Sun Ra Charts

This collection came to me by way of Eugene Chadbourne, who got it from a guy who offered him a copy of “the Sun Ra band book” a few years ago. No idea who that guy was, or if this was actually the band book at one point (see comment below), but he provided a very nice collection of over 90 charts from Sun Ra covering 1936-1978. Most were composed by Sun Ra, but there are also charts by Ronald Boykins, Julian Priester, Marshall Allen and others.

For me, part of the fascination with this music is seeing the evolution of Sun Ra’s name. The earliest chart, from December 1936, is credited to Sonny Blount. A few years later we see the introduction of Herman Poole Blount. 1952 is the first time in this collection that credit is given to “Sun Ra” followed by variations including Le Sonyr Ra (or Le Sony’r Ra) or Le Sun Ra. John Szwed’s “Space Is The Place” includes some interesting discussions on the evolution of Sun Ra’s name and the various names for the Arkestra.

With a couple of exceptions all of these charts appear complete. Many are fairly basic lead sheets or piano versions (though interestingly many do not have written chord changes), a few are fully fleshed out arrangements. Based on the date and this post, I believe the “unknown” chart to be “Out of Sight” but I cannot find a recording for comparison.

All of these charts are provided for academic purposes only. Buy Sun Ra’s recordings, go see the Arkestra if they come to your town, support the music as best you can, preferably by performing these tunes to keep the music alive.

If you find any errors, please let me know here.

Download the collection here.

17 thoughts on “Sun Ra Charts”

  1. Amazing to have this in PDF form. This is definitely not the band book per se, it’s part of the Library of Congress copyright files. Paper copies of most of these, and some not here, appeared somewhat mysteriously, unsolicited, in two large packages in the mailboxes of some known Sun Ra researchers and aficionados, including me, I believe in the late 1990s. I’m pretty sure it was after the Szwed bio and Robert Campbell discographies were published, and I know it was well after my 1992 MA thesis on Sun Ra’s music. Not sure of the legalities involved! These are mostly sketch scores prepared for copyright documentation; for example, to save fees, he would present groups of discrete compositions as “suites” so several could be copyrighted for one fee. The notes that are there are accurate, as far as I can see — most of the Sun Ra pieces are in his own hand, and he was meticulous — but not all the parts or harmonizations are there, and we know from one video and one CD that he dictated and changed harmony parts in rehearsal, as well as writing them. Some of these are confusing: “Shadow World” doesn’t resemble the recorded versions, to my knowledge — correct me if I’m wrong. “Advice to Medics” seems to include Sun Ra’s own transcription of his improvisation, far more detail than needed for copyright, and it’s a solo Wurlitzer piece (speeded up on record — goes above range of Wurly, as my student Eric Lane noticed.) “Space Loneliness” suite seems to be missing here, and contains many of the great tunes of the time. But there are some tunes here I didn’t have, by others (Richard Evans, for ex.). I could go on…Thanks!

  2. what a find indeed! I’ve been working towards putting my own stack to good use since receiving them about a decade ago, and had dreams of someday scanning them in to share; thanks so much to everyone in the chain of helpers who brought this zip file to the ‘net, you’ve just saved me a lot of work! 🙂

  3. I have been looking for something like this for years! Thanks for making them available.

    Are there any more to come? Does anybody know what titles go with the numbers in the “suites”? If these are in the Library of Congress, is there some way the public can access them ?

    1. I’ve posted everything I have. If anyone else has some to share I’d be happy to post them.

      I’d imagine that if they are in the Library of Congress there would be some way to access them, though it the material might not be digitized. If you find more please share!

  4. Dave! Long time no see! I’m likely doing a sun-ra centennial concert in austin, tx next month, and the leader sent me a link to your page here. hope all is well dude, drop me a line!

    1. Hey dude! Nice to hear from you. Hilarious how this post is making the rounds. Hope your gig kicks ass! My band is playing on 5/22 for his centarary, but we’re not going to be playing his tunes, because we’re jerks.

  5. This was circulated through people on the Sun Ra maillist back in the mid-late 90s. “Baby Won’t You Please Be Mine” was an unknown pop song until a home recording of it turned up on a recent LP issue. “Birds Without Wings” has, as far as I am aware, has never turned up in any recorded form. I wrote an arrangement on the middle section, which makes for a lovely, chorale-like ballad. “Satana” also, to my knowledge, never turned up on a recording. This is significant, considering it is a companion work to the signature work “Saturn”. Many of the inclusions are transcriptions of improvisations. By the looks of them, they’re sometimes hurriedly done and not always accurate. “Orbitration in Blue” is a blues piece; at least at one time, there was only one known extant copy of the 7″ record. If I’m inaccurate in any way, please feel free to correct me.

  6. I downloaded the zip file but there are no files inside. This feels like a cosmic joke with with Sun Ra laughing from up above. “The charts are there, you just can’t seen them, because you expect them to look like music!

    1. I just downloaded them and unzipped without any problems. Maybe try a different browser or unzip with a different program? Not sure how to help you, but it isn’t a joke, or at least not an intentional one. Your comment almost makes me wish it was.

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