‘A man cannot learn without discipline’: jazz guru Marshall Allen on life with Sun Ra – and turning 100

From fighting in a second world war cavalry unit to sharing in a vision for an interstellar Black utopia, the multi-instrumentalist – in a rare audience at his astonishing practice space – has had a musical journey like no other

Germantown, near Philadelphia, is your average small town in the north-eastern US. Some blocks boast palatial mansions, others contain boarded-up tenements. Then there are the “row houses” connected in a continuous line. They can be difficult to tell apart, but one has a very particular history.

5626 Morton Street is where Sun Ra lived from the late 1960s until his death in 1993. It’s also the place several members of his astonishing jazz ensemble, the Arkestra, still call home. The living room is the Arkestra’s main rehearsal space and a veritable shrine that honours its trailblazing leader – one of the most adventurous and open-minded musicians of the 20th century. The room is almost as eclectic as Ra was in life: a cornucopia of intergalactic sculptures, celestial regalia, portraits and paintings, plaques of honorary citizenship in Atlanta and New Orleans, a working upright bass with deep lacerations, even a hi-hat that has completely rusted.

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