30 Nov 2016
"My work is an extension of Sun Ra's mission to provide for the spiritual healing of planet Earth."
Marshall Belford Allen (b. 1924) has been an active member of the Sun Ra Arkestra for over 50 years, and has helmed the historic jazz group since 1995, following the death of jazz pioneer Sun Ra. A leader in the 1960s avant-garde jazz movement, Allen started clarinet lessons at the age of 10. Stationed in Paris during World War II, he played with American jazz greats such as pianist Art Simmons and saxophonist Don Byas, and then enrolled in the Paris Conservatory of Music. Allen has appeared in concert and on recordings with such diverse groups as Phish, Sonic Youth, Digable Planets, and Medeski, Martin & Wood. His main focus, however, remains the preservation of his mentor's artistic legacy, and further development of Sun Ra's musical precepts. Allen writes new compositions of his own and develops fresh arrangements of Sun Ra's music to inspire a new generation of aspiring musicians. Allen writes, "My challenge is to get my musicians to play music that will enlighten them and, as a result, enlighten the public also."
Although he has toured extensively, in March 2013, Allen performed for the first time in China, in collaboration with filmmaker James Harrar at Beijing's Jue Music + Art Festival. He said to ARTINFO, "I perform all over the world because I'm playing universal music. I'm playing cosmic music. Space-age music. So why shouldn't I play for China?" Allen celebrated his 89th birthday in May 2013 with a Sun Ra Arkestra concert in Philadelphia, and his 90th birthday in May 2014 with a Sun Ra Arkestra performance in Kassel, Germany.