Annotated Mingus discography

by Marcel-Franck Simon

Here's an article written by Marcel-Franck Simon ( It's a HTML'ized copy of the article reposted to expect for RECDB discography listings, which have been omitted for two reasons: 1) to save some transfer time (with listings this would be about 160 kilobytes in size), 2) there is a hypertext Mingus discography available on the Charles Mingus Home Page, although quite different from Marcel's "original".

- Esa Onttonen

An incomplete index:


Mingus, ah Mingus. A man I have a lot of respect for (see my logname), as much for the flaws of his character as for the genius of music; two things that were so entertwined as to be indistinguishable.

Rather than attempt to put together some recommendations, let me check my archives... dig, scrape, search, aha! blow dust off and voila! A couple old articles I posted way back when. First, an "annotated discography", then some impressions of EPITAPH; and lastly the short and long recdb listings of the albums of his that I have.

Note that reissues have made some comments in the annotated discography obsolete. In particular, the collaboration with Langston Hughes is available on CD as WEARY BLUES, Blue Note has issues the complete original EPITAPH concert, Mosaic has packaged the complete 1959 Columbia recordings, CDs of various names on various labels have replaced the twofers and LPs I reference, many more recordings have emerged from the 1964 European tour, etc, etc.

Hope this helps.


First, The Annotated Discography

From sfsup!mingus Mon Jan 25 08:04:28 EST 1988
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Subject: Three or Four Shades of Mingus
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Mingus' discography is 34 pages long, in small type, so posting up the whole thing is out of the question. So this is an abridged version, concentrating on his recordings as a leader, and offering some critical opinion. Bear in mind that the opinions are mine only; Mingus' music if nothing else provokes strong reaction; it is entirely possible that others would have opinions drastically different from mine.

Mingus started recording in the Los Angeles area, moving to New York toward the end of 1951. He soon became much in demand at sessions, which led to him being selected to play on the 1953 all-star concert at Massey Hall in Toronto featuring Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Max Roach. Mingus and Roach had by then formed Debut Records, and planned the program quite carefully. The recording captured the horns and piano pretty well, but the drums overwhelmed the bass, so Mingus rerecorded his parts later, overdubbing them on the concert materal. The only work of his original to the concert is the solo on "Hot House." The original (Debut 2, 3 and 4) 10 inch records of this concert brings well over $100 at auction; fortunately, Prestige has re-issued it on the twofer THE GREATEST CONCERT EVER. Bird and Diz' playing is legendary, and Mingus himself shows quite formidable technique. A 1953 Miles Davis session yielded "Smooch" with Mingus on piano. It can be found on the twofer TALLEST TREES. A December 1954 sextet date with Thad Jones can be found on the Trip TRIO AND SEXTET (the trio part is with Hampton Hawes, dating from July 1957.) A July 1955 Miles Davis session with Britt Woodman and Elvin Jones is on the Debut (reissued on OJC) BLUE MOODS. A December 23 session at the Cafe Bohemia yielded two albums: CHAZZ and THE CHARLES MINGUS QUINTET PLUS MAX ROACH; they are collected on the Prestige twofer CHARLES MINGUS. Noteworthy are a first version of "Haitian Fight Song", and "Drums" and "Percussion Discussion", two bass-drums duets that are quite unusual for the time, and show how well Mingus and Roach got along musically.

So far we see an ambitious musician and an independent man. He bucks the system by starting his own label, and keeping it going. He has orchestral ambitions, is very interested in advancing time (the duets with Roach are only part of his ideas in that area.) We do not, however, see genius yet. That came on January 30, 1956. The band was J.R. Monterose on tenor, Jackie McLean on alto, Mal Waldron on piano, Willie Jones on drums and Mingus. The session yielded the PITHECANTHROPUS ERECTUS album for Atlantic. The title tune is a classic, important in several respects: it is built not on chord changes but on themes, and the soloists are expected to expand them rather than just "run the changes". This is a year before Gunther Schuller's deconstruction of Sonny Rollins made thematic improvisation a buzzword. Further, "Pithecanthopus Erectus" introduced concepts of collective improvisations that had not been explored since the early days in New Orleans. This is three years before Ornette Coleman exploded the scene, mind you. The solos are brilliant, especially McLean's, just a teenager at the time.

