more or less) sun ra bandcamp: (and that material is also available on itunes)

So this thread could potentially go on forever, right?


budo jeru, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 04:17 (one year ago) link


the late great, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 04:50 (one year ago) link

interlude, 1948-1954

most of this information and ALL of the quoted text comes from this article, which i HIGHLY recommend for its exhaustive coverage of sun ra's chicago period through 1961: From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra: The Chicago Years

1. the "deep purple" duet with stuff smith, recorded in 1948 and first made available in 1973 on saturn 485
listen on youtube

On his very first tape machine, Sonny recorded Stuff Smith and himself playing in his tiny apartment at 5414 South Prairie Avenue. They performed a duet featuring the Solovox, a primitive electronic instrument that Sonny had picked up back in 1941, while still in Birmingham. Sonny had a thing about purple (he thought people would be healthier if they ate more purple food). He released Deep Purple nearly a quarter century later on his Saturn label, and the tune remained in his repertoire for the rest of his career. It would be featured on his very last recording session, when he accompanied Billy Bang for Soul Note in 1992.

2. solo church organ recording, 1948

3. piano accompaniment for the dozier boys
listen on youtube

In October 1948, Sonny became the music director of a successful medium-sized band. Bassist Gene Wright, at the tender of age of 23, was simultaneously running a big band and a 10 or 11 piece aggregration called the Dukes of Swing (two previous incarnations of the Dukes had been in operation in 1943 and 1946). For a while, the big band was upstairs in the Pershing Ballroom while the Dukes held the gig at the Beige Room (as the basement club in the Pershing Hotel was then known). During most of the engagement, the Dukes worked with a vocal-instrumental quartet called the Dozier Boys. Sonny composed or arranged the Dukes' entire book. Many of these pieces were of a strictly functional nature (floor shows again) but their theme number was a suite based on the theme from Spellbound, an ambitious work by composer Miklos Rozsa. If only we were lucky enough to have that on record....

The engagement with the Dukes did bring Sonny some recording work, first as session pianist for the Dozier Boys, then with the entire band. Both sesssions were done for the fledgling Aristocrat label. It was the Doziers who came to the company's attention first, courtesy of bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon.

4. various solo, duet, and trio recordings made at home w/ the ampex. many featuring the nu-sounds of the solovox. most of these recordings are available on the norton and transparency labels (see article linked at beginning of post for specifics). some of these recordings document SR's first compositions, performed by his proto-arkestra small combo.

In 1950 or 1951, he started a band to play his own, frankly far-out music. He called it the Space Trio: one charter member was Laurdine "Pat" Patrick (1929 - 1991), who played alto and baritone sax. The drum chair was occupied on some occasions by Tommy Hunter. On other occasions it was taken by Robert Barry, who would soon emerge as a leading bebop drummer in town.

5. arrangements and accompaniment for the red saunders orchestra, 1948-1953 (see szwed quote upthread). red saunders backed joe williams (see scott's post above), lavern baker, jo jo adams, and dorothy donegan.

1953 was the year of the arrangements. Sunny was making no commercial recordings of his own, and probably didn't feel that his experimental ensemble was ready to make them. But he was willing now to put his stamp on arrangements written for others, to a degree not previously heard. His name did not appear on a single record label in 1953—in one case the band's didn't either—but Red Saunders was now recording his aggressively "modern" arrangements: "Voodoo Blues," "It's Raining Again," "Summertime." And the opening bars of "Call My Baby" announce, for all who care to hear, that Sun Ra has arrived.

6. six cuts with coleman hawkins, rec. 1953 and released in 1955 on savoy

7. possible arrangement for king kolax, 1954
listen on youtube

There is no need for Sun Ra arrangements (or anybody's arrangements) on generic jump band-style R&B like "Right Now," "What Have You Done to Me?," or "Goodnite Blues." However, "Vivian" (presumably named after Vivian Carter of Vee-Jay) is a mysterioso Latin number with percussion breaks built right into the theme. Off the beaten path for King Kolax, but straightforward for Sun Ra at this time. Harold Ousley did not want to rule out "Vivian" as a Sun Ra arrangement either: "Kolax wrote a lot himself, but he also used a lot of other people's stuff."

OKAY! that gets us into 1954/1955, so next we'll move onto the nu sounds / cosmic rays stuff and the rest of THE SINGLES

budo jeru, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 07:56 (one year ago) link

That Red Saunders "Summertime" is Ra all over.

