Sun Ra relocated his Arkestra to Philadelphia in 1968, and a Germantown house has been the headquarters for his boundary-shattering experimental jazz ensemble ever since. Following Sun Ra’s 1993 “departure from the planet” — that’s their phrase, and we dig it — multi-instrumentalist Marshall Allen became the leader of the Arkestra. On Saturday, with an opening performance by the electronic musician Oneohtrix Point Never, Allen leads the Arkestra for a free concert in University City. We spoke to Allen on the phone from the Sun Ra house.
At 88 years old, you show no signs of slowing down. What’s the secret?
I do it for my well-being, and hopefully I can give everybody else some well-being, too. Music can make you happy or sad, it can heal you and improve your mental and physical state. I play because it keeps my spirit up. I make sound for a sound body and mind.
What’s the most valuable lesson you learned from Sun Ra?
To play what I feel. He said each individual should make music their own way, for their own well-being. So I play the vibrations of the day. I feel different each day so I play differently. I don’t say “I should’ve played this or should’ve played that,” because everyday’s a different vibration. When I was younger, I was a little more wild, but now I’ve calmed down and play different feelings.
How has the Arkestra evolved since Sun Ra left the planet?
There are always different musicians, and we try to never play the same way twice. Today we might be on the wild side, and then tomorrow we might play on the smooth side. The musicians have a lot of potential, and each of them brings something unique and expresses it in their own way.
Can you describe an Arkestra show for people who’ve never been to one?
There’s gonna be about 14 of us on stage and we’re gonna put on a crazy show. There will be a lot of movement — a lot of singing, a lot of dancing, a lot of vibrations.