Mingus' fortunes during 1956 and 1957 varied. One key event was his meeting a young R'n'B tenorman called Dannie Richmond. Their rapport was instantaneous. By then Mingus and Roach had drifted apart, mainly because Mingus' volcanic temper and rampant paranoia let him trust no one. Finding no drummer as adventurous as Roach, Mingus convinced Richmond to switch to drums. Their partnership was to last until Migus' death. The first fruits of the association came on February 13 and March 12, 1957, two sessions that yielded THE CLOWN and parts of TONIGHT AT NOON (both Atlantic). The band included old West Coast colleague Jimmy Knepper on trombone, Shafi Hadi on alto and tenor and Wade Legge on piano. THE CLOWN has the blues "Haitian Fight Song", dedicated to Toussaint Louverture. It is another key piece, a conscious effort by Mingus to show that despite his ambitions, he could play the blues as well as anyone. The piece is built in what became known as the Mingus style, with the bass setting the mood and the rest of the band joining in more or less haphazard fashion, building to a cacophony of dissonant sounds capped by Mingus' voice, filling in for the plunger brass he could not get. While the other solos are good, its centerpiece is a colossal bass solo; Mingus' tone is flawless, his approach assertive, his swing impeccable. The piece stands as a magnificent statement of anger, frustration, and racial pride. The album also features "The Clown" a piece featuring Jean Sheperd's narration, that showed Mingus could also be effective in a less overtly jazz, more ambitions format.

By then Mingus was doing well. July 18 saw the recording of TIJUANA MOODS (RCA, issued in 1962), another key album. The band here is Knepper, Richmond, Clarence Shaw on trumpet, Bill Triglia on piano. Here we see the maturing on Mingus the composer. He writes seamlessly, not just laying out a theme for soloists to improvise on, but blending themes all over the pieces, defining and guiding the solos as part of the total composition rather than as tribute to the particular recording. Standouts are "Dizzy Moods", "Los Mariachis" and especially "Ysabel's Table Dance" (which has Ysabel Morel on castanets and voice.) The session came after a trip Mingus and Richmond took to Tijuana, with many visits to sex palaces. "Dance" is a stunningly visual depiction of these places, with a powerful bass heartbeat going faster and faster, and an ominous trombone foreshadowing it. The castanets and voice taunt the men, who react with excitement and frustration. This is just great, great music.

August 1957 saw the recording of EAST COASTING (for Bethlehem.) That session is notable because it is the first or second date by a young pianist named Bill Evans. Otherwise the band is the same as for MOODS. The sound here is cooler, more subdued. Still, it has powerful tunes like "West Coast Ghost" (which is autobiographical), "Celia" (a Mingus favorite, he was still playing it in the 1970s) and "Fifty-First Street Blues." October 1957 sees the recording of "Scenes in the City", another voice and music piece, more of a jazz drama than anything else. The album is out of print, but a nice version of the tune can be found on Branford Marsalis' album of the same name.

March 1958 saw the recording of a long suite by the same band with Horace Parlan replacing Evans, and Langston Hughes narrating. It was recorded for MGM, but whoever owns the tapes has not seen fit to re-issue it. I've never seen it listed at auction, much less in stores, so it must be rare indeed. Maybe some day.

If a single year must be selected as the "best", it surely would be 1959. Mingus started 1959 by recording live with John Handy on alto and Booker Ervin on tenor. There is not much orchestration here, but the playing is pure dynamite. Some new tunes include the beautiful "Nostalgia in Times Square", and the themeless, sardonically titled "No Private Income Blues." There is also a lovely version of "I can't get Started." The album is WONDERLAND, on United Artists. But this was only the beginning. February 4 saw BLUES AND ROOTS (Atlantic), perhaps the best single album of the man's career. Mingus had wanted to go back to the blues, but he characteristically did not stop there. He also wanted to include elements of the Pentecostal Church, to which his mother had belonged. The combination was electrifying. "Moanin'" is an unresolved blues, i.e. lacks the return to the tonic in the last four bars. Not having this freed the soloists to expand on the third four bar section, or to have eight bar choruses, at will. "E's Flat, Ah's Flat Too" is fast and based on riffs. "My Jelly Roll Soul" builds upon Jelly Roll Morton. And then there's "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting." Whatever one can say about it is not enough. First, it's in 6/4, the gospel beat; it consists of two related, overlapping themes, representing soloist and choir. There is also a succession of backing riffs repreenting comments by the congregation. The solos are simple but perfect. The trombone lays out a repeated figure then makes way for Horace Parlan's piano. He lays out a skipping, swinging line, and develops it over one chorus. His second chorus, however, consists exclusively of a two note figure repeated over and over again, with the reeds joining 3/4 of the way through in a suspense building crescendo for Booker Ervin's solo. The Texas Whirlwind flies over the theme. Then Mingus does something new. He *stops* the band and has the musicians accompany Ervin only with handclaps and verbal encouragements. Ervin preaches hellfire for an entire chorus before Richmond returns to take the people home. It is a monumental tune and performance, and signals the end of the cerebral Mingus. Never again could this man be accused of not being "black enough," of "writing down too much shit". At the same time he opened fertile grounds for jazz developments, which can still be felt today, in David Murray's music as well as in Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy, to name but two.