WilliamC, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 14:00 (one year ago) link

oh man, this is a good batch of stuff! the meager musical critical sensibilities i have fall to the wayside when i hear early 1950s music. just about everything of the period sounds good to me.

i updated the playlist where i could - red saunders "summertime", "riverboat", and the red saunders orchestra's "honky tonk train blues". but spotify is missing the sun ra releases that feature a lot of his early recordings through the late 40s and early 50s - Deep Purple (or Dreams Come True) - as well as most of saunders' other recordings. and no dozier boys or king kolax, sadly.

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 15:31 (one year ago) link

man it all goes weird when you get to "India", huh? jazz heads back then must have not known what hit 'em

"Sun Song" gets there first imo

(the blues version in his Broadway show) (crüt), Wednesday, 3 January 2018 15:50 (one year ago) link

OK I'll give that a closer listen, thanks! I was making dinner for some of the Spotify playlist last night and I think that's one of the tracks that Karl added later

sleeve, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 15:55 (one year ago) link

yeah, it's definitely a work in progress! and any track in the playlist beyond what budo jeru has posted here is very, very provisional.

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 16:17 (one year ago) link

those Red Saunders tracks are so good

Brad C., Wednesday, 3 January 2018 20:23 (one year ago) link

wow, that version of "deep purple" with stuff smith from 1948 is so good. it has a lovely, meandering melancholy sound. stuff smith is good!

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 20:36 (one year ago) link

This is a great thread, I'll be here for the ride.

♫ very clever with maracas.jpg ♫ (Le Bateau Ivre), Wednesday, 3 January 2018 20:37 (one year ago) link

(also ty for spotify playlist km!)

♫ very clever with maracas.jpg ♫ (Le Bateau Ivre), Wednesday, 3 January 2018 20:37 (one year ago) link

no prob! i just hope no one skips ahead of the thread and thinks that the next songs on the playlist represent the correct order! i'm just kinda searching for songs that I think will be upcoming and adding them in the generally correct area of the playlist, but as the thread progresses I'll keep adjusting things to match it.

the solo church recording from 1948 youtube posted above is really good, too. in the midst of these more traditional sessions with other musicians, it shows that he was already interested in going on cosmic voyages in his own work

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 20:44 (one year ago) link

more youtube links:

Andy Tibbs Dozier Boys with Sax Malllard's Combo + Sun Ra on piano, recorded nov 1948, released dec 1948: In a Traveling Mood (just the first song)
Andy Tibbs & the Dozier Boys + Sun Ra on piano, recorded nov 1948, released jan 1949: In Every Man's Life

Dozier Boys with Eugene Wright + Sun Ra on piano and arrangements, recorded dec 1948, released Sept 1949: Music Goes Round and Round
(couldn't find "Pork n Beans" or "Dawn Mist", from the same session)

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 21:04 (one year ago) link

after some searching, i found the 6 tracks that Sun Ra/ Blount played on The Hawk Returns (search for "Sun31" here on the amazingly exhaustive Chicago Years link posted above: . They were included on the Confessin': The Astounding Coleman Hawkins comp, which is on Spotify.

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 21:46 (one year ago) link

Sun Ra studies should be a standard department at universities

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 21:47 (one year ago) link

Not to be too much of a party pooper, but is the idea of the thread to listen to all the stuff that's been posted so far and then discuss at some point? Or are we going to go song by song like the Billy Joel thread?

Moodles, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 21:56 (one year ago) link

(looking forward to 1965 -- "cosmic chaos" is my jam)

reggie (qualmsley), Wednesday, 3 January 2018 22:15 (one year ago) link

not sure! personally i'd rather go release by release since there are around 125 LPs to go through, not even counting other releases.

Karl Malone, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 22:16 (one year ago) link

is 1959 time? i've been loving the singles but i'm ready for the thread to start hitting all of these amazing albums!

