If Sun Ra Can Die Anyone Can

Sometime after Sun Ra died in 1993 we saw Marshal Allen’s Arkestra at Milestones, that place on the corner of East and Chestnut that keeps changing hands. It was sad without the maestro and that is the last word I ever would have used to describe a Sun Ra performance. Maybe I was still in mourning.

Marshall Allen, at 96!, has kept the band together with three former members and I read an intriguing review of their newest recording. I ordered the vinyl and the first side is amazing. “Swirling,” the lp title, is apt. The new arrangements of three familiar Sun Ra songs don’t tear the roof off like Sun Ra would have but they do get the room swirling.

Peggi and I saw Sun Ra on five occasions. There is so much info online now that I was able to track down the exact dates.

November 11, 1979 Soundscape NYC
I had a few Sun Ra albums at the time but other than the Art Ensemble at the Eastman I had never seen anything as theatrically immersive. In costume the band paraded around the fifth floor loft space in Manhattan’s West 50s while chanting, dancing and playing their instruments. The show didn’t start until after midnight and the sun was coming up when we left. My brother, Mark, who was living on West 43rd with Charlie Coco, came along with us. The show was released on cd, “Live from Soundscape.”

August 11, 1986 Red Creek Rochester, NY
Sun Ra was traveling with three drummers and they couldn’t possibly fit on the stage so one set up on the floor. The violinist, Billy Bang, was in the band and two of the horn players staged a theatrical, circus-like, wrestling match with their horns as they circled each other on the dance floor. I hung on to the ticket. Someone recently posted a recording of this show on YouTube.

Sun Ra autographed record
Sun Ra autographed record

I bought two lps, “Outer Reach Intensity-Energy (Stars That Shine Darkly, Vol. 2)” and “Hiroshima” from the band after the show. Both were in a white liner sleeves without covers. The label was blank on one side of each lp. They were five bucks a piece and I got Sun Ra to sign the the white label side of each.

The albums I bought did not sound like the Arkestra and only later did I learn they both featured live tracks from the Sun Ra All Stars European tour, a sensational line-up with Don Cherry, Clifford Jarvis, Lester Bowie, Don Moye, Philly Joe Jones, Richard Davis and Archie Shepp along with Marshall Allen, John Gilmore and Sun Ra!

September 5, 1987 Village Gate NYC
The Village Gate was no bigger than Red Creek in Rochester so this was an intimate show. It was Labor Day weekend and my brother Mark was having his wedding rehearsal dinner at the Chinese place near their apartment on 96th. I spotted a listing in the Village Voice for this show and we headed downtown after dinner. The band played two long sets and sounded better than ever.

July 25, 1991 Jazzberry’s Rochester, NY
Sun Ra had had a stroke and had to be helped onto the stage but once seated he and the band launched into an extended drum/percussion improvisation. We were sitting maybe six feet from the band. Sun Ra could only use one hand and I remember him soloing during that first song with set kit sound on a Yamaha keyboard. The band sounded great “The Theme of the Stargazers,” “Second Stop is Jupiter” and “We Travel the Spaceways.”

October 18, 1991 Jazzberry’s Rochester, NY

Sun Ra had regained the use of both hands and the band, Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, and June Tyson with Buster Smith on drums, sounded as good as ever.

Marshall Allen is also a huge Sun Ra fan. If you only had one Sun Ra lp you could not beat his hand picked collection of Sun Ra tunes, Marshall Allen Presents “In The Orbit Of Ra.”

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Soccer As Jazz

Our friend, John, sent this artfully composed email in response to my “Ole” post below.

While trying to find the vid of youse guys as jazzfest aficionados, I read your Soccer as Art piece.

I can see the comparison when expressed through your artist’s eye. But not having done painting myself, I never experienced it like that. This probably applies to a majority of the readers.
A painting leaves you with a static product the can be visually enjoyed  over and over. But the game, like the jazz piece, is a snowflake never to be repeated.

But something I have done many times, and this could apply to most all readers, is that the game can be experienced as a piece of music. And jazz seems to fit particularly well.

The participants are many, like the players in a jazz ensemble, with many watchers / listeners … not just the others players seeing the opposing team’s play unfold, but the fans watching. Notice, both the soccer and the music participants are called ” players “!

When there is a break in the action, there are set pieces / plays, like a melody, to restart the play. But within a few bars / passes , the play is off in it’s own direction.

Then  there is the triangulation formation, with three players passing the ball / notes around. Sometimes, just two players are making the play with all the other participants providing the background music / movements.
Of course , there is the ever popular  “solo ” with one person making a run towards the goal. Everybody loves a good solo now and again.

