The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra:
The Sound of Joy Is Enlightening
by Chris Raschka; illus. by the author
Primary Candlewick 40 pp.
5/14 978-0-7636-5806-9 $15.99 g
Jazz pioneer and self-proclaimed space case Sun Ra (born Herman P. Blount) gets a portrait as bemusing and sparkly as the man himself in this fantastical tribute. Raschka begins by identifying Sun Ra as a free-spirited iconoclast who believed that he came from Saturn, simple as that. From there Raschka offers readers a linear history of Sun Ra’s musical education and innovation, in a direct, admiring narrative. The pianist and bandleader journeys from Birmingham to Chicago, where he forms his famed collective the Arkestra, and on to New York and Philadelphia, with stops across Europe and at the Great Pyramids (his favorite place) along the way. This is not the first time Raschka has captured jazz in imagery (Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, rev. 11/92; John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, rev. 9/02), and here his trademark loose gestural style is especially effective in reflecting both the subject’s untethered spirit and impenetrable persona. The images themselves are dense and dynamic, painted on a variety of textured papers and musical notation sheets and full of brilliant color and heavy black. Raschka clips and arranges them in irregular, rectilinear space, attempting to capture this individual force of nature. In the end, readers get a bright, impressionistic portrait that follows its subject’s refusal to play by the rules. A brief author’s note and list of selected recordings are appended.
From the May/June 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.