The Black Metropolis Research Consortium awards research fellowships to fortunate artists and scholars. The thing that really excited me about the fellowship is that it welcomed research from visual artist and filmmakers. After meeting the director, Vera Davis, and learning that she herself is a filmmaker, this made more sense and speaks the the institutional importance of interdisciplinary scholars and artists – you never know where we’ll end up and what doors out special pockets of knowledge might open. The fellowship has been fantastic. Aside from meeting the other scholars and hearing a little about their fascinating projects, we’ve breakfasted in The Quadrangle Club and feasted on huge quantities of beef at a Brazilian BBQ restaurant. Hospitality is a particular form of grace of which Dr. Davis abundantly practices.

Anyway, I’m spending most mornings in the Special Collections of the University of Chicago Jazz Archive.

The papers stored here were donated by writer, scholar and art facilitator John Corbett (see earlier post). He describes his acquisition of the papers as one of the many undeniable “coincidences” one experiences when one orbits around Sun Ra. After culling through the material for a couple of years, he decided that the world should have access to this amazing cache of ephemera from Sun Ra’s life and the life of his business partner, Alton Abraham. As I go through the sketchbooks, letters, receipts, poetry revisions, etc, I am overwhelmed by the depth and scope of Sun Ra’s practice and the dedication exhibited by ALton Abraham in supporting and facilitating this (initially) shy and reclusive genius’ career.

My main interest in the papers are the ways in which Sun Ra’s recordings were produced, pressed, and distributed by hand – DIY punk rock style.  I am investigating his production processes, aesthetic patterns and the scope of his collaborative research with other members of the Thmei (or El Saturn) Research Group. I have drooled over a hand screenprinted LP jacket for Silhouettes in Jazz and teared up over the revisions and corrections scribbled in the margins of typed  poetry manuscripts. Sun Ra was a serious and committed writer. The vivid and hyperbolic rants that appear in his early broadsheets later evolved into very nuanced poems culminating in an entire second volume of the Immeasurable Equation series.  I have taken loas so snaps of papers in the archive, but it’s the little things that really move me.

Sun Ra's signature on a sheet of paper with lists, doodles and notations. From the Alton Abraham / Sun Ra Collection at the University of Chicago Special Collections.

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