Sun Ra’s Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City

Univ. of Chicago. Oct. 2020. 328p. ISBN 9780226732077. $95. MUSIC
As a pioneer in the music of Afrofuturism, Herman “Sonny” Blount (1914–93), better known as Sun Ra, remains one of the more cosmically visionary jazz musicians that the world has produced—or perhaps the solar system, as he proclaimed that it was a visit to Saturn that set him on his musical course. With his band the Arkestra, Sun Ra incorporated a variety of musical styles to produce a unique jazz fusion; he and the group were featured in the Afrofuturist sf film Space Is the Place. Sites takes a decidedly more terrestrial approach, focusing on the “multiple spatial realities, local and translocal, of his experience in Birmingham and Chicago and…our understanding of the creative possibilities inherent in urban space.” Sites’s academic approach and writing style (his documentation and notes are superb) mean that this work will find its likeliest audience in that rarefied milieu. Readers looking for a more conventional biography should stick with John Szwed’s Space Is the Place.
VERDICT Not the launching point for an introduction to the life of Sun Ra, but rather a deeper dive into the city life and utopian vision informing his work and philosophy, emphasizing that (Urban) Space Is the Place. Recommended for academic libraries.

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