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John F. Szwed – Space Is the Place: The Life and Times of Sun Ra

This ground-breaking biography is as much about Sun Ra's music as it is about his passionate, often wildly unorthodox views on the galaxy, black people and spiritual matters.

With the various incarnations of his inimitable Arkestra, his repertoire ranged from boogie-woogie to swing to be-bop to fusion to New Age, and his influence extended throughout the jazz and rock worlds. While Sun Ra made a lifelong effort to obscure many of the facts of his early years, he did acknowledge that he was born on the planet Saturn.

John Szwed has succeeded brilliantly in delving into and evoking the life and work of this extraordinary artist.

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Canongate Books, 2000

Publisher: Canongate Books

Published: Oct 2000

Pages: 512

ISBN: 9781841950556

Sun Ra

Sun Ra was one of the greatest and least known jazz artists of the last four decades, whose influence on diverse musicians is little known to the general public. A pianist and band leader, his style ranged from retro swing to avant free, and often in the same piece. His band could play a swinging Gershwin tune and almost imperceptibly soar into their free cosmic equational tones as if they possessed a single mind. 

Ra was a keyboard improviser of great originality, but his foremost talent was for inspiring and teaching creative musicians to improvise freely but together. This tension between freedom and coherence was something he explored with abundant energy and skill. 

Sun Ra died in 1993. The Arkestra performs today, under the direction of alto saxophonist Marshall Allen.