Then we have the vocalizations of the players keeping each other informed as to what might be unfolding out of eyesight. This ” scat singing ” is especially musical when done in a foreign language giving the illusion of the nonsensical vocal notes  that is scatting heard in jazz.

The wild psychedelic colors of the uniforms swirling on the field provide the “light show”!

Finally, a particularly festive run to the end of a song, the goal, gets the audience on their feet applauding and hooting’ and hollerin’.
What a great piece/game that was.
One last observation.

Seems fitting that jazz is more popular in Europe, as is Soccer/futbol! Combine this with the fact that hyper speed data transmission is a given to Europeans . The multi-level, continuously evolving, higher intellect of the ethernet mirrors the same qualities attributed to soccer and jazz.

I’m still rooting for the good old USA team, but for now, the Europeans are beating us. And we love to root for the underdogs.

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Shek It Tout

Webster Park pier on Lake Ontario outside of Rochester, New York
Webster Park pier on Lake Ontario outside of Rochester, New York

John Gilmore sends us oddball emails at odd hours. Thankfully they’re the type that don’t require any action on our part. We can ignore, delete or read and we don’t have to respond. They are never stock, forwarded crap and are often tailored directly for us.

In the last few weeks he’s sent us links to a site that sells the striped shirts that Picasso favored, a link to the Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs” inclusion in a list of “Ten Best Songs Based On Books”, and this link to Wikipedia’s page on “Ostinato.” John’s email was entitled “Shek It Tout.”

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Art Channel

Harold Copp Painting #754 at Four Walls Gallery in Rochester, NY
Harold Copp Painting #754 at Four Walls Gallery in Rochester, NY

First Friday of the month usually means gallery hopping for us. The First Friday website doesn’t list them all but we usually check the list before heading out. Cool video installation at RoCo although it was a little hard to hear the soundtrack so we were sort of lost as to what it was all about. We ran into a guy that had just moved here three days ago from LA. He works for a company that makes sustainable clothing and Wegmans has just taken on the line. It’s made from hemp and recycled plastic. He was wearing a few of the pieces and they looked great.

We stopped in the Four Wall’s Gallery and took in Harold Copp’s show. He mixes silkscreen and painting in some pretty interesting ways. There are a lot more than four walls here in the basement of the Elton Street warehouse. Shawn Dunwoody has a pretty cool setup here that offers art programs to city kids. There was a band playing but they blew the sound system.

We finished the evening in surreal fashion as we watched tivo’d footage of John Gilmore art being sold on the AANtv network. If I understand this right, John bought the art from these people in the first place and he was now turning a profit on it as they auctioned it off again.

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Progress or Passage

Margaret Explosion at Little Theater Cafe in Rochester, New York
Margaret Explosion at Little Theater Cafe in Rochester, New York

John Gilmore brought a Wegman’s precooked chicken over for dinner last night. We had a salad and some salsa waiting for him but the salsa was too hot for John. We gobbled it all down and raced off to the Little for our last Margaret Explosion gig until November. We’ll use our down time next month to rehearse for the Scorgies Reunion gig. Haven’t touched most of that Personal Effects material in twenty years.

Bob Martin was out of town last night so we played with Jack Schaefer. We got through the night without doing any songs and that is usually a sign that there will be some magic on the recording. Paul Brandwein was there to hear the band and marvel at his art on the walls. We had just seen him at the Billy Bang show on Monday. Mick Sarubbi was there with his mono recording rig set up. That’s his mic in the foreground of this shot. Here’s our recording of one of the tunes from last night. We’ll have to A/B it to Mick’s.

Back home we checked out the photos that John Gilmore took at the Little while iTunes shuffled away in the background. Patsy Cline’s “Does Your Heart Beat For Me?” leveled me for some reason. Does that old stuff really sound better? Is there such a thing as progress or just passage? Like Irene (Palermo) Baurschmidt told me at our reunion, “We’re getting old, Paul”.

Dreamland Faces ignores these issues and plays timeless music. They’ll be playing saw & accordions tomorrow night while Jenn Libby projects some films at the Visual Studies Workshop – 8PM. Pick up a copy of their new BROWN HORN instrumental record while you’re there. I will be entertaining my mother-in-law.

I used the 25 dollar B&N gift certificate that the class gave me for being on the reunion committee to order the Marlene Dumas book, “Measuring Your Own Grave”. The book is a companion piece to her upcoming show at MOMA. She is my favorite living artist.

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