GILES PETERSON PRESENTS-SUN RA AND HIS ORCHESTRA TO THOSE OF EARTH…AND OTHER WORLDS.
GILES PETERSON PRESENTS-SUN RA AND HIS ORCHESTRA TO THOSE OF EARTH…AND OTHER WORLDS.
During a career that spanned six decades, Sun Ra released around 125 albums. These were no ordinary albums. They featured Sun Ra and His Orchestra combining Egyptian history and space-age cosmic philosophy with freeform jazz. It was unlike anything anyone had heard before. That wasn’t surprising.
Musically, Sun Ra was a maverick. He did things his way. Soon, he was one of jazz music’s pioneer. No wonder. Sun Ra was determined to create music that was both innovative and groundbreaking. This meant that constantly, Sun Ra’s had to push musical boundaries. He was never content to stand still musically. Similarly, he was always striving to reinvent his music.
That was the case whether in the studio or live. For Sun Ra, the original version of a song was merely the starting point. What it became, was anyone’s guess? Sun Ra and His Orchestra were determined to innovate, and reinvent a track. This meant his music headed in the most unexpected directions. It was a roller coaster ride, as Sun Ra and His Arkestra seamlessly combined Egyptian history and space-age cosmic philosophy with freeform jazz. The self confessed member of the angel race was regarded as a one off. Sun Ra was unique, and enigmatic.
Very few people knew the real Sun Ra. One word that’s constantly used to describe him is enigmatic. Hence his nickname Mr. Mystery. In mid-thirties, Mr. Mystery claimed he had a visionary experience. He believed he had transported to Saturn, where he spoke to the Angel Race. They warned him the world was heading for chaos and Sun Ra could make a difference with his music. Sun Ra’s music certainly made a difference.
For six decades Sun Ra was heralded as one of the jazz’s pioneers and innovators. Sadly, Sun Ra died in 1993, aged just seventy-nine. Since then, many people have kept Sun Ra’s music alive, and introduced it to another generation of music lovers. This includes DJ Giles Peterson, who has compiled a new compilation of Sun Ra’s music.
Giles Peterson Presents-Sun Ra and His Orchestra To Those Of Earth…and Other Worlds. This double album, which will be released by Strut Records on 30th November 2015. It’s available as a two CD set, double album and as a digital download. There’e a total of thirty-four tracks on Giles Peterson Presents-Sun Ra and His Orchestra To Those Of Earth…and Other Worlds. Quite simply, it’s the perfect followup Strut’s previous Sun Ra compilation, Marshall Allen Presents Sun Ra and His Arkestra In The Orbit Of Sun Ra. These two compilations are the perfect introduction to the man born Herman Poole Blount.
Before dawning the moniker Sun Ra, Herman Poole Blount was born on the ‘22nd’ of May 1914, in Birmingham, Alabama. Very little is known about Herman Poole Blount’s early life. So much so, that for many years, nobody knew what age he was. What we do know, is that growing up, Herman Poole Blount immersed himself in music.
He learnt to play the piano at an early age and soon, was a talented pianist. By the age of eleven, Herman Poole Blount was to able read and write music. However, it wasn’t just playing music that Herman Poole Blount enjoyed. When musicians swung through Birmingham, Herman Poole Blount was there to see everyone from Duke Ellington to Fats Waller play. Seeing the great and good of music play live inspired Herman Poole Blount to become a professional musician.
By his mid teens, Herman Poole Blount was a high school student, but even by then, music was his first love. His music teacher John T. “Fess” Whatley realised this, and helped Herman Poole Blount’s nascent musical career.
John T. “Fess” Whatley was a strict disciplinarian, and this rubbed off on Herman Poole Blount. Later, he would acquire a reputation as a relentless taskmaster when he formed his Arkestra. He was determined that the musicians in his Arkestra to reach his high and exacting standards and fulfil the potential that he saw in them. At rehearsals, musicians were pushed to their limits, but this paid off when they took to the stage. Led by Sun Ra, the Arkestra in full flow were peerless. However, that was way in the future. Before that, Herman Poole Blount’s career began to take shape.
