Top 40 Over 40.5: Sun Ra, live in 1989

One of my great regrets in life is that I never got to see Sun Ra and his Arkestra live before the great man passed.  If I had arrived a little earlier, I would have.  They played the campus of the University I attended the year before I got there – which was in fact the same year in which the television performance I am posting today took place, 1989.  NPR posts a lot of videos and audio files of performances by aging jazz musicians.  None of them in my mind measure up to the level of quality you can see in this late Sun Ra appearance.  I took a course in the History of Jazz my first year in school and we saw a film about Sun Ra that featured a rooftop performance on the roof of a townhouse in Philadelphia where they were living at the time.  It is simply the greatest concert performance I”ve ever seen – the rooftop show the Beatles did doesn’t even come close.  One of the beautiful things about Sun Ra is the longevity of the working relationships he maintained with his collaborators in his Arkestra.  The most well known of them appeared in that earlier film I saw in school, as well as in this 1989 TV performance: vocalist June Tyson and the saxophonists Marshall Allen and John GIlmore.  When I started putting out lo-fi records, one of my favorite inspirations for cover art were albums I had found that Sun Ra released on his own label, in between releases he put out on “real” record labels.  One was printed on blue cardboard with an orange xeroxed still life of a bowl of fruit glued to the cover.  Another came in a shiny gold sleeve with a similar glued-on sheet of paper containing a drawing and the track listings.  Much as Sun Ra’s music took you beyond the limitations of the “world” of planet earth as constructed by society, these artifacts from his workshop took you beyond the mediation of commercial labels like Impulse to the heart of where the creative process lived for this great artist.    I really can’t think of anyone else who produced the sheer volume of great records that Sun Ra did.  One of the best things about this youtube age is the opportunity to see videos like this one, especially for those of us who never got to see the real thing:

“What do you do when you know that you know, that you know that you’re wrong?  You got to face the music, you got to listen to the cosmos song.”

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