Jazz music has deep roots in its history. Many ancient musicians have pioneered in its development and enhancement. One of the major Pioneers of jazz music is Sun Ra. In the world of jazz music, Sun Ra remains to be one of the biggest and famous icons in the industry. He is also the most creative jazz music performer. Most people do not actually understand his style, a view of life or even his culture (Strut, 2014). For instance, he always asserted that his origin was not from this earth. He claimed to have originated from the outer space. He came to the earth to fulfill a certain mission. What is more controversial is his assertion that his mission on the earth was to save the human race as well as bring some unity to the whole world. During his performances in the live shows, he brought out all these aspects and was able to convince large gatherings of his mission and vision (Walsh, 2007). This paper will discuss the character of Sun Ra, his rise in music and his contribution in the development of Jazz Music. It will also discuss the uniqueness that he brought in to the world of music especially, jazz. The paper will also describe his early life putting more emphasis on his character and lifestyle.
Although Sun Ra received unprecedented support from his fans, he was very controversial in his life. It is highly because of his strange lifestyle that was out of order, according to many people. In addition, many people found it very controversial when he claimed that he had been from another planet and only came to the earth to fulfill a particular mission. Due to his beliefs, he developed a comprehensive and complex personal character. As a result, he was able to touch the souls of many with his classical music and lifestyle. Another controversial issue in his life was changing his original birth name. Thus, he can have a name that speaks of his personal character and beliefs. More importantly, he never liked his birth name. He claimed that those had been two different people.
Apart from having a unique lifestyle and character, his music was also unique and sometimes controversial to many people. Many of individuals who attended his live shows and listened to his music believed the following fact. His music did not belong to the current world. It accelerated the belief of his assertions that he did not personally belong to this world. It is highly because his music was so unique and did not fall under any category of the contemporary jazz music. In his early development in the music world, he was able to work with other jazz musicians and bands. Sometimes he played the role of backing up and playing the piano in most of the bands that he had joined.
Besides his music and lifestyle, the band that he formed was equally unique. He became very popular throughout his career as well as many people criticized him for this. For example, his band members wore what sounded to be funny costumes. His shows often included a mix of performers including acrobats, dancers, and singers. Despite having many critics, he had a large crowd of followers and listeners of his music equally devoted to his music and style.
Scaruffi (2006) indicates that Sun Ra often wore celestial outfits motivated by the pharaohs of antique Egypt. In addition, Sun Ra was living in a self-created lifestyle; and the culture as he claimed he had not been from the planet earth. Moreover, he introduced a new phenomenon and style in jazz music as his lyrics had been conclusively inspired from his personal beliefs and philosophies. Most amazingly, Sun Ra did not engage in any sexual relationships since he deemed himself an angel from another planet sent with a mission to accomplish. Despite all these controversies, he had developed a unique and original style of jazz music.
Development of the Career
Sun Ra was born on May 1914 in Birmingham. He started his career journey in jazz music when he moved to Chicago in the early 1950s. Here, he had a re-known jazz musician Fletcher Henderson as his director. In addition to working as a director, he had worked with many blues and R&B musicians as a backup. It was where he developed his insatiable passion for music and jazz, in particular. While in Chicago, Sun Ra did his performances as expected. There was nothing, in particular, which was unique or controversial. However, a great turn in his life occurred when he changed his name to from Blount to Sun Ra. He started his own band called the Arkestra (Rose, 2014).
In Chicago, Sun Ra had spent the significant time working with different groups and musicians as a backup and arranger in many instances. In essence, his career had developed as he pioneered various styles and cultures in the music world owing to his unique style and character. During this time, he was able to pioneer and help in the production of diverse music recordings and live shows being new and unique in the music world. His passion for jazz music had grown while performing in Chicago. He started forming his own music and live performances (McFarland, 1997).
Due to his fast growth in jazz music, Sun Ra worked with many musicians as he mentored them in jazz music. He cultivated a sense of discipline in all the musicians that he had worked with. He spent considerable time in writing new compositions and practicing his new songs. After several years of practicing and working with his band, he transferred the band from Chicago to Philadelphia in 1969. One of the band members, who played the saxophone called Allen, helped to arrange the housing of the band. He was able to convince his father who had agreed to house the band in his house. It was where the band began to bond more closely and rehearsed without any external distractions (Rose, 2014).
Sun Ra continuously composed and produced music that touched the souls of many people since it was enthusiastic and straightforward. His unique and dedicated band also helped in the development and composition of the powerful jazz music. The band composed of vocalists and instrumentalists, who sometimes provided a unique background chore for strippers. Ra continuously researched deeply and worked on his compositions thoroughly. He also added more and more members to his band to accommodate the fast development of his compositions. His band was so unique that three members of the army quit their jobs to join this band and horn players. It helped Ra to develop more jazz music and eventually do several recordings of his music (McFarland, 1997).
Most of the live performances of his band composed on the extended percussion jam with those playing the horns to switch to percussion instruments available. It made the music and performance unique and brilliant attracting many fans. Sometimes during the live performances, Sun Ra would do a solo performance of his own composition that could turn the crowd wild.