In his spare time, Herman Poole Blount was playing semi-professionally in various jazz and R&B groups, and other times, he worked as a solo artist. Before long, Herman was a popular draw. This was helped by his ability to memorize popular songs and play them on demand. Strangely, away from music, the young Herman Poole Blount was very different.
He’s remembered as studious, kindly and something of a loner. Herman Poole Blount was also a deeply religious young man despite not being a member of a particular church. One organisation that Herman Poole Blount joined was the Black Masonic Lodge. This allowed him access to one of the largest collection of books in Birmingham. For a studious young man like Herman Poole Blount, this allowed him to broaden his knowledge of various subjects. Whether this included the poetry and Egyptology that would later influence his musical career.
In 1934, twenty-year-old Herman Poole Blount was asked to join a band that was led by Ethel Harper. She was no stranger to Herman Poole Blount, and just a few years earlier, had been his high school biology teacher. Just a few years later, and he was accepting Ethel Harper’s invitation to join her band.
Before he could head out on tour with Ethel Harper’s band, Herman Poole Blount joined the local Musicians’s Union. After that, he embarked on a tour of the Southeast and Midwest. This was the start of Herman Poole Blount’s life as a professional musician. However, when Ethel Harper left her band to join The Ginger Snaps, Herman Poole Blount took over the band.
With Ethel Harper gone, the band was renamed The Sonny Blount Orchestra, and it headed out on the road and toured for several months. Sadly, The Sonny Blount Orchestra wasn’t making money, and eventually, the band split up. However, other musicians and music lovers were impressed by The Sonny Blount Orchestra.
This resulted in Herman Poole Blount being always in demand as a session musician. He was highly regarded within the Birmingham musical community, so much so, that he was awarded a music scholarship to Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in 1937. Sadly, he dropped out after a year when his life changed forever.
In 1937, Herman Poole Blount experienced what was a life-changing experience. It’s a story he told many times throughout his life. He describes a bright light appearing around him and his body changing. “I could see through myself. And I went up … I wasn’t in human form … I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn. They teleported me. I was down on a stage with them. They wanted to talk with me. They had one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me. They told me to stop attending college because there was going to be great trouble in schools … the world was going into complete chaos … I would speak through music, and the world would listen. That’s what they told me.” For a deeply religious young man, this was disturbing and exciting. It certainly inspired the young Herman Poole Blount.
After his: “trip to Saturn,” Herman Poole Blount decided to devote himself to music. So much so, that he hardly found time to sleep. Day in, day out, Herman Poole Blount spent his time practising and composing new songs in his first floor home which he had transformed into a musical workshop. That was where also where he rehearsed with the musicians in his band. Away from music, Herman Poole Blount took to discussing religious matters. Mostly, though, music dominated his life.
It was no surprise to when Herman Poole Blount announced that he had decided to form a new band. However, his new band was essentially a new lineup of The Sonny Blount Orchestra. It showcased the new Herman Poole Blount, who was a dedicated bandleader, and like his mentor John T. “Fess” Whatley, a strict disciplinarian. Herman Poole Blount was determined his band would be the best in Birmingham. This proved to be the case as seamlessly, The Sonny Blount Orchestra were able to change direction, as they played an eclectic selection of music. Before long, The Sonny Blount Orchestra were one of most in-demand bands in Birmingham, and things were looking good for Herman. Then in 1942, The Sonny Blount Orchestra were no more when Herman was drafted.
On receiving his draft papers, Herman Poole Blount declared himself a conscientious objector. He cited not just religious objections to war and killing, but that he had to financially support his great-aunt Ida. Then there was the chronic hernia that blighted Herman Poole Blount’s life. Despite his objections the draft board rejected his appeal, and things got worse for Herman Poole Blount.
