Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra


Product Details

Duke University Press
Publish Date
6.1 X 9.2 X 1.2 inches | 1.65 pounds

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About the Author

John Szwed is Adjunct Senior Research Scholar in the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University and the author of several books, including Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth; So What: The Life of Miles Davis; and Jazz 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Jazz.


"A brilliant book, a sprawling, curlicued, swinging account of an extraordinary man's great adventure with a bunch of ideas that made sense to him out of a senseless world."--Nick Coleman "The Independent"
"Szwed has unearthed a treasure trove of Ra data . . . [and ] through extensive personal interviews and archival materials, Szwed fills in the murky blanks of Ra's early years. . . . Szwed's portrait of Ra is both scholarly and affectionate. While many fans would often put brackets around aspects of Ra's persona, perhaps turning a blind eye to his convoluted philosophies or his space gypsy stage shows, Szwed embraces them, contradictions and all."--John Diliberto "Billboard"
"Alongside Szwed's absorbing musical chronicle, the biographer tackles the more contentious subject of the vast framework of Sun Ra's poetry, theology, and philosophy, and makes a miraculous effort at synthesizing that massive body of often deliberately contradictory statements and beliefs. . . . While he brings academic rigor to his research, however, he writes with an easy flow and peppers the investigation with many memorable anecdotes recalling Sun Ra's idiosyncrasies. Szwed's book is as absorbing an account of Sun Ra's fascinatingly unorthodox life and times as we are ever likely to see."--Kenny Mathieson "Scotsman"
"Through collating practically everything written or known about his subject, Szwed doesn't diminish the singularity of Ra's musical achievement, he enhances it. . . . There's an inspirational quality to Szwed's revelations as he demonstrates Ra's commitment to a course that could only be his own, with rewards that make money and fame seem paltry in comparison."--Don McLeese "Austin American-Statesman"
"John Szwed's excellent 1997 biography Space is the Place traces the in-depth study that lay behind Ra's fascination with Ancient Egypt, etymology and space, while making a case for the idea that Ra's Afrocentric cosmology not only reflected the tumult of the 1950s and 1960s, but transcended it."--Mike Hobart "Financial Times"
"Szwed is the best music biographer in the business."--Greg Burk "LA Weekly"
"One of the great jazz biographies."--Val Wilmer "The Guardian"
"Szwed has produced a rare jazz biography--one that takes full account of the history that shaped the music and its central personalities."--Brent Staples "New York Times"
"[Szwed] succeeds in prying open countless enigmas within enigmas, revealing much that has eluded historians until now."--Stuart Nicholson "Observer"
"[An] extraordinary biography."--Chris Morris "Billboard"
"The story of the experimental jazz composer, keyboardist and band leader Sun Ra . . . is told with brilliance and grace by the Yale anthropologist John Szwed in this deeply simpatico new biography. . . . The achievement of this biography is that it carefully articulates such views of life and art at the same time that it provides hard data and analysis to locate Sun Ra's theories in historical context."--Robert G. O'Meally "Washington Post"
"Against the odds, Szwed carves out a central image of Sun Ra as a man whose sincerity was unquestioned, whose heart was pure. Essential reading for the millennium."--David Toop "Village Voice"
"Szwed also makes a strong case for Sun Ra as creative genius."--David Toop "Kirkus Reviews"
"The book consistently succeeds in making the idiosyncrasies of [Sun Ra] much less strange by placing them within the mainstreams of African American culture. . . . Szwed is especially convincing when he documents the origins of Sonny's unique blend of mysticism, Egyptology, Afrocentrism, and nonsense. . . . Thanks to Sun Ra, and to this extraordinary book by John Szwed, jazz must be conceived as something much richer than an austere art music."--Krin Gabbard "American Music"
"Compelling."--Lloyd Sachs "Chicago Sun-Times"
"Through deft writing and detailed chronology, Yale professor and music critic Szwed manages to make the seemingly unintelligible, shiny-turbaned pioneer of big-band free jazz more accessible to society at large."--John Diliberto "Publishers Weekly"