Two Views of the Man from Saturn's Earliest Albums
The Man Himself
THE AIM OF MY COMPOSITIONS: All of my compositions are meant to
depict happiness combined with beauty in a free manner. Happiness, as well as
pleasure and beauty, has many degrees of existence; my aim is to express these
degrees in sounds which can be understood by the entire world. All of my music
is tested for effect. By effect I mean mental impression. The mental impression
I intend to convey is that of being alive, vitally alive. The real aim of this
music is to co-ordinate the minds of peoples into an intelligent reach for a
better world, and an intelligent approach to the living future. By peoples I
mean all of the people of different nations who are living today.
THE TECHNIQUES I EMPLOY: I always strive to write the sounds I hear
both inwardly and outwardly. I use the simple rules of harmony as a basis but I
employ my own rule as well. My rule Is that every note written or played must
be a living note. In order to achieve this, I use notes like words in a
sentence, making each series of sounds a separate thought. My watchword is
precision. l never forget that a sound "sound" is just as important as a sound
doctrine in a nonmusical field.
We rehearse everyday on new sounds and new approaches to projection.
Projection is very important. Dynamics, melodies that have a story to tell,
chords that alert the ear, contrapuntal rhythms, all combine in my creations to
make a new form of modern iazz.
THE SONGS I PLAY: Most of my compositions speak of tne future. For
instance, in this album we present FUTURE. NEW HORIZONS. .TRANSITION. . . SUN
SONG. . . . BRAINVILLE. In all of these songs I am deliberately attempting to
tempt people to like the higher forms of music. Eventually I will succeed.
THE MUSICIANS: To me the musicians I am using are much more than
band sectionmen....each instrumentalist is a creative artist capable of
dynamic, soul-stirring improvisation. These men have practiced over twenty
hours a week perfecting themselves, so that they are capable of performing
the most difficult passage or soloing against the most intricate chord patterns
of my compositions, without mistake or hesitation. They are dedicated to the
music of the future.
POEMS ARE MUSIC: some of the songs I write are based on my poems;
for this reason, I am including some of them with this album in order that
those who are interested may understand that poems are music, and that music is
only another form of poetry. I consider every creative musical composition as
being a t o n e p o e m .
BEAUTY AND THE PEOPLE: In a recent issue of Down Beat (Jan. 9, 1957),
Duke Ellington is quoted as saying that he is not interested in educating
people. I want to go on record as stating that I am. We cannot afford to keep
people musically ignorant; to cater to the basest public tastes as "popular"
music so often does. I believe it is the duty of all leaders (music and
otherwise) to teach the people, because not to teach them is compromising with
evil. Ignorance is evil. It is really incredible that Duke Ellington should say
"I DON'T WANT TO EDUCATE PEOPLE....My aim is to educate as many people as I can
so far as the appreciation and enjoyment of good jazz music is concerned. The
jazz leaders of today must prepare the way for the jazz of tomorrow. We m u s t
I i v e I o r the future of music. Many musicians think that most people are
destined to be musically ignorant, but I know that there is a spark in every
person which will respond and glow to the touch of beauty. Because I know this,
I am going to continue presenting beauty to the world until I ignite that spark
in people's hearts.
INSTRUCTION TO THE PEOPLES OF EARTH: vou must realize that you have
the right to love beauty. You must prepare to live life to the fullest extent.
Of course it takes imagination, but you don't have to be an educated person to
have that. Imagination can teach you the true meaning of pleasure. Listening
can be one of the greatest pleasures. You must learn to listen because by
listening you will learn to see with your mind's eye. You see, music paints
pictures that only the mind's eye can see. Open your ears so that you can see
with the eye of your mind.
AFTER-THOUGHT: I take my magic wand in hand and touch
the mind of the world;
I speak in sounds.
what am I saying?
"These are the things spoken from
these are of and are my intimate treasures,
I give them to those who live and love
both life and living."
Sun Ra, 1957
Excerpted from the liners to Delmark 411, Sun Song
Jazz Writer Terry Martin
Sun Ra is an enigma; not simply because of a few unusual costumes or a Captain
Video approach to cosmic philosophy and the inner space, rather there is the
insistent ambiguity of his personality. The improbability of his image has
depth and transforms the melange of ancient myths and comic strip futurism into
a prophetic fascination that binds his men to him (and perhaps turns others
away). It is strange not merely that an artist evinces such neo-mysticism oddly
coupled with occasional veins of commercialism, but that the alloy should so
frequently achieve true innovation and valid aesthetic expression.