Herman Poole Blount’s family was embarrassed by his refusal to fight, and some turned their back on him. Eventually, though, Herman Poole Blount was offered the opportunity to do Civilian Public Service. However, he failed to appear at the camp in Pennsylvania on the December ‘8th’ 1942.
This resulted in Herman Poole Blount being arrested, and when he was brought before the court, Herman Poole Blount debated points of law and the meaning of excerpts from the Bible. When this didn’t convince the judge Herman Poole Blount said he would use a military weapon to kill the first high-ranking military officer possible. This resulted in Herman Poole Blount being jailed. For Herman, this led to one of the most disturbing periods in his life.
Herman Poole Blount’s experience in military prison were so terrifying and disturbing that he felt he no option but to write to the US Marshals Service in January 1943. By then, Herman felt he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He was suffering from stress and feeling suicidal. There was also the constant fear that he would be attacked by others within the military prison. Fortunately, the US Marshals Service looked favourably on his letter.
By February 1943, Herman Poole Blount was allowed out during the day to work in the forests around Pennsylvania. At nights, he was able to play the piano. A month later, Herman Poole Blount was reclassified and released from military prison. This brought to an end what had been a harrowing period of his life.
Having left prison, Herman formed a new band. They played around the Birmingham area for the next two years. Then in 1945, when his Aunt Ida died, Herman Poole Blount left Birmingham, and headed to the Windy City of Chicago.
After moving to Chicago, Herman Poole Blount quickly found work. He worked with Wynonie Harris and played on his two 1946 singles, Dig This Boogie and My Baby’s Barrelhouse. After that, Herman Poole Blount worked with Lil Green in some of Chicago’s strip clubs. Then in August 1946, Herman Poole Blount started working with Fletcher Henderson. However, by then, Fletcher’s fortunes were fading.
By then, Fletcher Henderson’s band was full of mediocre musicians. The main man, Fletcher Henderson, was often missing, as he was still recovering after a car accident. What Fletcher Henderson needed was someone to transform his band’s failing fortunes. This was where Herman Poole Blount came in. His role was arranger and pianist, but realising the band needed to change direction, he decided to infuse Fletcher Henderson’s trademark sound with bebop. However, the band were resistant to change and in 1948, Herman Poole Blount left Fletcher Henderson’s employ.
Following his departure from Fletcher Henderson’s band, Herman Poole Blount formed a trio with saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and violinist Stuff Smith. Alas, the trio was somewhat short-lived and didn’t release any recordings. Not long after this, Herman Poole Blount would make his final appearance as a sideman on violinist’s Billy Bang’s Tribute to Stuff Smith. After this, Herman Poole Blount became Sun Ra.
By then, Chicago was changing, and was home to a number of African-American political activists. Soon, a number of fringe movements sprung up who were seeking political and religious change. When Herman Poole Blount became involved, he was already immersing himself in history, especially, Egyptology. He was fascinated with the Chicago’s many ancient Egyptian-styled buildings and monuments. This resulted in Herman Poole Blount discovering George G.M. James’ The Stolen Legacy. Discovering this book was a life-changing experience.
In The Stolen Legacy, George G.M. James argues that classical Greek philosophy actually has its roots in Ancient Egypt. This resulted in Herman Poole Blount concluding that the history and accomplishments of Africans had been deliberately denied and suppressed by various European cultures. It was as if his eyes had been opened. For Herman Poole Blount, this was just the start of a number of changes in his life.
As 1952 dawned, Herman Poole Blount had formed a new band, The Space Trio. It featured saxophonist Pat Patrick and Tommy Hunter. At the time, they were two of the most talented musicians Herman knew. This allowed him to write even more compacted and complex songs. However, by October 1952, he wasn’t writing these songs as Herman Poole Blount. No. Sun Ra was born in October 1952.
Just like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, adopting the name Sun Ra was perceived by some as Herman choosing to dispense with his slave name. This some felt, was a kind of rebirth for Sun Ra. It certainly was a musical rebirth.
