PRINT November 1997


Sun Ra

When SUN RA first came to New York and walked into the Five Spot, Charles Mingus asked him, “What are you doing down here, Sunny?” Sun Ra answered, “I come down to the Village a lot.” “No,” said Mingus, “I mean what are you doing down here on Earth!”

Quite a few of our best musical minds are of interplanetary origin—Alexander Scriabin, Moondog, Albert Ayler, and Captain Beefheart. With good fortune, those of us with longstanding Earth roots may be privy to the cosmic philosophies of these otherwordly artists. Sun Ra believed man a victim of confounded histories and that truth was to be located in the lower strata of daily life. He chose musicians for their talent and their antisocial, downtrodden dispositions, and created a cult of mystic dialogue, sophisticated artistry, and disciplined ritual.

John F. Szwed, a professor of anthropology and Afro-American studies at Yale, has a keen and

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