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Sun Ra

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?

Listen!

"These are the things spoken from

my heart...

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 band.

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 time".

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