Stress Jingle/Station ID #42 : Marshall Allen

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Marshall Allen is a free jazz alto saxophone player. He is best known for his work with legendary jazz composer, bandleader, pianist and poet/philosopher Sun Ra, having recorded and performed mostly in this context since the late 1950s, and having led Sun Ra's Arkestra since 1993. Allen is known for his mastery of pyrotechnic effects on the alto - he has said that he "wanted to play on a broader sound basis rather than on chords". 

He performed almost exclusively with Ra from 1958 until his death in 1993, although he did record outside the Arkestra, notably with Paul Bley's group in 1964. He was also a regular collaborator of Babatunde Olatunji, in the process emerging as one of the first jazz musicians to fuse the avant-garde with traditional African music. Allen developed his own reed instrument (dubbed the "morrow") by attaching a saxophone mouthpiece to an open-hole wooden body. He also guested on live dates and recordings headlined by a multitude of next-generation musicians, including Sonic Youth and Digable Planets.

Marshall Allen was born in 1924, in Louisville, KY. After enlisting with the U.S. Army's renowned Buffalo Soldiers in 1942, he played clarinet and alto saxophone with the 17th Division Special Service Band, subsequently forming a trio with pianist Art Simmons and guitarist Don Byas while stationed in Paris. Circa 1956, Allen met Sun Ra, joining the pianist's legendary Arkestra two years later. He would go on to lead its reed section for more than four decades. Allen played on more than 200 Sun Ra recordings.

Sun Ra led "The Arkestra", an ensemble with an ever-changing name and flexible line-up, although certain core members remained with the group through its various incarnations (Marshal Allen, John Gilmore, June Tyson, and others). The Arkestra was by turns called "The Solar Myth Arkestra", "His Cosmo Discipline Arkestra", the "Blue Universe Arkestra", "Myth Science Arkestra", "The Jet Set Omniverse Arkestra", and many other variations. Sun Ra asserted that the ever-changing name of his ensemble reflected the ever-changing nature of his music, which ranged from keyboard solos to big bands of over 30 musicians and touched on virtually the entire story of jazz, from ragtime to swing music, from bebop to free jazz. He also used free improvisation and was one of the early musicians to make extensive use of electronic keyboards.

A pioneer of Afrofuturism, Sun Ra and his band began wearing the outlandish, Egyptian-styled or science fiction-themed costumes and headdresses for which they would become known. These costumes had multiple purposes: they expressed Sun Ra's fascination with ancient Egypt and the space age; they provided a distinctive uniform for the Arkestra; they provided a new identity for the band onstage, as well as comic relief (Sun Ra thought avant garde musicians typically took themselves far too seriously).

Following Sun Ra's death in 1993, the Arkestra was led by tenor saxophonist John Gilmore. Following Gilmore's death in 1995, the group has performed under the direction of Marshall Allen. Now 90 years old, Allen also serves as recruiter for new members, and potential converts of Sun Ra’s philosophy, once based on space travel and music as a tool for evolution into a new consciousness and tuning into holy vibrations. In addition to giving master classes, lectures, and demonstrations of Sun Ra's enduring creative principles, Allen also founded the El Ra label.

"One of the most distinctive and original saxophonists of the postwar era."
 Jason Ankeny


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