After Pat Patrick got married, he moved to Florida, which left The Space Trio with a vacancy for a saxophonist. Tenor saxophonist, John Gilmore was hired and filled the void. He would become an important part of Sun Ra’s band. So would the next new recruit alto saxophonist Marshall Allen. They were then joined by saxophonist James Spaulding, trombonist Julian Priester and briefly, tenor saxophonist Von Freeman. Another newcomer was Alton Abraham, who would become Sun Ra’s manager. He made up for Sun Ra’s shortcomings when it came to business matters.
While he was a hugely talented bandleader, who demanded the highest standards, Sun Ra, like many other musicians, was no businessman. With Alton Abraham onboard, Sun Ra could concentrate on music while his new manager took care of business. This included setting up El Saturn Records, an independent record label, which would release many of Sun Ra’s records. However, El Saturn Records didn’t released Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s debut album, Jazz By Sun Ra.
Jazz By Sun Ra was released in 1956, on the short-lived Transition Records. However, Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s sophomore album Super Sonic Jazz was released in March 1956, on El Saturn Records. Sound Of Joy was released on Delmark in November 1956. For the next few years, El Saturn Records released most of Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s albums. By his death in 1993, Sun Ra had released over 125 albums. The man they once called Mr. Mystery was by then, one of the most prolific recording artists. Sun R was also regarded as one of the pioneers of free jazz. Since then, Sun Ra’s popularity has grown, and every year, his music is discovered by a wider audience.
For those looking for an introduction to Sun Ra’s recording career, Giles Peterson Presents-Sun Ra and His Orchestra To Those Of Earth…and Other Worlds is the perfect starting point. It features a selection of Sun Ra’s best and most innovative works. They come not just from his best known albums, but some of his lesser known albums. And there were plenty of these.
The fifties and sixties saw Sun Ra at his most productive. He oversaw the pressing of records, and drew the artwork himself. Other times, Sun Ra oversaw the recording of concerts. They were later released on vinyl. Often, these live recordings came in a plain white bag. Nowadays, they’re a prized item among collectors, and change hands for ever increasing sums of money. Those that have them aren’t parting with them. Others who want them, hungrily lust after them. After all, Sun Ra is one of the most collectable artists in music.
To collect the thirty-four tracks on Giles Peterson Presents-Sun Ra and His Orchestra To Those Of Earth…and Other Worlds would be beyond those with the deepest pockets. Collecting copies of each track would require a second mortgage or the sale of a kidney. So the money spent on Giles Peterson Presents-Sun Ra and His Orchestra To Those Of Earth…and Other Worlds will be money well spent. It’s crammed full of timeless, innovative music, so choosing the highlights isn’t going to be easy. In homage to Sun Ra’s dedication to Egyptology, I’ll pick seven track from each disc. The number seven in Egyptology is a symbol of perfection, effectiveness and completeness. That seems fitting when taking about Sun Ra.
Opening side one of Giles Peterson Presents-Sun Ra and His Orchestra To Those Of Earth…and Other Worlds is Calling Planet Earth. It’s credited to Sun Ra and His Myth-Arkestra, and is a track from their 1963 album When Sun Comes Out. It was released on the Saturn Research label, and finds Sun Ra at his most accessible. Pensive and thoughtful sounding, Calling Planet Earth is just the start of captivating journey with cosmic jazz pioneer Sun Ra as the guide.
India opened Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s 1957 debut album Super-Sonic Jazz. It was released on El Saturn Records, and was unlike the majority of the music being released in 1957. Super-Sonic Jazz was a groundbreaking fusion of free jazz, avant-garde and big band music. The new met the old on Super-Sonic Jazz, and one its highlights was India where a musical pioneer introduced himself to the world.
Not only was Sun Ra reinventing his music, but he constantly changed his bands name. By 1970, they were known as Sun Ra and His Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra. That was when the album The Night Of The Purple Moon was released on Thoth Intergalactic, an imprint of El Saturn Records. One of the highlights of the album is a Sun Ra classic, Love In Outer Space, which is a welcome addition to Giles Peterson Presents-Sun Ra and His Orchestra To Those Of Earth…and Other Worlds.
