Sacvs Interview with Michael Ray of the Sun Ra Arkestra
We are very proud to present the following interview with New Orleans resident and the Intergalactic Research Tone Scientist for the innovative and legendary Sun Ra Arkestra, Michael Ray. Michael Ray plays trumpets amongst many other instruments and has played and written material for many Kool & The Gang albums. He has toured constantly for over 40 years in various groups and is on close to a 100 albums. His tenure with Sun Ra presented a life long journey of sound that Michael Ray and the rest of the Arkestra is still keeping alive. This interview covers many periods of Michael Rays career, a career that has endless amounts of knowledge and stories.
Sacvs Interview with Michael Ray of the Sun Ra Arkestra
You have been playing in the Sun Ra Arkestra since the late 70′s, how and where did you meet Sun Ra?
I met Sun Ra at a festival in Phila. I was playing with the John Mennis big band, and the Arkestra was on the bill. I was amazed that all the musicians had suitcases filled with music! Sometime after that I had seen him on the trolley and told him how much I enjoyed his performance. He then invited me to come over and rehearse, the rest is history.
Your trumpet playing comes through beautiful on the Sun Ra masterpiece Lanquidity, how was the rehearsals for this album and how long did it take to prepare?
The Lanqiudity sessions was done in NY on the Phila Jazz label. For most of Sun Ra’s life he would rehearse the band every day, sometimes 10-15 hours a day so we had plenty of material. I do remember the producer hanging a pyramid over the mixing board during the recording.
Out of all of the Sun Ra charts you have studied over the years, what are the ones closest to your heart?
The big band arrangement of “Enlightenment” is my favorite along with “Opus in Springtime, and of course “They’ll Come Back”. I remember June Tyson singing that in Germany and I couldn’t stop crying.
How many Sun Ra recordings are you on and what were the most challenging records for you to make with Sun Ra?
There are many lengthy stories about all the band members and the type of directions they would receive from Ra, what were some of the ways Sun Ra changed you as a musician and as a human being?
Now that Sun Ra has been gone from this planet for some time now, do you get moments where you feel the presence of Ra?
What are some of the philosophical subjects and views that Sun Ra gave you that stick out the most in your mind when you think about your time with him?
You are on the late 70′s album “Strange Celestial Road” and the title pieces has one of my favorite trumpet solo sections on any Ra recording. The album was recorded at Variety Recording Studio, New York in 1979, do you remember the sessions for this album vividly?
From talking to Jimi Hendrix historians, there is a lot of covered material about the time he was working and hanging with Rahsaan Roland Kirk in 1968 and 1969. They all tell me Kirk introduced Jimi and Sun Ra, have you ever heard anything about this period of their lives?
I know that Rahsaan and Sun Ra were friends. He also liked Jimi.
Art Yard Records has been doing some really great reissue runs of some of the Sun Ra albums you are on, how do you feel about their label?
Fela Kuti spoke highly of Sun Ra, do you remember any of their interactions?
You toured extensively with the Arkestra through the States and Europe, how was it like travelling with all the musicians and everyone else involved?
Traveling with the band was one big family. To quote Gilmore “Never a dull moment”. In the early years I hung with June Tyson. We must have went to all of the museums all over Europe. My roommate was Marshall Allen. Sun Ra kept a strict code. We lived like monks. No parties, no women and no drugs. We never stopped rehearsing because Sun Ra never stopped writing.
Growing up, how did you get into playing trumpet and who were the first players that really made you find your own sound?
I was influenced by my cousin Arthur Brooks who also played trumpet. I convinced my parents to but me a horn. I started playing in the 6th grade and I became serious with the help of my mentor Joe Ski, a vibes player and drummer from Trenton. I didn’t get a voice until I got with Sun Ra.
In your bio it states, “In addition to concerts, he creates innovative multi-arts collaborations focusing on sound and color that utilize original jazz compositions, neon set installations, dance and poetry. His Neon-Sound Performance concept won a regional arts award in 1993 (National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller and Andy Warhol Foundations).” How did this project start and is it still something you take part in actively?
Most of the players from Instant Funk are from Trenton, my hometown. Also Kool and the Gang are Jersey boys. I’ve recorded with them early on.
How did your appearance with PHISH come about and how do you view their sounds in context of contemporary music?
Sun Ra innovated so much in music, and the same goes with the drumming sequencing he utilized for the record Disco 3000, do you remember this phase and how he came to incorporate this into his sound?
With regards to Disco 3000, we were rehearsing for a concert in Milan, Italy and Sun Ra had a prototype organ/synthesizer imported from Japan. During the performance, they showed the film “Space is the Place” without the soundtrack. We were behind the screen and interpreted the movie live.
What is the happiest memory you have with Sun Ra?
There has been a lot of mixed up talk if Transparency Records is in good terms with the Arkestra for the releases they have put out, can you mention anything about that subject?
Thanks for your time Michael Ray, we really appreciate it.