Hear Elementary-School Musicians Perform 43 Songs by Sun Ra (1994)

If you heard Sun Ra’s Christ­mas-day radio broad­cast of poet­ry and music we fea­tured on, well, Christ­mas day, per­haps it inspired you to cre­ate some­thing — music, poet­ry, radio — your­self. More than twen­ty years after his death, the flam­boy­ant jazz vision­ary con­tin­ues to inspire all kinds of cre­ative acts on the part of his lis­ten­ers. Sure­ly he played no small part in moti­vat­ing the pro­duc­tion of Big Music, Lit­tle Musi­cians, an album by the fourth‑, fifth‑, and sixth-graders of music teacher Randy Porter’s class­es at Chabot, Mont­clair, and Thorn­hill ele­men­tary schools in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia. The album offers not just 43 (!) com­po­si­tions by these ele­men­tary school­ers, but, 42 tracks in, their inter­pre­ta­tion of Sun Ra’s “Plan­et Earth” (in its orig­i­nal form the open­ing cut from 1966’s Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra Vis­its Plan­et Earth):

You can hear the entire­ty of this out-of-print 1994 release (inci­den­tal­ly, the year after Sun Ra took his leave of plan­et Earth) at Ubuweb. “With as lit­tle as a cou­ple months of expe­ri­ence under their belts,” say the notes there, the ten‑, eleven‑, and twelve-year-old stu­dents “are encour­aged to impro­vise and com­pose and this disc doc­u­ments it.” And admit­ted­ly, “while some may cringe at some of the tech­ni­cal prob­lems young, inex­pe­ri­enced play­ers are bound to have, the cre­ativ­i­ty exhib­it­ed is unde­ni­able. It is also refresh­ing to hear such unabashed, ego­less joy as we have here. Many a sea­soned play­er could stand to give this a lis­ten.” It puts me in the mind of not just the grade-school­ers who sang David Bowie’s Space Odd­i­ty but the Portsmouth Sin­fo­nia, an ama­teur orches­tra at the Portsmouth School of Art that com­pen­sat­ed for each mem­ber’s shaky grasp of their instru­ment (includ­ing, at one point, none oth­er than Bri­an Eno’s on the clar­inet) with its sheer size and the famous­ness of its selec­tions.

Just above, you can hear a few orig­i­nal cuts of intrigu­ing­ly named big music from these lit­tle musi­cians: “Ghost Train,” “Tom Fool­ery,” and “Help! I’m Drown­ing in a Sea of Har­mo­ny.” See­ing as these kids would be the same age as me today, it would cer­tain­ly inter­est me to hear how they’ve turned out; such an ear­ly and strong dose of Sun Ra cer­tain­ly could­n’t make one’s life less inter­est­ing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Sun Ra Christ­mas: Hear His 1976 Radio Broad­cast of Poet­ry and Music

Sun Ra’s Full Lec­ture & Read­ing List From His 1971 UC Berke­ley Course, “The Black Man in the Cos­mos”

The Cry of Jazz: 1958’s High­ly Con­tro­ver­sial Film on Jazz & Race in Amer­i­ca (With Music by Sun Ra)

Ele­men­tary School Kids Sing David Bowie’s “Space Odd­i­ty” & Oth­er Rock Hits: A Cult Clas­sic Record­ed in 1976

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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