This tribute to the innovative jazz keyboardist and band leader synthesizes brilliant paintings with a narrative that strikes just the right chords for its audience.
Born Herman Blount, aka Sonny, Sun Ra was an adept pianist by age 11 and gigging as an Alabama teen. A conscientious objector during World War II, Sun Ra thereafter dove into Chicago’s vibrant jazz and blues scene. He and his band, the Arkestra, moved to New York in the 1960s, baffling some but pleasing jazz giants like Monk and Dizzy. Later based in Philadelphia, Sun Ra and company traveled the globe. Raschka respectfully embeds Sun Ra’s iconoclastic philosophical perspective into the narrative, adopting a playfully conspiratorial tone: “Sun Ra always said that he came from Saturn. / Now, you know and I know that this is silly…. / And yet. / If he did come from Saturn, it would explain so much. / Let’s say he did come from Saturn.” Raschka likens the Arkestra to sailors bound for “a new world of sound” and calls their sleep-averse, bookstore-roaming leader “an intergalactic boulevardier.” Incorporating musical notation sheets into luminous watercolor-and-ink pictures, Raschka repeats their horizontal lines in piano strings, library bookshelves, city blocks and the very rectangularity of many compositions. The joyful palette—yellow, red, blue-green, sienna—and wildly gestural black ink celebrate Sun Ra’s unique spirit.
Unequivocally stellar. (biographical note, selected discography in both aftermatter and on illuminated endpapers) (Picture book/biography. 6-9)