Karl Malone, Tuesday, 30 January 2018 16:47 (one year ago) link

hi KM, yeah. i was really hoping to blast through 1959-63 or so but uh, just life stuff. idk, hard week.

really appreciate everybody on this thread for tuning in. will try to get it together and make some arkestral manoeuvres in the next couple days.

budo jeru, Tuesday, 30 January 2018 23:21 (one year ago) link

oh hell yeah

Karl Malone, Tuesday, 30 January 2018 23:31 (one year ago) link


hey everyone, me and budo jeru are going to tag team this for a while. i’m going to do 1959 today, and then 1960 sometime this week. i am winging it, so if i miss something important please help fill in the gaps. as with the rest of this thread so far, a lot of the quotes and information come from and i don’t know what we’re going to do when we reach the end of the chicago years (around 1960-61) and the scope of the clemson guy’s research expires, but for now, it seems to be pretty authoritative (he often identifies

as always, don’t forget there’s a spotify playlist that evolves along with this thread. it lines up with this thread as things are posted, and then anything on it that’s beyond the thread is just kind of a non-comprehensive hodgepodge of upcoming material that might not be in the proper order yet.

1. Jazz in Silhouette (Recorded March 6,1959; Released May 1959)

Jazz in Silhouette originally had a silk-screened cover, attributed to one "H. P. Corbissero," with an abstract design and the title (variants can be seen in Geerken and Hefele's Omniverse Sun Ra, and in Pathways to Unknown Worlds, p. 46). Copies are known in pinkish red and black and in golden brown and black. John Corbett has suggested that the silk-screen design was done by Ra himself.

In 1961, Saturn was ready for another pressing run from RCA Victor, placing an order for 300 copies at 33 cents an LP on October 28, 1961.

the 1961 repress cover:

Le Sun Ra-p, celeste; Hobart Dotson-tp; Bo Bailey-tb; James Spaulding-as, fl; Marshall Allen-as, fl; John Gilmore-ts; Pat Patrick-bs, fl; Charles Davis-bs; Ronnie Boykins-b; William Cochran-d.

recorded March 6, 1959 (according to research done by the clemson guy. previously, it was thought to have been recorded in late 1958.

(this was Dotson’s last session with Sun Ra. he was apparently developing a robotripping addiction which caused problems with the non-drugtaking Ra, and after this session he hopped on a BB King tour and then moved to NYC, where he ended up recording with mingus in 1960 and 1965)

Side A:
Enlightenment (Dotson-Ra) (5:02)
Saturn (Ra) (3:37)
Velvet (Ra) (3:18)
Ancient Aeithopia (Ra) (9:04)

Side B:
Hours After (E.J. Turner) (3:41)
Horoscope (Ra) (3:43)
Images (Ra) (3:48)
Blues at Midnight (Ra) (11:56)

one more interesting tidbit about Jazz in Silhouette to help understand how Sun Ra’s music was being received (or wasn’t) during this era:

As for Jazz in Silhouette, it didn't get one single review in the jazz press. Its importance wasn't understood until it was reissued by Impulse 15 years later.

2. Sound Sun Pleasure!! (Recorded March 6,1959; Released 1970)

these songs, mostly standards, were recorded during the same session as Jazz in Silhouette (an insane one-day marathon that produced two full LPs!), but it wasn’t released until 1970.

same personnel as Jazz in Silhouette, above.

Side A:
'Round Midnight (Hanighen-Monk-Williams)
You Never Told Me That You Care (Hobart Dotson)
Hour of Parting (Schiffer-Spoliansky)

Side B:
Back In Your Own Backyard (Jolson-Rose-Dreyer)
Enlightenment (taken from Jazz in Silhouette) (Dotson-Ra)
I Could Have Danced All Night (Lerner-Loewe)

3. “Interstellar Low Ways” ((Recorded March 6,1959; released 1966 (or 1965) (or 1967)
“Interstellar Low Ways” was also recorded as part of that absurdly productive 3/6/1959 session, but it wasn’t released until the 1966 album Interstellar Low Ways (or 1965 or 1967 - even the Clemson guy doesn’t know). There will be more on that recording in the 1960 update.

4. “October” (Recorded 1959, Released 1968 and then reissued on Singles compilation)
this was a one-off recording session with a slightly smaller group: Sun Ra (p); Walter Strickland (tp); unidentified (tb); John Gilmore (ts); Pat Patrick (bars); Ronnie Boykins (b); poss. William Cochran (d).