But Mingus was not done. On May 5 he took Knepper, Handy, Ervin, Hadi, Richmond and Parlan and recorded MINGUS AH UM for Columbia. This one has a followup to "Prayer Meeting" called "Better Get Hit in your Soul", a deceptively simple blues called "Boogie Stop Shuffle", another experiment in collective improvisation called "Bird Calls", the lovely "Pussy Cat Dues", "Fables of Faubus" on which more later and the classic "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat". The tune came up instinctively when at a gig Mingus learned that Lester Young had died. He refined it on the bandstand, so the musicians knew it well. It is slow and stately, and Handy takes a mournful solo, with an eerie fluttering effect halfway through.

On November 1 Mingus took a large group including Knepper, Handy, Ervin, Richmond, Roland Hanna, Benny Golson, Richard Williams and others for MINGUS DYNASTY (Columbia). Another excellent album, this one has "Slop", another gospel blues, "Things Ain't What they used to be", "Gunslinging Bird" and the lovely "Song with Orange" and "Diane." Columbia reissued both albums on a twofer called BETTER GET IT IN YOUR SOUL, and released the alternates takes on another called NOSTALGIA IN TIMES SQUARE.

May 24 and May 25 1960 Mingus recorded PRE-BIRD MINGUS. The title is because the pieces were supposed to have been composed before Mingus heard Charlie Parker. It was issued on Mercury, later re-issued as MINGUS REVISITED on Limelight and is now restored to the original title. This was a big band session, with such stellar musicians as Clark Terry and Ted Curson on trumpet, Knepper and Slide Hampton on trombones, Eric Dolphy, Joe Farrell, Yusef Lateef and Bill Barron on reeds, etc. One important tune here is "Half Mast Inhibition", which has no improvisation and is closer to so-called "modern classical music" than to jazz. It is a measure of the depth and breadth of Mingus' talent that he makes the performance, by such a large group and of such a difficult piece, swing reasonably well. Also here is "Mingus Fingus No.2" an update of his feature piece with the Lionel Hampton band, "Weird Nightmare", an update on the 1954 "Smooch", and two Ellington tunes "Take the A Train" and "Do Nothing Till You hear from Me." Mingus was fascinated by Ellington's music, saying over and over that the plunger brass sound was "the sound of the human voice" and "what I want my band to sound like." He also loved Duke's tone palette and mastery of molding the music so that a controlled performance sounded spontaneous. To achieve the same effects, Mingus had taken to not giving his sidemen sheet music, but singing the tunes to them or playing them on piano. He wanted them to play what they felt, not what they read on paper. This undoubtedly is the reason for the plain sloppiness of execution of Mingus' recordings. It is ALSO the reason why they explode with life and spirit, and never fail to move us, even when they fail.

