In 1966, a toy company in Newark, New Jersey released a children’s record called Batman and Robin to cash in on the popular Adam West TV series of the same name. The music on the LP was credited to “The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale,” but in fact the band was one of the greatest uncredited session combos of all time, including the core of Sun Ra’s Arkestra and Al Kooper’s Blues Project. To keep the music licensing fees to a minimum, all the tracks were based on public domain items like Chopin’s Polonaise Op. 53, the horn theme from Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and the love theme from Romeo and Juliet, and generic rock riffs.
I could use that little bit of information to stretch some point on the nature of copyright and creativity, but mostly I’m just excited to get this music. A lot of people find Sun Ra’s style too abstract and weird, because he’s best known for albums like Heliocentric Worlds and The Magic City, which are dissonant atonal affairs. My favorite Arkestra recordings are from the late fifties, which come across as Duke Ellington’s orchestra gigging live while cruising the rings of Saturn. The first song I ever played for newborn Harry was “Interplantary Music” off We Travel the Space Ways (recorded in Solar Fidelity on El Saturn Records) — and yes, I thought that selection through.
I’m also very fond of my green vinyl copy of It Is Forbidden, a live album recorded in 1974 at a festival that had the Arkestra setting the stage for James Brown. The sound on this record is alternatively noisy and funky, the singing on the title track hypnotic and energizing at the same time. I had always wondered why the album was subtitled “at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival in Exile” whereas the liner notes said the performance had been been recorded in Windsor, Ontario. Poking around to find links for this posting tonight, I came across this explanation (worth reading in its entirety):
… the City Council finally issued judgment in July: With less than two months left before the Festival’s scheduled September 6th opening, the City of Ann Arbor denied Rainbow Multi-Media’s application for a permit to hold the internationally-recognized musical extravaganza in its place of birth, citing RMM’s failure to clean up the site immediately following the 1973 Festival as reason enough to cancel the event.
The clean-up problem was troubling. The Festival had hired scores of young people from the community to prepare the site, an empty field next to Huron High School which we had dubbed “Otis Spann Memorial Field,” to staff the festival grounds during the three-day event, and to clean up the site after the festivities had concluded. These workers effectively went on strike after the Festival ended without any of them getting paid and refused to do any more work, thus postponing the clean-up until enough volunteers could be organized to remove the debris.
Two decades later it would come to light that the man RMM had contracted to supervise the Festival’s field operations had invested the payroll money advanced to him for the crew — something like $20,000 — into a multi-ton marijuana deal that, unhappily for all, failed to come off. The supervisor vanished, and the crew began a protracted muttering campaign against Rainbow Multi-Media that resulted eventually in the cancellation of the next year’s event.
“It is forbidden,” the City of Ann Arbor ruled in July, and pandemonium reigned for several days until the festival organizers were invited to bring the banned event across the Detroit River and into the lovely outdoor amphitheater at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario … Canada. Radio powerhouse CKLW-AM agreed to serve as sponsor of the event, pledging lots of free ad spots, and the Canadians waxed enthusiastic in their professions of support for the orphaned music festival.
If you want a short overview of perhaps the single most original jazz (or music) mind ever, I mostly endorse Scott McFarland’s version.
Anyhow, this Batman album finds Sun Ra playing his most accessible music since the early R&B stuff recorded as “The Cosmic Rays”. Al Kooper was no slouch, appearing on Dylan’s Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde among countless other truly classic records. And his Blues Project were making some eccentric and fine music of their own around this time. If you’ve made it to the bottom of this post, you really ought to give the tracks a listen.