In 1978, The Sun Ra Quartet release their New Steps album on Horo Records. By then, The Sun Ra Quartet included John Gilmore. The legendary free jazz tenor saxophonist was a shrewd addition to Sun Ra’s latest band. He plays a leading role on New Steps. This includes on When There Is No Sun, which features a musical masterclass where elements of free jazz meet soul jazz. It’s a heady brew, as Sun Ra continues to reinvent his music.
One of the albums Sun Ra and His Solar-Myth Arkestra released in a plain white bag was The Lady With The Golden Stockings. This was in 1966. A year later, in 1967, the album was rereleased as The Nubians Of Plutonia, on the Saturn Research label. That wasn’t the end of the story. In 1969, The Nubians Of Plutonia was rereleased again. This time, it featured a new cover by Richard Pedreguera. Since then, many regard Nubians Of Plutonia as one of Sun Ra’s classic albums. It’s best described as a genre-melting album. Proof of this is Watusa, a glorious fusion of hard bop and free jazz. It’s Sun Ra and His Solar-Myth Arkestra at their best, and most innovative.
As an added bonus, there’s a quartet of live unreleased tracks on Giles Peterson Presents-Sun Ra and His Orchestra To Those Of Earth…and Other Worlds. The version of Strange Worlds was recorded in France, and features Sun Ra and His Arkestra. They provide a tantalising taster of what Sun Ra and His Arkestra live sounded like in their prime.
Closing disc one of Giles Peterson Present-Sun Ra and His Orchestra To Those Of Earth…and Other Worlds is Blackman. It was recorded by Sun Ra and His Blue Science Arkestra for his 1972 album Universe In Blue. Later in 1972, Universe In Blue was released on El Saturn Records. One of the tracks that caught the attention of critics and record buyers, was the defiant anthem Blackman.
Just like disc one, it’s not easy to choose the highlights of disc two of Giles Peterson Presents-Sun Ra and His Orchestra To Those Of Earth…and Other Worlds. A good place to start is the opening track Twilight. It’s a track from Sun Ra And His Astro Infinity Arkestra’s 1971 album My Brother The Wind, Vol II. This eleven track album was recorded during 1969 and 1970. By then, Sun Ra was an early adopter of synths. They feature on the album. So does tenor saxophonist John Gilmore. Along with this stellar lineup, Sun Ra showcases his considerable skills. Especially on Somebody Else’s World, one of the albums highlights.
By 1979, Sun Ra had decided to change the name of his band again. This time, they became Sun Ra and His Intergalactic Myth-Science Solar Arkestra. Sun Ra’s latest band’s debut was Sleeping Beauty, which was released in 1979 on El Saturn Records. The centre-piece of the album, was the modal classic Sleeping Beauty. It’s classic Sun Ra and shows Sun his versatility.
When Children Of The Sun was released on Saturn Research, in 1985, it proved to be a controversial album from Sun Ra and His Arkestra. Some of the tracks had featured on the 1983 album Ra To The Rescue. However, Children Of The Sun was one of the new tracks. This mesmeric, anthemic and uplifting track lent its title to the album. When critics reviewed Children Of The Sun, they called the title-track the best of the new tracks. Sun Ra’s career may have been five decades old, but he was still creating music that was relevant to a new generation of music lovers.
The cover of Sun Ra and His Myth-Science Arkestra’s 1963 album When Sun Comes Out features Sun Ra sitting at a piano, with a cape draped around his shoulders. He looks like a musical superhero. His superpower was making music. Not just any type of music, but some of the most innovative free jazz of the early sixties. When Sun Comes Out is an example of this. Dark, moody, but melodic and captivating, the musical superhero weaves his magic, and saved the world from third rate jazz.