I mentioned Dolphy. He and Mingus had started to hang out together, and were playing at the Showplace and Cafe Bohemia. They became close friends, and Mingus absorbed Dolphy's ideas on musicians hearing the freedom in bird calls and emulating it. At the same time, Mingus was quite taken by Ornette Coleman's new thing, and was seeking ways to integrate those ideas in his music. Coincidentally, critic Nat Hentoff, a Mingus enthusiast, was running the newly created Candid label. Putting all this together, we have the famous October 20, 1960 CHARLES MINGUS PRESENTS CHARLES MINGUS session. The band was Dolphy, Mingus, Richmond, and trumpeter Ted Curson. I believe it stands as one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. The absence of piano forced each musician to be supporter as well as soloist. The distinction between rhythm section and front line disappeared, replaced by a fluid, dynamic four headed ensemble that combined and recombined in unpredictable ways. There were four tunes. "Original Fables of Faubus" was "dedicated to the second or third or fourth All-American hero [racist Arkansas governor Orval] Faubus" and features sarcastic lyrics and strikingly vocal playing by Dolphy. "What Love" is a reworking of the chords of "What is this thing called love" and has tricky tempo changes, long sections where a soloist has minimal accompaniment, and a long (4 minutes) duet between bass and bass clarinet. The exchange is powerfully vocal, with the men interrupting each other, Mingus cursing and raging while Dolphy remains steadfast. Brian Priestley's book says they translated their sentences back to speech for the onlookers at the playback, to much mirth and occasional reprise of the argument. "Think of all the Things you Could be by Now if Sigmund Freud's Wife was your Mother" is taken at a furious pace, with Dolphy and Curson sounding much like Coleman and Don Cherry. "Folk Forms No. 1" is an extended, wholly improvised return to the days of the Buddy Bolden band. It has no theme whatsoever, its only unifying feature is a four note figure that Richmond builds his solo around, and that Mingus occasionally repeats. Priestley observes that it is identical to the "Oh Play that Thing" that precedes Louis Armstrong's solo on the 1923 "Dippermouth Blues." Curson, Dolphy and Richmond all play the kind of solos that make reputations, with an offhanded ease that confounds me.

A dress rehearsal to this session had come on July 13 in Antibes, France, when the band plus Ervin played the Juan Les Pins festival. "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" has a superb Ervin solo, while "Folk Forms No. 1" is faster and edgier, with a series of breaks providing solo space as well as the collective passages. "What Love" is not quite there. There is also a long "April in Paris" jam with Bud Powell, who was living in France at the time. The tapes were discovered and issued in 1980 by Atlantic as MINGUS AT ANTIBES.

A second Candid album was MINGUS, with some tunes from the 10/20 session and the rest recorded November 11. It has a gorgeous "Stormy Weather" with Dolphy laying out loooooong glissandi on alto. A larger band including Ervin, Knepper, Woodman, and Charles McPerson's alto recorded "MDM" for Monk, Duke and Mingus. It is a blending of Duke's "Main Stem" and Monk's "Straight No Chaser". It is unexceptional, other than a great muted trombone solo by Woodman, and three screaming choruses by Ervin. The rest of the session has "Vassarlean", yet another version of "Weird Nightmare" and "Lock'em Up".

Mingus had been a mover and shaker behind the 1960 Newport Rebel festival that featured the unfortunately unrecorded concert by Mingus, Max Roach, Ornette Coleman and Kenny Dorham. The alternative festival had been a success, with musicians from all walks of jazz having met, coexisted and cooperated. A residue of that good will led to NEWPORT REBELS on Candid, with modernists Knepper and Dolphy and classicits Roy Eldridge, Tommy Flanagan and Papa Jo Jones. A young Mingus had made fun of Eldridge, thinking him an uneducated fool incapable of playing his own "advanced" music. Eldridge had given him a severe dressing down ("Nigger, see this horn? I play what I feel on it. I suggest you look into that 'cause that's the only thing a body can do") and Mingus was eager to make amends. They played the blues and a standard. "Mysterious Blues" is an instant classic. It is rhythmically set in 1930s Kansas City, with Jo Jones delineating the dance floor on brushes. But the changes and especially the solos, are quite advanced. Eldridge leads off, muted, then comes Dolphy and Knepper. Feeling challenged, Eldridge returns on open horn to call the children home with authority. This tune conclusively demonstrates the silliness of trying to categorize musicians too rigidly. "Me and You" is a deeply felt quartet blues (Dolphy and Knepper laying out) with Mingus outdoing himself. Priestley reports that Eldridge congratulated Mingus, telling him "I was not sure about you; but you have shown me that you really understand the music and how to make it." This delighted Mingus, who went home in high spirits.

All of the Candid material, including a couple of unreleased pieces, is collected by Mosaic on THE COMPLETE CANDID RECORDINGS OF CHARLES MINGUS. It is invaluable, featuring extensive liner booklet, with the original liner notes of all three albums, plus discographical information and critical commentary.

1961 saw Mingus one Mingus recording session, with Ervin, Knepper, Richmond, Mingus on piano, Doug Watkins, and Roland Kirk on various reeds. Kirk was a natural for Mingus, and they made much great music here. The session yielded the albums OH YEAH and the rest of TONIGHT AT NOON. Mingus sings here too, revealing a limited range but a powerful emotionalism on such tunes as "Devil Woman" and "Ecclusiastics", the latter another gospel piece notable by its near absence of overt organization. Mingus also sings on "Eat that Chicken," a funny and irreverent tribute to Fats Waller. Also here is the powerful "Hog Calling Blues" a tour de force for Kirk, who takes all the solos. Mingus' piano goads him on with heavy left handed figures, tone clusters really, while Kirk growls, honks, screams, gurgles and calls the hogs home.

