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Space Is The Place: The Lives And Times Of Sun Ra Paperback – August 22, 1998
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Born Herman Poole Blount in Alabama in 1914, he reinvented himself in the 1950s as Sun Ra, the great surrealist of jazz whose free-form performances with his Arkestra amply justified the description "'jspace music." His mystical beliefs were equally avant-garde; Yale professor John Szwed sympathetically explains some fairly far-out notions as "driven by a hunger for totality that only music could express." Szwed recovers the biographical facts Sun Ra was often at pains to obscure, without losing sight of the overriding role imagination played in this visionary life. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
... Szwed has produced a rare jazz biography--one that takes full account of the history that shaped the music and its central personalities. An anthropologist, historian and musicologist who teaches at Yale, Szwed brings an impressive array of skills to this job. He needs them all to track down a subject whose every word seems intended to protect him from scrutiny. -- The New York Times Book Review, Brent Staples
One of America's most prolific and daring musicians, Sun Ra located himself in outer space, beyond both the geographical limits of the United States and the ideological limits of Jim Crow and the Cold War. Such views, spliced with a homegrown Egyptology, earned Sun Ra a reputation as an Afro-eccentric charlatan-genius in the tradition of Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad, and kept his"Arkestra" below the radar of concert halls and record companies. This biography charts Sun Ra's career, showing how he defied critics' periodization schemes, pioneering free jazz and electronic music in the 1940s and reviving big bands in the 1970s. Szwed presents Sun Ra's neoplatonic philosophizing as serious scholarship, however, rather than the charismatic myth-making and -unmaking that it clearly was. The book's treatment of his music--a joyful noise authorized by biblical prophecy, rooted in his native Birmingham's African-American fraternal, club, and society dance orchestras of the 1930s, and branching out into the heavenly spheres--suffers by comparison. Perhaps this late romantic jazz totalist, who shunned sex and drugs, rejected modern notions of race and nation, and took his merry band of"tone scientists" on shoestring-and-bootstrap world tours, will never be brought down to earth.
Copyright © 1996, Boston Review. All rights reserved. -- From The Boston Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Ra has made much of his swing era big band background, having arranged for and performed with Fletcher Henderson ca. 1947, during that band leader's years of decline. This book documents something much less obvious: Ra's indebtedness to doo wop, R&B and even mood music. Who would have guessed the resemblance to Les Baxter? I now hear both Ra and Baxter with new ears. Starting in the first chapter, the book provides important background available nowhere else, such as detailed description of the 1930s Birmingham social clubs, a little known musical scene.
About two thirds of the way through, the narration freezes and the book gets bogged down in describing Ra as a philosopher and poet. This is rather thin soup. Szwed tosses out twenty-dollar terms like "gnosticism" without giving any clear evidence that he, or Ra for that matter, really understands them. Fact is that Ra's genius was largely intuitive, and his uses of Egyptian history and futuristic technophilia were largely metaphorical posturing. Ra's philosophy and poetry are valuable only because he was a musical genius. Students of the music should remember that the programmatic content was used ritually in performance but in no way validates his music or makes it better.
The chapters covering the 1930s through 1960s are fairly detailed. In contrast, the narration about Ra's last 15 years (1977-92) is curtailed (perhaps by a deadline), and we get barely one page per year of activity.Read more ›
Szwed's book also delves deeply into the space-influenced philosophy of Sun Ra and its emphasis on "discipline" and "precision." While Szwed features direct quotes when possible, he also paraphrases the philosophy of Sun Ra frequently. His analysis could have gone much farther into Ra's critique of Christianity and his use of language. At one point, he mentions that both Ra and Nietzsche "unflinchingly assaulted received Christianity" (p.383), but he does not extend his analysis further. (It would have been interesting to compare how both artists used the theme of "overcoming" in their art, or perhaps a discussion of the similarities in their critiques of democracy.Read more ›
The book's story is one of a man with artistic genius within him, who probably could have been a millionaire and musical "star" - who chose to do other things instead. Here is the unusual story of what he did and why he did it.
There is room for another book in the world on Ra's discography, that traces the patterns, forms, and themes of his vast catalogue of recorded music. There is room in the world for a book that tells the stories of the members of Ra's Arkestra. But this is not those books, this is the first logical step in studies : an explanation of Sun Ra himself. It's a difficult job very well done.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
There.'s never been anyone like Sun Ra, a visionary musician, activist and theorist who rose from obscurity and the African-American jazz world of the 1940/ to international... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Howard Mandel
I've not had an easy year. Extreme stress, trauma, working constantly, moving back and forth across the country, and repairing several addictions. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Anthony J Parks Jr
We learn of Ra's life & of Birmingham & Chicago. I haven't finished it yet but I believe we might read all books about Ra. He seemed to read every book he could find.Published 22 months ago by A. Sykora
A well done examination of Sonny Blount, a.k.a. Sun Ra that offers a path to understanding the complex reasoning behind the music Sun Ra created. Read morePublished on May 5, 2014 by Dick Cooper
Space Is The Place is John F. Szwed's remarkably well-researched biography of Sun Ra. Speaking as a professional jazz musician, I appreciated the compelling insights into the... Read morePublished on October 16, 2013 by Mark S. Williams
I've always loved SUN RA. I own about 20 Sun Ra CDs and already knew a bit about him. But this book really makes you appreciate the ARTIST. Read morePublished on July 6, 2013 by michael moodgroove
The author of this book was most successful in conveying the feeling of inspiration which fuels the artistry in Sun Ra's music. Read morePublished on September 8, 2012 by Thomas M. Galla