5. Cry of Jazz (premiered April 3, 1959)

The Cry of Jazz was not a documentary about the Arkestra, though the narrator refers to the "The Sun Ra" is an innovator in jazz, and "Call for All Demons" is presented as an example of his music. Rather, the Arkestra's function is to illustrate the stylistic evolution of jazz. Members of the band are shown on screen performing a Dixieland number (title uncertain), Swing (Bland stretched a little by choosing "Urnack" as an example), bop ("Super Blonde"), a Cool number ("Who, Me?" by Paul Severson), and "The Sun Ra." A quintet is shown playing "Blues at Midnight" (as an illustration of improvising over chord changes), and Sunny appears at the piano thrashing the same passage over and over (to illustrate the lack of growth potential in jazz; the passage is exerpted from "Lela" by Eddie Higgins, from another Paul Severson album). During part of this scene the trombonist from the "Dixieland" band is also present, barely discernible in the murk. The film then shows flames about to consume slum tenements while a distorted fragment of the Dixieland music shrlls on the soundtrack. The Arkestra can be heard but not seen during another segment (playing "Demon's Lullaby”).

“The Cry of Jazz premiered on April 3, 1959. It ran for a week, two showings a night, at the Lincoln Center (700 East Oakwood Boulevard). A single private showing followed on April 28, at the Union Nations Building in New York City. Another showing took place at the Sherman Hotel during a party for the Playboy Jazz Festival in July; still another at Gerri's Palm Tavern (446 East 47th Street) on August 23.”

the cry of jazz is on youtube, as of this posting.

i think that’s it for 1959! everything covered in this update was on spotify, so the playlist is updated through “October”. we’ll have 1960 ready to go in a few days. there’s a one-day recording session that takes place in 1960 that is just O_O. if you have any corrections or additional material or or images or links to writing about this era or other cool things, be sure to post them below!

Karl Malone, Saturday, 10 February 2018 16:43 (one year ago) link

“Ancient Aiethopia” is my favorite on Jazz in Silhouette. it borrows the main theme and tom-heavy percussion from the song “Aiethopia” (recorded in 1958 and later released on various comps), but it goes off into lots of other wild directions over the course of 9 minutes, including a ra piano solo that takes over halfway through and dissolves into a really weird vocal chant (which involves singing/speaking through the mouthpieces of the horns, i think?). after a short drum solo, the way that the bass and piano re-enter sounds so natural and yet ahead of its time, somehow. a lot of the rest of Jazz in Silhouette plays it relatively straight, so this track always stands out for me and points toward some interesting directions i know we’ll be hearing loads more of as we proceed.

Karl Malone, Saturday, 10 February 2018 18:12 (one year ago) link

things take such an amazing leap in 1960 :)
i'll post an update later tonight (although i guess the weekends aren't a great time for this thread? i could wait til tomorrow too)

i remember the corned beef of my childhood (Karl Malone), Sunday, 18 February 2018 20:56 (one year ago) link

Sorry about no update. Getting ready to watch SPACE IS THE PLACE (1974) on the big screen, though :D

i remember the corned beef of my childhood (Karl Malone), Tuesday, 20 February 2018 00:59 (one year ago) link


weird woman in a bar (La Lechera), Tuesday, 20 February 2018 01:28 (one year ago) link

Thanks Karl and Budo for this thread. I'm catching up and have got to Jazz by Sun Ra so far. I appreciate the hard work in doing this.It certainly works for me that it's taken a breather for the moment.

Heavy Messages (jed_), Wednesday, 21 February 2018 23:11 (one year ago) link

hi thread!

1. thanks to KM for temporarily taking the reigns.

2. i've decided to take an indefinite leave from all internet activities besides checking my email 2x / day. if anyone would like to take it from here, please feel free. if not, perhaps we can all meet back here in a few months and start where we left off. either way is fine with me. i'm so very pleased that so many people have enjoyed the thread so far. sorry i can't stay on as leader.

peace 2 u arkestral admirers !!

budo jeru, Thursday, 1 March 2018 20:05 (one year ago) link

Peace to you too budo x

Heavy Messages (jed_), Thursday, 1 March 2018 20:13 (one year ago) link

budo jeru take as much time as you need, no worries at all. i'll get in gear and keep it going, and then hop back in whenever you're feeling better. i definitely have an idea of where you're coming from. hang in there man.

i remember the corned beef of my childhood (Karl Malone), Thursday, 1 March 2018 20:20 (one year ago) link

hang in there!
thread regulars may be amused to know that my music appreciation students were introduced to sun ra this week via his version of "take the A train" (we listened to several traditional versions last week)
they were perplexed, but enjoyed the costumes

weird woman in a bar (La Lechera), Friday, 2 March 2018 04:53 (one year ago) link

one month passes...

apologies to everyone for not getting in gear and keeping this going. especially to budo jeru, who i explicitly promised to keep the torch burning!
i have been working nonstop on a project that has consumed pretty much all of my free time, but the deadline is tomorrow and then i'll suddenly have lots of spare time!