September 17, 1962 was the date of the recording of MONEY JUNGLE, a rare Duke Ellington piano date with Mingus and Max Roach. There was dissension between Mingus and Roach, and Duke had to bring on all his powers of persuasion to prevent Mingus from walking out of the studio. Duke plays some great piano here, proving that he was still relevant in the age of Cecil Taylor. On October 12 Mingus led a big band at Town Hall that has become justly famous as TOWN HALL CONCERT (not surprisingly.)

1963 was another great year. On January 20 Mingus recorded THE BLACK SAINT AND THE SINNER LADY. It is perhaps the best blend of individual sound by each musician yet the context and character of the piece are firmly molded by Mingus. It is certainly a classic example of program music. Autobiographical in a sort of thematic rather than factual way, it features great performances by Jerome Richardson on soprano sax, Charlie Mariano on alto and especially Quentin Jackson on trombone. The latter's muted work on "Duet Solo Dancers" cries in rage and despair over an accelerating rhythm track. The sound leaves a deep imprint on the soul.

On July 30 Mingus recorded MINGUS PLAYS PIANO, a solo piano date. He's no titan of touch and shows himself somewhat lacking in subtlety. But the album's not bad. September 20 saw the recording of MINGUS MINGUS MINGUS MINGUS MINGUS. It's sort of a retrenchment, but it's a triumphal one. He revisits "Better Get it in your Soul", but adds a long coda with Ervin leading the congregation out of the church. "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" is here titled "Goodbye Lester Young", with Ervin taking on a solo darker than John Handy on the original. There's a nice "Mood Indigo" and "Celia". "II B.S." is a reworking of "Haitian Fight Song". The kicker is "Hora Decubitus", an update of "E's Flat, Ah's Flat Too." It is built on a series of riffs layered on top of each other, first in the bass, then in baritone sax, then the rest of reeds, then one muted brass, then the rest of the brass also muted. The result is a miasma of sound, which makes sense only because it swings HARD. Ervin's solo is backed by Ellingtonian reeds, soon supplemented by gutbucket brass. Dolphy preaches enthusiastically, then Richard Williams reaches into the stratosphere to heat up the temperature. I put this on for people who complain that jazz is cerebral.

On April 4, 1964, Mingus took to Town Hall Dolphy, Jaki Byard, Richmond, Cliffor Jordan and Johnny Coles, for a second album called TOWN HALL CONCERT, this one on Fantasy. He took the same band on a tour of Europe. Coles got ill in Paris, and had to check into a hospital. All the charts assumed his trumpets, so the musicians had to scramble to fill in. The results were monumental. The band was bootlegged several times. The recordings that have emerged are three records for the America label, collected on Prestige's THE GREAT CONCERT OF CHARLES MINGUS, and two single LPs on Enja called MINGUS IN EUROPE Volumes 1 and 2. The long tunes on the latter are a bit perfunctory, but they each have one moment: a duet with Dolphy on flute called "Starting" on V 1 and a solo reading of "Sophisticated Lady" on V.2. The Prestige has a collage of Charlie Parker tunes called "Parkeriana" with a great solo by Byard, and solid stuff by Jordan. It also has a classic reading of "Orange was the Color of her Dress, the Blue Silk." It also has what is to mind the best version of the classic "Meditation on Integration", also known as "Meditation on a Pair of Wire Cutters," "Meditation" and "Praying with Eric." The bowed bass and flute passage is classic Mingus for the way it states *and* evokes, is forceful yet holds something back.

Eric Dolphy stayed in Europe after that tour, where he died shortly thereafter. June 2 and 3 Mingus recorded RIGHT NOW (Fantasy) with Jordan, Handy, Jane Getz on piano and Richmond. It has but two tunes, "Medidation" with an excellent solo by Clifford Jordan, and "New Fables," with an extended quote from "Ysabel's Table Dance". On September 20 at Monterey Mingus recorded MINGUS AT MONTEREY (such an inventive title :-). Aside froma beautiful Duke Ellington medley, the record has justly become famous for a large band recording of "Meditation on Integration." While a cut under the one on THE GREAT CONCERT, this one ain't chopped liver either.