Ra created an ultimate culture with its own beliefs and ambiguities with the music and live shows. His live shows depicted religious ceremonies as he constantly compelled and challenged his audience to take a deep concern to some issues that were beyond the contemporary culture and worldview. His main aim was to introduce a new world of jazz music and deposit a new culture to his listeners and audience. His music was very touching and influential as it reflected his own life, opinions, character, and beliefs (Walsh, 2007).
Ra was unique also in his dressing and that of his band. He inspired his band to dress in conspicuous costumes derived from ancient Egypt as well as the literature. Another unique and controversial characteristic of Ra was his refusal to talk about his childhood or even his origin on this earth. He constantly claimed that he was not from this planet and was never born. Throughout his career and his life, Ra had a very little sleep. He spent most of his time creating music and practicing as well as mentoring his band (Rose, 2014).
In the development of his music career, Sun Ra did not work in a large scale but preferred to work from a small perspective. His main move interest was to influence people locally and change their thinking, opinions, and worldview with an aim of creating harmony in the world. He did not fully trust music-recording companies triggering less production and recording of his music. Even the few volumes recorded only got to the hands of his few fans. As a result, most of other renowned jazz musicians developed their popularity through numerous recordings, while Sun Ra gained popularity through his uniqueness and style. Even though not many people had a chance of listening to his music, he became very popular in jazz music (McFarland, 1997).
Many of his supporters and fans believed that his music was quite self-explanatory. It did not need a lot of description or introduction. It was inspiring in itself and got deeply into the hearts of its listeners. It just took the fans to give themselves to the music. It gave a reason and meaning to them. It was one of the most strange and unique character of Sun Ra, music and as opposed to other jazz musicians (Walsh, 2007).
To ensure that his performances and music was unique and catching, he had some tendency of pushing his band members very hard. He was very strict on them and punished those who did not strictly follow the set rules and regulations. For instance, band members who turned up late for practice or those who did not perform up to the set standards, he would lock them up in cupboards as a punishment. Others still, he would deny them a chance of performing with the band during the biggest live performances and shows. He would even announce to the crowd that such people were indiscipline so they would not perform during that time. To some of his critics, it would sound rude and ridiculous. However, it actually helped in the development of one of the best jazz bands in the history. Instilling this discipline and commitment made the band members to perform beyond their capability.
How It Works
Apart from the composition of music, Sun Ra was also a poet. He composed and wrote poems concerning his beliefs, philosophies, and lifestyles. After composing the poems, he often wrote them down in brochures and flyers for his fans to read and be inspired. However, poetry was not his favorite direction. He spent most of his time writing music. He believed that every song that he wrote communicated a certain unique story. He also asserted that all the stories in his songs were the important messages to the humanity. In addition, he claimed that he had communicated unknown issues in his songs as well as hard, old and potential things (Rose, 2014).
While he was at high school, he developed his career interest in music when he started playing piano in jazz bands. It is where he had developed a strong interest in jazz music (McFarland, 1997). He played the piano in a unique style and enthusiasm that earned him a lot of credit in jazz music. He often made the particular and unique influence to the music whenever he played piano. Most of the bands that he worked for loved him for his piano playing style. His piano playing techniques places him as one of the most powerful piano player and as one of the earlier pioneers of piano playing styles. He was able to bring out a classical effect to the music owing to his keen interest and innovation. By the mid-1950s, he had invested in diverse electric keyboards where he brought out their capability of rhythmic accompaniment of jazz music. He was able to produce unique sounds and voices never produced before and which became the core of the contemporary jazz music. Most of his live-recorded albums in the period of the 1960s and 1970s include some of the most inexplicable keyboard sounds ever produced and recorded. Most of his recordings were full of surprises in terms of piano sounds, music style, and story lines.
One of the most astonishing and perhaps shameful facts is that despite his work being unique and brilliant, most of it is not in print today. Even though his music was unique and inspiring, there are not many printed copies of his writings in terms of songs and poems. It could be partly because of his status of not viewing most recording companies reliable. Another reason for this could be that Ra claimed to be on the earth for the particular mission. The one would assume that after completing the mission, nothing remains for his course (McFarland, 1997).
Walsh (2007) claims that not all the works of Sun Ra in the music world was normal. It is evident that he recorded more than two hundred albums even though nobody is extremely sure of this assertion. He was a darling to many people as he had travelled all over the world doing his live performances especially in Europe. He made several appearances in Europe and a few in Egypt. He also featured in many films across the world and was a pioneer for the use of electronic pianos in the contemporary music. It asserts that he is one of the greatest icons in jazz music as well as other forms of music. He was also the first musician to create his individual record label and mentored several jazz and rock musicians across the world.
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Sun Ra is one of the greatest icons in the world of music especially jazz. He was able to bring a lot of uniqueness in jazz music. He has created a contemporary lifestyle that is in use even today in jazz music. His style of music was very unique as well as his worldview concerning the music industry. His music challenges listeners to view the world and humanity in a different perspective. He always claimed that he had come from another planet and only had been sent on the earth to save humanity. During his music career, he was able to start his own band that had developed and grown enormously over the years. He instilled a lot of discipline in the band, thus, changing the face of jazz music. Sun Ra remains a hero to many people who love jazz music.