so i understand if you don't believe me, but i'm pumped to get this started again. my own listening sometimes outpaced this thread, but i didn't let myself get too far ahead, and i'm eager to dive back in later this week.

i trust everyone is caught up with the thread? ;)

Karl Malone, Tuesday, 1 May 2018 18:30 (one year ago) link

was thinking about bumping this, hi y'all

sleeve, Tuesday, 1 May 2018 18:44 (one year ago) link

on to 1960!!

sleeve, Tuesday, 1 May 2018 18:45 (one year ago) link

i’m going to do 1959 today, and then 1960 sometime this week.

-― Karl Malone, Saturday, February 10, 2018 11:43 AM (two months ago)

as promised, here we are, sometime next week, somewhere between time and space!

before crossing the threshold to the 60s, i wanted to share some 50s-era images and artifacts from University of Chicago Library’s exhibit “Sounds from Tomorrow's World: Sun Ra and the Chicago Years, 1946-1961”. see the gallery for more.
(undated, early 1950s). sonny blount/sun ra used to hang out in washington park in the south side of chicago, writing and passing out flyers.
(1956) a holiday card to promote a Saturn Records single by The Qualities)
one of several space harps that Ra used throughout his life. featured on Angels and Demons at Play (1960).
an arkestra cymbal (looks like either a small ride or large crash to me)

i should have 1960 up later this afternoon, and as usual, i’ll update the spotify playlist as we go.

obviously DLC (Karl Malone), Saturday, 5 May 2018 17:20 (one year ago) link


sleeve, Saturday, 5 May 2018 17:21 (one year ago) link

if you want a small taste of what a nightmare it is to try to determine any sort of chronology for this:

the date for that promotional holiday card from above could be totally wrong. the UChicago exhibit description says "this holiday card may have been printed and mailed out in conjunction with the 1956 release of Happy New Year to You! / It's Christmastime". but the clemson site says that the songs weren't recorded and released until 1960/61, while also noting that some believe the songs were recorded in 1956 but not released until 1961. so apologies for posting a 1961-related image before we get was a goof

obviously DLC (Karl Malone), Saturday, 5 May 2018 17:30 (one year ago) link

this does a nice job of setting the scene for 1960, so i'll excerpt it at length:

If we could go back and witness a concert in Chicago (the best we can do is catch a few snippets in The Cry of Jazz), we would find some parts familiar, other parts less so. The lineup then was mostly Ra compositions, plus a few standards, heavily reharmonized. No screeching or low rumbles from the saxes — they didn't acquire those techniques till after they moved to New York.

...Probably the first thing you'd notice was Sunny's lack of stage presence. The 1955 photos from the Parkway Ballroom show him in his customary position — seated in the back of the Arkestra. (On smaller stages he would sit at front left or front right.) Sunny was writing poetry and pamphlets in those days, and the Sun Ra philosophy was already well developed. John Gilmore and Marshall Allen would even hand out Sunny's newsletters on street corners, though interviews indicate that most of the Arkestra musicians were nonbelievers. But Sunny didn't sing or preach to his paying audience until 1970. In fact, he didn't say much to the audience at all. His barely audible call of Sound of Joy and a couple of very quiet tune announcements for alternate takes from the session for Jazz by Sun Ra are the only recordings of his voice on Chicago-period items intended for release.

Costumes, on the other hand, were already in evidence. In The Cry of Jazz, band members are seen wearing dark suits in some scenes and white suits in others, but the filmmakers wouldn't have wanted Dixieland and Swing numbers performed by Arkestrans in tunics and sequined headdresses. Glitzier garb soon became the norm. According to Marshall Allen, Sunny on one occasion obtained outfits that a local opera company had discarded after performing William Tell. No doubt these were the inspiration for the space-age Robin Hood uniforms the band sometimes wore in later years. Art Hoyle remembers "loud green and orange concerns" in 1956. By 1960, Arkestra members were sporting purple blazers, white gloves, and beanies with propellers on top that lit up. And they would release wind-up toy robots into the audience. There were no dancers yet, but the musicians were supposed to jump up and down on designated numbers.

