The depth and breadth of music featured on Saturday Night Live in its first decade is stunning – from Frank Zappa to Miles Davis to Gil Scott Heron and many more, there was seemingly no boundary the show wouldn’t cross. They proved that for sure in May of 1978 when they featured their first extraterrestrial artist – Sun Ra!
Jazz musicians are now viewed as being anti-technology, but that wasn’t always so – Quincy Jones recorded the first synthesizer in 1964, Pat Metheny was a pioneer of guitar synthesizers, and in 1956 Sun Ra recorded the first electronic piano recording. It was just the first of many excursions for the man born Herman Sonny Blount.
Of all the jazz musicians, Sun Ra was probably the most controversial. He did not make it easy for people to take him seriously, for he surrounded his adventurous music with costumes and mythology that both looked backward toward ancient Egypt and forward into science fiction. In addition, Ra documented his music in very erratic fashion on his Saturn label, generally not listing recording dates and giving inaccurate personnel information, so one could not really tell how advanced some of his innovations were. But despite all of the trappings, Sun Ra was a major innovator.
My personal favorite recording of his is Atlantis, followed closely by Space is the Place. Both highlight his amazingly inventive and joyous spirit and love of open musical exploration … but neither are all that easy for most audiences, even 40 years after initial release.
I am always amazed to find existing tape of these great artists from Saturday Night Live, especially when it is something I have seen but assumed were lost to the vagaries of memory. Here is the description of the show:
V78.5.21. Saturday Night Live
NBC TV show, live from New York City. 5/21/78. 5 min. TV Broadcast, tinny sound. [Iannapollo]
Described by Sun Ra as 6 pieces in 6 minutes, but what is preserved is:
Space is the Place (Ra)
The Sound Mirror (Ra)
Sun Ra and his Jazz from Another Planet Arkestra: unidentified-tp, flg; Tony Bethel-tb; poss. Craig Harris-tb; Vincent Chancey-Frh; Marshall Allen-as, fl; Danny Davis-as, fl; John Gilmore-ts, cga; Eloe Omoe-bcl; James Jacson-bsn, perc; Danny Ray Thompson-bs; Ra-syn, org, voc; Luqman Ali-d; unidentified-cga; prob. Cheryl Banks-dance; prob. Judith Holton (Wisteria el Moondew)-dance; prob. Mickey Davidson-dance. [Tunes Trent; personnel rlc from still photo in Down Beat, 9/93, p. 27; I thought the trumpeter was Eddie Gale, but he says he wasn’t there.]
Entry from Moudry’s Sun Ra Tapeography
Enjoy the crazy show that only Sun Ra could have presented!