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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.
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Author John F. Szwed does an almost impossible task of peeling of the layers of myth and disinformation to present the real life, struggles and triumphs of Sun Ra. Szwed brilliantly weaves through the situations which shaped his life while growing up in Birmingham, Ala., the highs and exteme lows in the jazz world of Chicago and New York City & how persistence finally yielded an understanding - on various levels - from fans who also wanted to challenge the barriers erected in the music industry.
The philosophy of Sun Ra is explained and Szwed shows how it influenced every facet of his life on and off stage. I strongly believe Szwed ends any debate on how Sun Ra lived his life and what he demanded from those around him.
This must have been a very difficult undertaking for Szwed, but his outstanding research and balanced reporting yields a fantastic biography on a person we can continue to learn from.