Quirky jazz musician Sun Ra celebrated by WCBN

By Rebecca Godwin, Daily Arts Writer
Published March 30, 2014

In a world where new is valued above old, it’s easy for past musicians to fade, but their music can still be relevant in today’s culture. WCBN, the student-run community freeform radio station housed in the basement of the Student Activities Building, believes in celebrating the past which is why they set up an upcoming concert to commemorate the 100th birthday of late jazz musician Sun Ra.

Sun Ra 100th Birthday Celebration Concert

April 4th, 7 pm

Sun Ra, born Herman Blount in 1914, was celebrated for being an incredible musician, poet, bandleader and philosopher. He also just happened to believe he came from the planet Saturn and wasn’t a part of the human race. Still, even with such bizarre quirks, critics agree that Ra’s music was revolutionary. He performed almost every style of jazz, from bebop to ragtime, at some point in his career and was a pioneer of electronic keyboards and free improvisation.

“He was pretty revolutionary in his approach in a lot of ways,” WCBN Events Coordinator Shelley Salant said. “He just really brought together a lot of different things.”

The group wanted a space to hold the concert that could both highlight Ra’s music as well as provide a suitable atmosphere for the event. They eventually decided on the University of Michigan Museum of Art because of its excellent acoustics and beautiful layout.

“The museum is such a beautiful space,” Salant said. “We did another WCBN concert here a couple of years ago and I think people get excited about coming to events here because it feels special.”

Lauren Harroun, the Education Program Coordinator at the museum, is in charge of public programs and student engagement and is thrilled to be assisting with an event that the museum doesn’t get to have very often.

“Because WCBN is a pretty important part of the campus community here and also because it is a student organization, we really want to support their efforts,” Harroun said. “It also allows us the opportunity to host events here at the museum that we wouldn’t otherwise program ourselves.”

The Detroit-based jazz group Planet D Nonet will perform the concert, led by group founders RJ Spangler, who plays drums, and James O’Donnell on trumpet. The group, which is made up of various veteran musicians, is known for playing a wide variety of jazz music from the classics of Duke Ellington to the more modern melodies from Sun Ra.

People who attend the event can also expect a few extras in addition to the band. One of WCBN’s DJs, Tony Audas, will be playing a variety of Sun Ra’s music before the band takes the stage and according to Salant, there could be some potential poetry readings before as well. But whatever happens, she is assured people will have a good time.

“There’s been a lot of preparation going into it, so I’m excited to have it all happen,” Salant said.