With a dizzying entries on Discogs, it could be hard for Sun Ra newcomers to know exactly where to start but never fear Sean Kitching has ten blazing suggestions. There is some uncertainty about how many albums Ra released. Most estimates are of between and and personally, I own around 70 of those.
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Le Sony'r Ra  born Herman Poole Blount , May 22, — May 30, , better known as Sun Ra , was an American jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, and poet known for his experimental music , "cosmic" philosophy, prolific output, and theatrical performances. For much of his career, Ra led "The Arkestra", an ensemble with an ever-changing name and flexible line-up. Born and raised in Alabama , Blount became involved in the Chicago jazz scene during the late s. Claiming to be an alien from Saturn on a mission to preach peace, he developed a mythical persona and an idiosyncratic credo that made him a pioneer of Afrofuturism. His widely eclectic and avant-garde music echoed the entire history of jazz, from ragtime and early New Orleans hot jazz, to swing music , bebop , free jazz and fusion. His compositions ranged from keyboard solos to works for big bands of over 30 musicians, along with electronic excursions, songs, chants, percussion pieces, and anthems. From the mids until his death, Ra led the musical collective The Arkestra which featured artists such as Marshall Allen , John Gilmore and June Tyson throughout its various iterations. Its performances often included dancers and musicians dressed in elaborate, futuristic costumes inspired by ancient Egyptian attire and the Space Age.
Sun Ra, who claimed to have been born on the planet Saturn , grew up in Birmingham, studied piano under noted teacher Fess Wheatley, and attended Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College now University. By the mids he was living in Chicago and scoring music for nightclub floor shows. In —47 he was apprenticed to swing bandleader-arranger Fletcher Henderson. From the s he led his own bands, the variously constituted Arkestras, which played his own music: an expanded hard bop that included tympani, electric piano, and flute—instruments then rare in jazz.
The prevalence of documentaries about musicians is a curse, because most of these films do a terrible job of showcasing music. It is streaming on SnagFilms and Amazon. Most often, scenes of performance, whether taken from archival clips or filmed anew for the documentary at hand, run for a few seconds at a time before being covered on the soundtrack by voice-overs. Working with existing clips of performances is a test, too—film editing and the presentation of archival material is as much a matter of art as is the use of a camera. He also films them talking about their work. There are no voice-overs, no superimposed graphics or text, only brief title cards between scenes, stating the name of the speaker or the performer or the place where a performance or a discussion is held.