Many of these recordings were printed on micro labels: the lengthy list below is only a small portion of Sun Ra’s discography, and most of his albums are out of print. His own El Saturn Records were usually printed in editions of 75 copies per album, and were sold primarily at live performances. Many of Sun Ra’s early albums were recorded at home by Ra himself on wire or early tape recorders, and are decidedly lo-fi. Despite the technological limitations, Ra used some innovative recording techniques, and these recordings provided an unprecedented level of documentation, and were inspirational in showing how artists could take control of the means of production and distribution of their works.
Prior to the 1970s, most of these albums were produced in Chicago through the El Saturn Records Research enterprise established by Ra and his colleague Alton Abraham, while later El Saturn Records were produced in Philadelphia. A batch of the most significant recordings were licensed to Impulse! Records in the mid-1970s. They were not as successful as hoped, and were deleted from the Impulse catolog, becoming available around the world as inexpensive “cut-outs” and making the music more widely available.
Most El Saturn Records were hand-decorated by Arkestra members, and these LP records sometimes sell for high prices among collectors. These El Saturn Records releases, dating from the 1950s to at least the late 1980s, typically had little or no information as to performers or recording dates, and sometimes didn’t even list the songs on the album, often pressing one LP side from one era with another from a different decade, leading to some confusion among completists and fans.
After Sun Ra’s death, many of his recordings were released on compact disc for the first time by Evidence Records or Ihnfinity Music. As is the case with an artist whose output is so extensive, there is quite a bit of debate regarding his “best” albums. Of all these recordings, many critics and enthusiasts feel that the 1959 big band album Jazz In Silhouette is the best entry-point into his work.