Mingus brought an octet to the Monterey Jazz Festival on September 18 1965. They had quite a bit of new material, but were only given 20 minutes. A furious Mingus brought the band to UCLA September 25. The music was issued on two albums on the Charles Mingus label. The master tapes were then lost (it's a long and sordid story). Much later (1986) through the efforts of his widow Susan, the music was brought back as MUSIC WRITTEN FOR MONTEREY, NOT HEARD, PLAYED IN ITS ENTIRETY AT UCLA. It is a great album. The music included "They Trespass The Land of the Sacred Sioux", "Once there was a Holding Corporation Called Old America", "Don't Be Afraid, the Clown's Afraid Too", and the best of them "Meditation on Inner Peace." Unreleated to "Meditation on Integration" it is based on a two note pedal point held on tuba, and otherwise themeless. Mingus then comes in, and other intruments are added in layers as the performance progresses. Jimmy Owens, Charles McPherson and Lonnie Hillyer all takes excellent solos, but the recording is made by the gorgeous sound of the Boss playing al arco, bowing the bass.

The rest of the 60s were a dark period for Mingus, as I have said in another posting. Atlantic issued a BEST OF CHARLES MINGUS in 1970 by taking single tunes from his various albums from them. They also chopped all but the bass solo from "Haitian Fight Song". In 1970 Mingus took a sextet to Europe, where they recorded two albums, available packaged from Prestige as REINCARNATION OF A LOVEBIRD, with Bobby Jones, Eddie Preston, Jaki Byard and Charles McPherson. September 20, 30 and November 18, 1971 saw the recording of LET MY CHILDREN HEAR MUSIC (Columbia), a lovely orchestral recital with good tunes such as "The Shoes of The Fisherman's Wife is Some Jiveass Slippers" "The Chill of Death" (written when he was 18), another version of "Don't be Afraid, The Clown's Afraid Too", and the great "The I of Hurricane Sue." The real comeback occurred February 4, 1972 at Avery Fisher Hall in New York, when the jazz world "officially" welcomed him back. The album is CHARLES MINGUS AND FRIENDS IN CONCERT (Columbia) and is a big affair. Bill Cosby was MC, and the musisians included Jon Faddis, James Moody, Gene Ammons, Randy Weston, Charles McPherson, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan and many others. Ammons is in particularly good form; he takes some burning solos in "E's Flat Ah's Flat Too", "Mingus Blues", and "Ecclusiastics" Everyone had a good time, and the Boss was emphatically back.

The last three days of 1973 Mingus recorded MINGUS MOVES. It strikes me as his weakest record, with feeble themes, sloppy execution, and most striking a mostly lifeless spirit. But this was only temporary. 1974 saw some fertile recordings by Mingus. He led a loose jam session at Carnegie Hall (MINGUS AT CARNEGIE HALL, Atlantic) on January 19 with his new band of George Adams, Don Pullen and Richmond augmented by Hamiet Bluiett on baritone, John Handy, Faddis, McPherson, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk coming back for the concert. Kirk and Adams engage in a ferocious tenor battle on "C Jam Blues" but this, overall, is not classic Mingus. The end of the year (December 27, 28 and 30) saw some of Mingus' greatest small band recordings, the two CHANGES albums (on Atlantic) The band had Adams, Pullen, Jack Walrath on trumpet, and Richmond. These five men made some classic music, from the gutbucket blues of "Devil Blues" (with vocal by Adams) to the austere "For Harry Carney", the angry "Remember Rockefeller at Attica" and "Free Cell Block F, Tis Nazi USA", to the two splendid versions of "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love" to the sublime "Orange was the Color of her Dress, then Blue Silk" and "Sue's Changes." The latter three tunes are tonal compositions, where solos and written music blend seamlessly. "Sue's Changes" is 17 minutes long and it seems short. Theme after theme, and variation of theme just keep coming at the listener in droves, scarcely giving soloists time to expand on them. One keeps wondering just how that man could hold that much music inside his head, and again and again drive his musicians to play it so effortlessly. This is just great music of the 20th century.