Sunny had been talking about outer space for a while, but in the early days his vocal numbers were meant to be performed by the cabaret-style singers who worked Chicago nightclubs, or by doo-wop groups. The space chant, a simple ditty that could be sung by band members (and the audience, if so inclined) didn't appear till 1960. Once he started writing them they stayed in the band's repertoire for years: Interplanetary Music, We Travel the Spaceways, Rocket Number Nine Take for the Planet Venus.

obviously DLC (Karl Malone), Saturday, 5 May 2018 17:46 (one year ago) link
(sun ra + arkestra, 1960)

1960 recordings

holy shit, 1960 was a GOOD year for the sun ra arkestra. june 14, 1960 looms large. during an insane one-day marathon session they recorded over THIRTY songs, which are spread out over several of the releases described below. the bulk of these recordings weren’t commercially released for several years, though, and often they were repackaged with songs from completely different eras of the band (like Angels and Demons at Play, which snaps from a mindbending 1960 exotica Side A to the frenzied bop of 1956 on side B). i’ll try to keep the focus on the 1960 recordings here:

We Travel Spaceways
mentioned upthread, We Travel Spaceways was released in 1967 but consists of music recorded in Chicago in 1959-60 (there’s also a track from 1956). there are some really, REALLY good tracks on here, but “Interplanetary Music”, the delirious opening song, stands out with its group vocals and otherworldliness.

Angels and Demons at Play
also mentioned upthread, and also released in 1967, the four songs on Side A of Angels and Demons at Play were all recorded in Chicago in 1960 (the Side B tracks were recorded in 1956). There’s definitely a tropical/exotica vibe on these songs, which include writing credits by Ronnie Boykins and Marshall Allen (bass and alto sax/flute, respectively, and both longstanding key members of the arkestra.

Interstellar Low Ways
first released as Rocket Number Nine Take Off for the Planet Venus in 1966, and then reissued as Interstellar Low Ways in 1967, made up of 1960 sessions. i love the patience and quietness of the title track and “Space Loneliness” (there’s another good version of the latter on We Travel Spaceways).

Fate in a Pleasant Mood
most of these songs were recorded during the same epic 6/14 recording session. “Space Mates” is my favorite. it starts with an odd diversion that soon stops and reforms as a lovely flute-led (played by Marshall Allen) ballad, then a drum solo that sounds like water being poured between toms.

Holiday for Soul Dance
a collection of standards released in 1970, but made up entirely of songs from the 6/14/60 session. these songs don’t really thrill me compared to a lot of what they were recording in 1960 (even on the same day!), but ymmv.

“Space Loneliness” b/w “State Street”
part of the a few hundred copies of this single were released on Saturn Records in 1960. reissued as part of The Singles comp in 1996.

“The Blue Set“ b/w “Big City Blues“
same deal as the single above. has sold for over $1000 on discogs, it seems. as the titles would suggest, these songs steer heavily toward the blues.

Music From Tomorrow’s World (live)
a live album recorded in Chicago 1960, released in 2002. here they are playing a Gershwin song:

obviously DLC (Karl Malone), Saturday, 5 May 2018 19:44 (one year ago) link

forgot to mention - Fate in a Pleasant Mood was released in 1965. so basically, out of everything just posted, only the two singles at the bottom were actually released in 1960.

obviously DLC (Karl Malone), Saturday, 5 May 2018 19:49 (one year ago) link

listening to "Angels And Demons At Play" on Spotify right now

sleeve, Saturday, 5 May 2018 19:51 (one year ago) link

yep, me too! :) i love it. the 1960 cuts (side A) are so good, it must have been amazing to be in the same room.

oh, also - spotify playlist is up-to-date through Interstellar Low Ways.

obviously DLC (Karl Malone), Saturday, 5 May 2018 19:54 (one year ago) link

oh, also - if anyone has any other cool images or artwork (record or otherwise) of 1959-61 era they particularly like, please post it! i haven't really found much online - they weren't heavily documented during their Chicago years.

obviously DLC (Karl Malone), Saturday, 5 May 2018 19:56 (one year ago) link

I regret selling my nice 70's Impulse reissue of Fate In A Pleasant Mood, it had new art by then though

sleeve, Saturday, 5 May 2018 19:56 (one year ago) link

I have this vague memory that Fate In A Pleasant Mood was unusual because it was just released under the Sun Ra name, unlike most other records from the era?

