Part visionary jazz ensemble, part cosmic myth, through six decades the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra has explored the breadth of American jazz, from big band and swing to bebop, free jazz, collective improvisation, and beyond.
Alabama-born Arkestra founder Herman “Sonny” Blount was an exceptional pianist and composer from a young age. A successful jazz artist living in Chicago in 1952, Blount shed his “slave name”—much like his contemporary, Malcolm X—and named himself Sun Ra, after Ra, the Egyptian Sun God. He began recounting a trip to Saturn when aliens told him he “would speak [through music], and the world would listen.” He formed his legendary Sun Ra Arkestra shortly thereafter—saxophonist Marshall Allen among the first members—and they soon adopted their signature flowing robes, pseudo-Egyptian adornments, and sci-fi headgear.
After a sojourn in New York in the 1960s, the Arkestra moved to a Philadelphia row house belonging to Marshall Allen’s father, creating a communal living arrangement so they could rehearse without distractions. Allen, now 95, has led the Arkestra since shortly after Ra departed this earth in 1993. Today he maintains the Sun Ra residence, and leads the Arkestra’s ever-evolving exploration of jazz across time and the cosmos.