A Strange Celestial Road: My Time in the Sun Ra Arkestra by Ahmed Abdullah / ISBN 9781953691163 / 536-page paperback, 6.25 x 8.25 inches, published in 2023 by Blank Forms.
A thrilling account of life with Sun Ra’s Arkestra and New York’s avant-garde jazz scenes of the 1970s–90s
In this captivating memoir, the first full-length account of life in the Arkestra by any of its members, Harlem-born trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah recounts two decades of traveling the spaceways with the inimitable composer, pianist, and big-band leader Sun Ra. Gigging everywhere from the legendary Bed-Stuy venue the East to the National Stadium in Lagos, Abdullah paints a vivid picture of the rise of loft jazz and the influence of Pan-Africanism on creative music, while capturing radical artistic and political developments across Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan in the 1970s and ’80s. Richly illustrated with more than fifty pages of photographs and posters from Adger Cowans, Marilyn Nance, Val Wilmer, and others, A Strange Celestial Road interweaves the author’s own moving story—his battles with addiction, spiritual development, and life as a working class performer—with enthralling tales of tutelage under Cal Massey, collaborations with the likes of Ed Blackwell, Marion Brown, and Andrew Cyrille, and profound, occasionally confounding, mentorship by Sun Ra. Originally written in the 1990s with the help of Nuyorican poet Louis Reyes Rivera and published now for the first time, with a foreword by Salim Washington, A Strange Celestial Road is not only an autobiography, but a history of a remarkable and under-documented movement in music.
Trumpeter and educator Ahmed Abdullah was born in Harlem in 1947. An important figure in the New York loft jazz movement, in 1972 he formed a group called Abdullah, two years before joining the Sun Ra Arkestra, with whom he played for more than 20 years. He is a founding member of the bands Melodic Art-Tet, The Group and NAM, and of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium. Abdullah is the music director at Sistas’ Place in Brooklyn, and teaches music at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan and an elementary school in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
"In this first book-length reportage from behind the scenes of Sun Ra’s world, Ahmed Abdullah manages to express the omniverse-exploding wonder of Ra as well as the musical mechanics of the Arkestra and its complex interpersonal politics. His invaluable and unique perspective—focused on the woefully overlooked work of the band from the 1970s forward—is brilliantly articulated in these information-packed, often hilarious pages, which are essentially impossible not to turn." --John Corbett, author of Pick Up the Pieces: Excursions in Seventies Music
"A rare personal glimpse into the life of one of the twentieth century's most monumental and imposing figures."--Matthew Blackwell, The Wire