May 22nd was interstellar jazz pioneer Sun Ra’s 100th birthday.
Any fan of free jazz, avant-garde, or psychedelic music should check him out. There is really nothing else that sounds like a Sun Ra composition.
Claiming to be from Saturn, he actually started as a big-band swing piano player and bandleader from Birmingham, Alabama named Herman Blount. In the 1950s he began utilizing various electronic keyboards and synthesizers to create a more adventurous form of jazz that included his own experimental compositions and free improvisation.
Possibly because he was introverted and influenced by black nationalism, Blount jettisoned his slave name and developed a new fantastic persona incorporating Egyptian mythology and science fiction. Thereafter Sun Ra used his cosmic jazz music to spread an Afro-futurist philosophy to the people of the planet Earth.
In 1974 some San Francisco public-TV station personnel assisted Sun Ra with producing a feature film entitled Space is the Place.
The film’s storyline revolves around Sun Ra, who travels through space in search of a planet where black people from Earth can migrate to and find peace and pleasure away from the white man. After discovering a suitable planet for this migration, Ra then heads to Earth (Oakland, California, actually) to deliver his “plan for the salvation of the black race.” The Overseer—a great deceiver-type figure in pimp guise—challenges Ra to a game of cards to determine the fate of the black race. These scenes are interspersed with concert footage of the Intergalactic Myth-Science Solar Arkestra.
The film’s highlight is a scene in the third act where NASA agents kidnap Sun Ra, tie him up, and place headphones on his ears, forcing him to listen to a recording of “Dixie”!