Though it remains an important part of his legacy, in many ways Sun Ra’s outrageous persona, his personal mythology and bizarre Astro-Afro-Egyptian equations, have clouded our appreciation of his contribution to American music in the twentieth century. Indeed, when one considers his early experimentation with electronics and recording effects, his technical adroitness at the piano, his brilliant ensemble writing, and his fluency in multiple musical languages—from swing to free jazz and beyond—Ra suddenly looms very large in the musical pantheon.
Most of my exposure to Sun Ra has come through Michael Ray. I almost wish I had known nothing about him before I heard his music. Before I started working with Michael, my idea of Sun Ra was out music and trippy costumes. Even when I heard his band at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in 1999, my young impressionable head couldn’t get past the dancing and costumes to get to the music.
The music is heavy on its own. We should all make an effort to check our Sun Ra on solely musical terms, then we might have a greater understanding of the whole that is Sun Ra.