This story first appeared in the 1996 Moers Jazz Festival program.
For those who attended the Moers Festival in 1979, they should remember the closing show of the last night as being one of the most exceptional events in the Moers Festival historythe night the Sun Ra Arkestra landed there.
Getting Sun Ra to bring the Arkestra was quite a challenge to festival organizer and impresario Burkhard Hennen, since at the Moers Festival in 1978 he told me that he had tried several times to contact Sun Ra to arrange for them to come. Each time he would talk with Sun Ra on the telephone, Ra talked of mathematical equations, interplanetary structures, cosmic alignments and other subjects that made the reality of organizing a performance quite difficult. This type of discussion was quite typical with Sun Ra, and since I had often experienced that type of dialog with him before, I promised Burkhard to try to convince him into coming to Moers.
Some months later, I was at the Squat Theater in the Chelsea district of New York City
after a four hour set by the Arkestra during which Sun Ra was focusing heavily on the subject of discipline in the "cosmo drama" segments that made up that performance. I talked with Ra backstage where he was "holding court," as he would often do between sets, talking about all manner of subjects and issues to a group of people that gathered around him and listened to whatever direction the discussion would go.
I first reaffirmed to Ra my agreement that the lack of discipline was one of the major problems on Planet Earth. He then began a discourse of nearly 30 minutes on the subject touching on how he chose to live in the United States rather than Europe because there were more problems that he wanted to solve for the citizens of the USA even though it would be easier for him and the Arkestra to live and work in Europe. He talked about how he went to the United Nations and demanded to speak to the person in charge and found that there was no one who could speak on behalf of the planetso he challenged how could they call themselves the United Nations, suggesting that possibly if they changed their name to United Governments, they would have a better chance of understanding what was needed to do to organize. He touched on how he was offered the job of Minister of Culture in France, but turned it down since there was so much work to do in straightening out the discipline problems in America.
I then suggested to Ra that America was not the only country with problems. I told him "You know Sun Ra, the Germans lack discipline." His animated response to this went on for nearly another half hour as he talked about how the social and political problems historically in Germany brought the planet to near destruction and how Berlin as a city under siege with a wall keeping people from escaping in any direction was an example for how we are earthbound due to the discipline problems. I then suggested to Ra that there was a place in Germany where he could communicate his ideas about discipline and the future to the German people, at a place (the Moers Festival) where key people gathered each year that would listen to and understand his message and perhaps do something to resolve these problems.
Sun Ra instantly agreed that this would be an important thing to do in light of the destiny of the planet, so the connection was made that led to Sun Ra not only agreeing to come to Moers, but seeing that as an important priority. There were, though, some unusual events that happened when the Arkestra arrived to communicate with the German people. In 1979, the festival was held on the same site as today, but without a tent. It began raining heavily one hour before the Arkestra was scheduled to perform and the audience was getting soaked. As the stage was being set up for the nearly 20 musicians, the rain showed no signs of stopping, which disturbed Ra greatly. "I want the people to be able to concentrate on what I have to say and understand this discipline message" were his words before he went to the musicians tent and had what he termed a "conversation with the fellas." This later was clarified by Ra to be a talk with the cosmic forces to get them to stop the rain. James Jackson, the bassoonist and African drummer in the band, remembers that Sun Ra contacted the cosmic coordinator in such cases and instructed the Arkestra to play an anti-rain chorus before going on stage to get the rain to stop during the performance.
And sure enough, as the band started going on stage, the downpour of rain suddenly stopped. The audience warmly responded to that and to the new outpour of sound that came from the Moers stage that night to close the festival. I have seen the Arkestra in many unusual manifestations, but that night was the most intense and memorable of the hundreds of Arkestra performances I ever witnessed. The music almost leaped off of the stage in a larger than life event where Sun Ra got his discipline message across through compositions like Discipline 27-II and other selections specially rehearsed for the Moers event. As Sun Ra conducted the Arkestra at the front of the stage, lightning bolts were coming from the sky as he lifted his arms to signal the musicians on the opening chart of the set. To say the overall event was intense is a gross understatement. The totality of the selection of music reminded me of an introduction to a Ra performance earlier that year where the announcer said "If you study the entire history of jazz music in all of its styles and forms, Sun Ra has been there and left."
When the set was over, the musicians left the stage and the rain suddenly returned to scatter the audience as they headed to shelter for the night. I was staying at the home of the parents of one of the festival workers. When I got to their place, they asked me how I could stand to be outdoors in the heavy rain for the last two hours. I told them that it had stopped for an hour when the Ra Arkestra was on stage, but they said that this was impossible, since they were no more than 150 meters from the festival grounds and the torrential rain was continuous. Even when they had recently taken their dog for a walk at the perimeter of the festival grounds while all that "wild and crazy music" was audible, they said it was a constant downpour.
The next day, I confirmed with other people in the village of Moers that the rain was uninterrupted, so it was clear that Sun Ra had arranged for the rain to not fall on the festival area, so that everyone there could be comfortable and absorb his message. This was one of three times that Ra had successfully halted a rainstorm through his cosmic connections. James Jackson recently told me that at the Ann Arbor Jazz and Blues Festival, Ra got the rain to not fall in a square perimeter surrounding the band so that the instruments would not get wet (the audience was not so lucky in that case) and at a Newport Jazz Festival another torrential downpour was temporarily halted during a Ra set that continued as soon as the musicians left the stagejust like at Moers.
That is not to say that the intergalactic intervention at Moers was not special, because it certainly was. Sun Ra came prepared to Moers, with in fact a half ton of large containers that had to be transported from the Dusseldorf Airport to Moers by a farm tractor pulling an attached wagon. James Jackson told me that he remembers all the extra costumes, murals, props, and things that they brought that time, since Sun Ra told them to "bring everything." They did, because this event was very serious for them. Burkhard Hennen told me that they did not open many of those containers, but this was unnecessary with the arsenal of sound, dance, and theater that made up the Arkestra performance that evening.
Sun Ra has now left the planet and is no doubt leading the interplanetary version of the Arkestra with outbound members like John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Danny Davis, Eloe Omoe and June Tyson who were at Moers in 1979.
Photo courtesy Sun Ra LLC and SunRa.com