Struggling to Keep the Band and Legend of Sun Ra Alive
June 30, 2005
By COREY KILGANNON
PHILADELPHIA - In the Germantown neighborhood, an 81-year-old bandleader and alto saxophonist is struggling to maintain a crumbling town house and a legendary big band.
The bandleader, Marshall Allen, lives in a three-story row house on Morton Avenue that since 1968 has been the headquarters of the Sun Ra Arkestra, the avant-garde big band that the keyboardist and free-jazz pioneer Sun Ra formed a half-century ago. Sun Ra died in 1993 at 79, and now Mr. Allen leads the group.
One recent evening at the Sun Ra house, an elderly man with a guitar case was dozing on the porch. Mr. Allen opened the door and shooed him away.
"We still get cats coming by here like it's the old days," said Mr. Allen, who had been spackling the bathroom ceiling. "I can't run the place like that no more. It was different when Sun Ra was alive. He could take in all these nutty musicians and bring out the good in them, but I ain't that talented."
In those old days, the band lived communally in the house, where Sun Ra wrote songs and arrangements and rehearsed and recorded the band, often around the clock.