No longer with us, Mr. Herman Blount was the mystical Philadelphia jazz maven Sun Ra. Mr. Ra, Mr. Re = mystery. “His story is not my story – what’s your story?” – and other such incomprehensible dialogue. Ever see his film, “Space Is The Place”?
In the 90’s, I worked at Poo Bah Record Shop in Pasadena, CA, while it was owned and operated by Jay Green, It was a “jazz place”, and we would often speak of Sun Ra, Hermeto Pascoal etc. In the 80’s, I saw the Sun Ra Arkestra play at Myron’s Ballroom in downtown Los Angeles; I went down there with Joel Levicke, a “rep” from an importer who was / is a friend of mine. The Arkestra sang and danced – played the jazz of the cosmos while we were merely spectators. “Prepare yourself for the moonship journey…journey on the moonship!”, they cheerfully sang – as they hopped up at a pre-determined time. What had we just seen?
I saw Sun Ra one more time – at the Club Lingerie in Hollywood – a smaller venue than Myron’s Ballroom. I don’t remember them dancing through the audience like they did at Myron’s – I distinctly remember thinking “This sounds like a Fletcher Henderson arrangement of…” – big band jazz.
My fondest memory of Sun Ra comes via something that I remember from working at Poo Bah’s: Mr. Ra was going to be releasing his records on his own record label: Saturn Records! I remember that Jay called them, to order a box of 25 records. When it arrived… Every copy of the phonograph record looked different, all had hand-made covers. There were no titles on any of the records. But…it was 25 different records, not 25 copies of the same record (as was presumed)!
One of the men in the Arkestra, John Gilmore, was from Chicago – and he was on a Blue Note LP, “Blowin’ In From Chicago” – which was quite good, for late 50’s US jazz. I’m actually surprised that I remember that, lo these many years later! (No, I never got a copy of it).
I believe that the Arkestra continue performing (under the direction of Marshall Allen), after Sun Ra got on his final moonship journey. I don’t believe they’ve been through L.A. lately, however. http://www.thesunraarkestra.com/