Sun Ra And His Solar Arkestra recorded On Jupiter in 1979. The album was released on El Saturn Records. Some well known names joined Sun Ra. This included trumpeter Eddie Gale. He plays his part on what’s a hidden gem in Sun Ra’s back-catalogue. The highlight of the album has to be On Jupiter, a quite beautiful, melodic track. Gone is the avant-garde, experimental sound of many of Sun Ra’s albums. Instead, Sun Ra and the Arkestra produce a much more traditional sounding track, which shows yet another side to this musical chameleon.
The cinematic sounding There Are Other Worlds (They Have Not Told You Of) is a track from Sun Ra’s 1978 album Lanquidity. It was released on the Philly Jazz label. It’s a mixture of the melodic and avant-garde. This is something Sun Ra did so well. He plays it straight before throwing a musical curveball. There Are Other Worlds (They Have Not Told You Of) is a perfect example of this.
My final choice from Giles Peterson Present-Sun Ra and His Orchestra To Those Of Earth…and Other Worlds is a live version of Space Is The Place. It’s a track that even those with just a passing interest in Sun Ra’s music will have heard. Space Is The Place is a favourite of compilers. Usually, the original version is chosen. It was the title-track of Sun Ra’s 1973 album for Blue Thumb Records. However, it became favourite of Sun Ra and His Arkestra. Together, they reinvent one of Sun Ra’s best known tracks, which seems a fitting finale to what’s without doubt a fitting followup to Marshall Allen Presents Sun Ra and His Arkestra In The Orbit Of Sun Ra. These two compilations are the perfect introduction to Sun Ra, a true musical innovator.
Sun Ra’s career lasted six decades. During that period, Sun Ra released around over 125 album. These albums showcase one of the most enigmatic and innovative musicians of the 20th Century. That’s no exaggeration.
Many artists are described as innovative. However, very few really are. Sun Ra is one of the exceptions. From the moment he dawned the role of Sun Ra, his music was transformed. It became much more complex. This was only possible because Sun Ra found liked minded musicians. Among them were Pat Patrick, Tommy Hunter, John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, James Spaulding, Julian Priester and Art Yard. They became Sun Ra’s legendary Arkestra.
For nearly forty years, Sun Ra and His Arkestra pushed musical boundaries. Sun Ra was a perfectionist and relentless taskmaster. With some of most talented, inventive and adventurous musicians of their generation, Sun Ra set about honing the Arkestra’s sound. He was demanding and exacting standards. Second best was no use to Sun Ra. What he was after was an Arkestra who were innovators and musical adventurers.
Sun Ra was never content to stand still musically. Similarly, he was always striving to reinvent his music. The original version of a song was merely the starting point. What it became, was anyone’s guess? Sun Ra was forever determined to innovate. When he reinvented a track, he took the music in the most unexpected direction. He combined Egyptian history and space-age cosmic philosophy with freeform jazz. This innovative fusion transformed the career of the man born Herman Poole Blount.
Eventually, Sun Ra became a giant of jazz. This took time, patience and dedication. He had come a long way since his early days in Birmingham, Alabama. Sadly, very little is known about Sun Ra’s early year. This just adds to the man many called Mr. Mystery.
So does his alleged ‘trip’ to Saturn, which changed Sun Ra’s life forevermore. Thereafter, Sun Ra became added philosopher to his C.V. However, it was music which made Sun Ra famous.
Even twenty-two years after his death, interest in Sun Ra’s music is growing. So Strut Records couldn’t have picked a better time to release Giles Peterson Present-Sun Ra and His Orchestra To Those Of Earth…and Other Worlds. It’s available on 30th October 2015. Giles Peterson Present-Sun Ra and His Orchestra To Those Of Earth…and Other Worlds is the perfect introduction to a musical pioneer, whose career spanned six decades and 125 albums of groundbreaking and inventive music.
GILES PETERSON PRESENTS-SUN RA AND HIS ORCHESTRA TO THOSE OF EARTH…AND OTHER WORLDS.
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