sleeve, Saturday, 5 May 2018 19:58 (one year ago) link

if i was a crazy millionaire guy who didn't know what to do with all his money i would go on a global quest to collect original copies of THE ENTIRE DISCOGRAPHY, and then display them in my fancy sun ra wing

obviously DLC (Karl Malone), Saturday, 5 May 2018 19:58 (one year ago) link

xpost the cover looks like it just said "Sun Ra", but the clemson page includes this photo of what they claim to be a first pressing, and it seems to show that the arkestra was credited on the record label, at least:

obviously DLC (Karl Malone), Saturday, 5 May 2018 20:01 (one year ago) link

can i just say that i really like the way that label looks blending in with the rest of the white ILX page? just saying, looks real nice

obviously DLC (Karl Malone), Saturday, 5 May 2018 20:02 (one year ago) link

wow, so the single version of "Lights on a Satellite" on Fate in a Pleasant World (it's a bonus track) is pretty trippy. they drenched everything in tons of reverb and echo, and it comes off sounding like a more upbeat version of the Caretaker's current project.

obviously DLC (Karl Malone), Sunday, 6 May 2018 17:36 (one year ago) link

yeah, when "secrets of the sun" comes up the whole thing's going to be an enormous pile of echo

Arch Bacon (rushomancy), Sunday, 6 May 2018 17:43 (one year ago) link

it's too bad that the most coherent chronological discography that i've found online is locked up on pg 427 of a book (check it out!)

obviously DLC (Karl Malone), Monday, 7 May 2018 01:43 (one year ago) link

it's a great fucking book, though! totally recommended.

i don't know, there was an old one, i think by rlc, online that i thought was ok. "coherence" is always a difficult thing with ra.

Arch Bacon (rushomancy), Monday, 7 May 2018 02:36 (one year ago) link

i wish i would have read The Lives and Times of Sun Ra before! it's a real page turner. i've aways wondered about his creative process, and how they actually went about composing and performing these tunes with a continuously shifting lineup. it seems like he thrived on the unpredictability of the personnel and it became part of the process itself:

He needed a permanent body of musicians to play what he wrote, but without steady work for them it was tough. He resented his musicians playing with other bands, but there was little he could do, and he said
nothing about it to most of them. Though he wrote out each instrument's part in a hand that was so large and clear that it seemed like something out of a school exercise book, his music was too complex to sight-read, too full of unusual intervals and unexpected rhythms, so long rehearsals were necessary even in periods when they were working regularly.

With such individualized music a great deal of work was necessary to pull a piece together, especially if new players turned up at rehearsals, or if any players were missing or left the band. When one of their best drummers turned out to be unreliable, Sonny talked John Gilmore into playing drums and for years he kept a small set beside his seat in the saxophone section so that he could double on them. And since Sonny could not count on every musician being at rehearsals--or even at paying engagements-he tried to write pieces which were adaptable for any size group, from trio to twenty players, but sometimes wrote pieces to be
played only at a single rehearsal.

...Few people recall seeing Sonny composing or writing arrangements, since he worked alone, usually in the middle of the night. He wrote out parts quickly, instrument by instrument, as fast as he thought them up. It was all laid out in his head. Sometimes the musicians' parts would be two or three pages long, while Sonny's own part would be only a scrap, or something written on a matchbook. But since arrangements were corrected, embellished, and improved at rehearsals and each player was expected to make corrections in his own parts, every musician in the band was part of the composition process. Often arrangements were developed on the spot, Sonny calling out the musical line for every player so they could write them down. And while the band played the melody he would improvise a counter-melody on the piano and give that to another part of the group. This way he could arrive at a rehearsal with two or three compositions and leave with five or six.

the rest of Chapter 3 has all sorts of good stuff about that, as well as the grueling rehearsal marathons, his demand for discipline (including locking up band members in a closet for hours or making them sit up on stage but refusing to allow them to play as punishment for missing rehearsals, etc), issues with failing to pay his own musicians for their work (and writing credits, in some cases), lots of good stories from his bandmates, and a good, long discussion of ra's idea of "Space" and his general cosmology. it's really good stuff, and i wish i would have been reading it this whole time.

obviously DLC (Karl Malone), Monday, 7 May 2018 17:34 (one year ago) link

nice, I gotta check that one out!

Karl I swear I'm just gonna mail you a copy of the Szwed book...

sleeve, Monday, 7 May 2018 17:42 (one year ago) link

no worries, i have a PDF! that's the one the excerpt above is from (Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra)

another interesting anecdote: one of the places they played a bunch in Chicago in the mid-50s was called Birdland.

So we stayed at Birdland two years. At one point there was some trouble: the Birdland in New York complained, and were going to sue. So I told the owner to change the name to Budland. He did, and we kept playing.

