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Marshall Allen's Muse

By Published: October 18, 2004

AAJ: Do you think the Arkestra was a big push and an influence on things like the Guild and the AACM?

MA: Oh yeah, he was moving and putting things on, getting formulas together for the music. He had a style that sounded chaotic sometimes, but it was together, and of course it was an influence on different groups. We were swingin', and we played all kinds of music from all over the world. Everything I wanted to play, I could play in the band. I could do the same things in this band and more.

AAJ: It sounds like you had an influence, as did everybody, on the direction the music would go.

MA: I did what I thought he wanted me to do, so he was bringing out the best in me and all the rest of us. You find yourself way out of line and you listen to some of each other's things and get yourself together. Have some discipline and study, all those things that we need. Sometimes you didn't understand everything he'd say, especially when you're grown - if you're younger, your parents tell you things, but when you're grown, it's kinda hard. You want to go on and do what you want to do.

AAJ: It sounds like it was metaphorically a way of teaching people that they can learn.

MA: He was teaching us how to play music, be creative, and do it for a reason, not just for fun. In order to do that, you had to isolate yourself, discipline yourself and study, study, study. When you do come out, you have everything for the 21st century. We're talking about 'what are we going to do now' when we're still in the middle of the other one. "This is for tomorrow." But we're thinking 'what about now? Tomorrow?'

AAJ: Well, now that you're in tomorrow'

MA: Then I've got Tomorrow [laughing]! He started making all these poems and everything, "Tomorrow never comes / Never comes tomorrow" and stuff like that. Everything is tomorrow; he's doing it for the 21st Century and here we are in the 21st Century still doing it. The next generation will accept things better than the last one, so it moves like that. That's part of what he meant too, take time to develop and be ready when the 21st Century comes.

AAJ: Do you find that in the climate now, both among other musicians and listeners, that they are still as 'on the cusp' as they were a few years ago?

MA: A lot of musicians are not here anymore, but new ones are coming up and getting it together, but it's just like when we were coming up, we didn't have a big band - everybody wanted to be an individual or something. Everybody wanted to learn their horns, and we have to take the knowledge of the old school and teach from there.

AAJ: Right, because people are coming to the Arkestra already knowing what it is or was about.

MA: That's right, because before we had a different style and were talking about space and a better world and things, doing the music from the spiritual side of it as well as the physical, and all those things, and attention should be brought to the music. We try to move along with the times and the music of the people. When I first got into the band, we had a swing style, a dance band style, and we played a lot of the dances. So I said 'I'm gonna start like that too!', because I never had a band before. I said I could do one thing, and that's writing some melodies and having a dance band too. It's my turn to get busy and contribute to [its growth].

AAJ: Was there ever any doubt that you would take on the group after Sun Ra made his transition?

MA: No, you know, you don't think like that. Everything's going along fine, and you're not thinking about taking over. It was a necessity that somebody do something because everybody was passing away or going on. I said well, I don't know what to do, so I'll just do the best that I can. I never had to worry about being the leader because I just did my job as a sideman. Then, all of a sudden, I have to do all the stuff and I'm like 'whoa, uh oh!', taking everything on. But I try, may as well keep going on and do what we're doing and keep developing.

AAJ: What I was asking was whether there was any thought given to discontinuing the Arkestra.

MA: Well, everything goes through your mind when it's all on your shoulders. You're used to being around but you weren't the one to do it. You always had help from somebody, and with Sun Ra, it was always up to him. I did what I was told and went about my business. But now, I had to pull the stuff together, and I had to get the ones that knew about it and ask for their help. People were helping me keep it together, and I'd learn the ways, how to be a bandleader.

AAJ: Which you were watching the whole time.

MA: I'd been watching the whole time, so I'd go back and see all the things that Sun Ra had done and kept some of them, others I threw out. It's my way to keep things going, but it's kind of frightening to have everything in your lap all of a sudden. You say 'what am I going to do - should I do this, should I do that?' I thought I may as well stick it out and get some fellas that know something about this band, and maybe it wouldn't be so hard. I've got some help there, taking care of business - I wouldn't be able to do all this myself, you know, it's too hard.

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