If the image of the man can evoke an ambiguous response then so can his
music--and this not at the level of abounding musical symbols, or gimmicks
depending on one's sympathies, but within the substance of the music. Perhaps,
it is this quality that confers a present-day immediacy on the early recordings
of a man who was a major force in the development of the New Music. The
performances contained in this album were recorded in November 1957 for the
intermittently courageous Transition label, which ceased to exist before this
album could be issued - Vol 1 did appear - Sun Song. There are some
things here that have dated and instances where one can believe that there was
indeed that unheard-of beast, the hard bop big band--certainly no other
claimant captured the essence of that essentially small group music. But unless
one is nostalgic for surfaces only, it is the specifics of the music that
count, the qualities of the artist that reflects upon, then transform the
surfaces of style. Sun Ra in the late fifties expressed the results of his own
need for innovation-- the future--and in conjunction with Cecil Taylor
and John Coltrane did predict the new surfaces of jazz.
The success of Sun Ra's music was in large part due to the maintenance of a
core of dedication and musicianship within the bustling Chicago scene of the
mid-fifties. It is not easy to gather, then hold a group of musicians within
the shaky economic framework of a big band, particularly a band directed to
seek the unfamiliar rather than the merely comfortable. During the period prior
to this recording the work was intermittent: Sundays at Robert's Lounge, a
month at Birdland, while Ra wrote arrangements for the Red Saunders band
backing variety shows at the Club DeLisa, and filled in with the off-night
Already some permanent members had enlisted: John Gilmore, on returning
from military service (and bringing Art Hoyle with him), and Pat
Patrick, perhaps to become the Harry Carney of the band, both in longevity
and musical function. The former, best known of Ra's sidemen, is a fine
tenorist, not the equal of the masters of the instrument, but who could move
fluently within the current of the leader's work. Pat Patrick, whose meaty
asymmetric lines contrast with the more conventional Parker-derived phrases of
Charles Davis on this record, is an intriguing musician, who was,
according to Art Hoyle and to the present evidence, "blazing his own trail at
The brass section was subject to flux throughout the 50's, but did include a
number of personal stylists with more to say than certain better known names of
that period and this. The work of Hobart Dotson, Lucious Randolf
and Dave Young (heard here) leads me to believe that there is a style of
trumpet playing largely unknown to jazz enthusiasts except in the isolated
instance of another Chicagoan and ex-Mingus sideman, Gene Shaw. Some of
the characteristics of these players, the distinctive tone and the cadence
phrase construction, are also present in the solos of Art Hoyle, but the
latter is also capable of a more exuberant approach.
The rhythm section was of crucial importance in Ra's music--on joining the band
altoist James Scales was told that rhythm was the dominant factor in the
music he would play. Apart from the section of a series of fine bassists to
maintain a unified harmonic pulse, Ra has concentrated on elaboration of the
beat by use of multiple percussion. The implications of these innovations were
elaborated by the most advanced of jazz drummers (Milford Graves, for
example) and within the group music of Roscoe Mitchell and Sun Ra
himself. The percussionist's job in the early band was not easy; a pulse often
had to be firmly stated and developed against melody lines played by the rest
of the band, often in contrasting tempo or meter. The positive swing and unity
that was generated provides fitting tribute to Robert Barry, who, as
fellow percussionist William Cochran claims, provided the rhythmic
backbone. Further color was added to the section by Jim Herndon, a
classically trained timpanist.
"Music has wings. it moves upon the wings of intuition and thought." -Sun
Ra. Perhaps in 1957 jazz had not fully achieved this flight, but
Transition did capture the inkling of change in these performances and those of
Cecil Taylor. After the advent of Coltrane the music would attain that state
captured in the best work of Albert Ayler, the latter-day Chicagoans
Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman and of course Sun Ra, who said, "...the
sound of it rushes like a wild thing and takes its place at the core of even
the minutest part of being ..." More modest than that, the prophetic tones of
the earlier music remain an eloquent expression of the jazz spirit which at all
stages of its evolution bears the equality if not the forms of freedom.
Terry Martin, September 1968
From the liner notes to Delmark 414, Sound of Joy