Budland ended up establishing a reputation as the place where the very best dancers came - "It was generally accepted that you dared not enter Budland unless you could flaunt serious dance moves". so much so, that even 15 years later, when they filmed the pilot for soul train in 1969, the dancers came from Budland:

The Soul Train pilot was shot at WCIU, and thanks to Ghent it was stocked with ringers—not the usual teenyboppers but the "baddest dancers" from Budland. When Sears exec George O'Hare saw the sample episode that he eventually was able to convince his bosses to sponsor, he was watching a group of adults re-creating the smoky, sexy atmosphere of a south-side club.

obviously DLC (Karl Malone), Monday, 7 May 2018 17:59 (one year ago) link

three weeks pass...

new albums on the Spotify playlist (thanks)! listening to Black Beauty now, never heard Transitions Three either.

Art Forms, of course, was heard by probably a lot of people on the Evidence 2-fer with Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy - am I correct in thinking it's the most "out" thing so far?

sleeve, Monday, 28 May 2018 01:30 (one year ago) link

one year passes...


I've been increasingly obsessed with the Chicago period and the late-70's glossy funky electronic stuff (Lanquidity, On Jupiter).

I finally started filing the LPs by recording date not release date, and by the earliest date on the record if there are multiples.

Angels And Demons, Nubians Of Plutonia, Holiday For Soul Dance, and On Jupiter have all been in heavy rotation

the Bandcamp site is so incredibly awesome, and some of the digital versions are significant upgrades or transfers, lost full stereo versions, unreleased outtakes, etc.

sleeve, Friday, 5 July 2019 17:29 (five months ago) link

late 70s stuff is probably my favorite tbh, some of the aggro free-blowing dissonance of prior years gets sanded off and things get a bit more dreamy/sweeter sounding

Οὖτις, Friday, 5 July 2019 17:31 (five months ago) link

any other recommendations besides the two I mentioned?

sleeve, Friday, 5 July 2019 17:34 (five months ago) link

I also sprung for the new "Singles" 3CD, it's just amazing how much more has been discovered (in terms of previously unknown records, better sources, and session details) since that Evidence 2CD came out(checks Discogs) 23 years ago.

sleeve, Friday, 5 July 2019 17:36 (five months ago) link

i was going to post here at some point saying i'm going to start again towards the end of the summer.

we're still in 1960 iirc so i'm afraid i can't help at the moment

budo jeru, Friday, 5 July 2019 17:37 (five months ago) link

Sleeping Beauty for sure, probably my favorite of that era.

Media Dreams and Disco 3000 are cool as well, albeit they do a bit of a different thing, what with the inclusion of the rhythm box/drum machine and a smaller combo - lots of weird synth playing, less of the swaying big band feel


Οὖτις, Friday, 5 July 2019 17:38 (five months ago) link

Strange Celestial Road also of a piece with Sleeping Beauty, "I'll Wait For You" is a definite highlight.

Οὖτις, Friday, 5 July 2019 17:39 (five months ago) link

sweet, thanks!

been buying lots of those Scorpio LP reissues, they are super cheap and IMO sound just fine (except for The Magic City, get that on Bandcamp)

sorry for slight derails, yah let's talk about 1960, the last great Chicago year.

"Holiday For Soul Dance" is such a joy to listen to, all standards iirc and even vocals on one track

sleeve, Friday, 5 July 2019 17:40 (five months ago) link

"Early Autumn" recorded at Wonder Inn, Chicago 1960.
The rest of the tracks were recorded at Elks Hall, Milwaukee June 14, 1960.

and LOL at:

Note that the personnel on the cover is known to be incorrect (dating from the mid-to-late 60s Arkestra).

sleeve, Friday, 5 July 2019 17:41 (five months ago) link

also w/r/t the "Fate In A Pleasant Mood credits, I was referring to the Impulse reissue being under the "Sun Ra" name"

this totally screws up Discogs, where the same record is listed under both The Sun Ra Arkestra and Sun Ra depending on which pressing it is and what the credits said.

sleeve, Friday, 5 July 2019 19:19 (five months ago) link

oops sorry for stray punctuation there

sleeve, Friday, 5 July 2019 19:19 (five months ago) link

yeah, pretty much all available online discographies are a fucking mess with sun ra

i will never make a typo ever again (Karl Malone), Friday, 5 July 2019 19:22 (five months ago) link

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