That’s me sitting there in that autumnal sweater, gold sparkle drums, watching drummer Wayne Smith Jr as closely as I can. . .trying to stay in time. I received an email a few weeks ago about workshops, sponsored by Northern Spy Records, happening at a venue called the Sugarcube at South Street Seaport. The Sun Ra Arkestra would be hosting a workshop. . .playing the music of Sun Ra – and it was free. I knew I had to be there and I was also terrified.
I was afraid because I can’t swing. . .and I surely have no business playing with those guys – but the music and life of Sun Ra and his musicians is one of the foremost inspirations of my musical life. There probably isn’t anything as heavy to me. So I packed up my drums and went. . .and figured the worst that could happen was I would be humiliated – and that’s not so bad in the grand scheme.
First of all – the musicians in the Arkestra were incredibly accommodating – so there was nothing to worry about there. . .and also – the music that we played wasn’t too technically demanding. . .I could hang – at least on the surface. There are of course worlds that are not accessible to me at this time.
Marshall Allen is apparently 91 years old. I can’t even contemplate that. When he plays there’s so much energy going into the horn. . .he stands the entire time. What the hell is going on there? How is that possible? I suppose the Sun Ra Arkestra is impossibility made manifest. Nothing about it feels like it can exist in this cynical world – but it does – and it’s valued.
During the Q+A section of the workshop I asked about Sun Ra’s Disciplines because guitarist Dave Hotep spoke about learning the Disciplines when he joined in 2000 – and that’s a song title listed on a ton of live Sun Ra records. What are the Disciplines?
I was told that Sun Ra wrote 100 of them. They were pieces that you had to learn. . .and that Sun Ra felt their performance allowed the band and the audience to experience discipline and actualize it at the same time. Alto-sax player Knoel Scott quotes Sun Ra as saying, “Discipline makes the man,” and that it was a very important concept for Sun Ra.
Scott also described being a young musician in the Sun Ra house – I think he said he was 20 or 21. . .and every morning he would hear Sun Ra playing the piano. Scott described himself as young and very naive. I wondered if the resolution of the story would be something like, “you have to practice everyday,” but it wasn’t of course.
He said that Sun Ra said, (no quotes b/c they aren’t direct, I’m paraphrasing) Well – we are always asking the Creator for things. We want love, we want money, we want security, we want a mate. We walk around this world needing things, demanding things, asking for things. I WANT, I WANT. . .nobody ever gives back. Nobody gives to the Creator. Well every morning, I wake up and I give the Creator a song.