March 31 and April 1 1976 Mingus took a large group to Rome and recorded CUMBIA AND JAZZ FUSION, intended as soundtrack to movies that to the best of my knowledge have not been released. They employ several percussionists, not just for jungle effects, but to establish the rhythmic tempo of the tunes. The title piece has as main theme an English horn duetting with bassoon, while around them birds cry, felines roar, and the jungle teems with life. The rest of the band builds upon this foundation, with Ricky Ford coming to the forefront. The second theme is explicitly jazz, but with the beat turned around, which lets Mingus sneak in and out of the blues, even though the piece is structured nothing like one. Fantastic.

March 9, 1977 Mingus recorded THREE OR FOUR SHADES OF BLUES with George Coleman, Ricky Ford, Walrath, Bob Neloms on piano, Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine on guitars and Richmnd. The guitarists were suggestions by Atlantic. Their understanding of Mingus' music is to put it charitably, limited. Everything comes out as long runs of sixteenth notes. But the record sold more than all other Mingus records combined and served as an introduction to Mingus for many people (including me) so it's not all bad. I also like the tenor solo by Ford on "Nodding Ya Head Blues." But the versions of "Better Get it in Your Soul" and "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" are best avoided.

By then Mingus was sick. He had caught amyotropic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) and was becoming progressively paralyzed. he felt an urgency to write as much as possible, to get it all out, and to Atlantic's credit that they gave him the means of doing so. They organized a big recording session on January 18, 19 and 23 1978 that yielded the albums ME MYSELF AND EYE, SOMETING LIKE A BIRD and THREE WORLDS OF DRUMS. Ambitious as ever, the music is interesting (especially "Three Worlds of Drums" with African, South American, and North American percussionists creating an ambiguous, fluid groove), but it lacks the forceful energy of the leader's bass. Mingus could not play anymore, and could barely talk. He at least was not as able as before to give the tongue lashing that had prodded so many before. The music is weak and flaccid, a pale cry from the splendors he had reached before.

Around that time, too had begun the collaboration with Joni Mitchell, in which she would write words to his tunes. Mingus had been drawn to Mitchell after hearing some of her albums (HEJIRA, in particular). He liked the music, and the risks she was willing to take ("Joni Mitchell is a nervy broad" sums it up nicely). She wanted to call it CHAIR IN THE SKY because as she put it "he was a very commanding figure, like on a throne, very regal." On June 18, 1978 Mingus was guest of honor at President Carter's all-star concert on the White House South Lawn. It featured Dexter Gordon, Ornette Coleman, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie and others. Mingus' moment came when producer George Wein asked those present to honor him. The musicians gave him a standing ovation, and Carter walked over and embraced him. Mingus wept, overcome by emotion, and surely by the frustration he must have felt at not being able to speak at this moment when he could finally have poured out his contradictory feelings. It was a sad, though triumphal moment. It was also the end. Mingus died January 5, 1979.

The Mitchell collaboration was released posthumously. It too lacks the commanding authority of the Boss, though there is some nice writing on it, and some great playing by Jaco Pastorius and Wayne Shorter. Atlantic released a three-LP anthology called PASSIONS OF A MAN that is too heavy on the latter years to be definitive. It has failed to make up for their refusing to re-issue OH YEAH and TONIGHT AT NOON.

Although in the end he was enfeebled, his music embodies him. He lived his life completely, passionately. His was a flawed personality; he knew it but far from trying to change, he transcended his flaws. You took him as he offered himself to you. There was no other way. Few people are able to do that. Fewer still remain this creative this long in an industry that rewards toadyism and ass-kissing. Fewest of all can make music this vibrant. I have but one regret when it comes to Mingus, that I was never able to see him live; he could no longer play by the time I knew enough to know his music. But I have his records. Not a week goes by that I don't play something by this man, whether to enhance a good mood, comfort pissed-off days or sustain days when the blues come calling. Never does his music fail to deliver the jolt of exhilaration I know so well. What else can one say?

Marcel-Franck Simon             attunix!mingus

    Min pouki sa tout moun ap mande'-m' ki sa siyati-moin vle' di? 

Then, Impressions of EPITAPH

From cbnewsl!mingus Tue Jul 24 22:57 EDT 1990
Date: Tue, 24 Jul 90 22:57:11 EDT
From: (Marcel-Franck Simon)
Path: cbnewsl!mingus
Subject: E P I T A P H
Organization: The Poto Mitan in the Houmfor
Message-ID: <>
Sender: (Damballah Wedo)
Lines: 117
Status: R

Bill Hery, and others who like their Mingus in raucous small-group packages, may disagree with me, but I think EPITAPH is one of the most important pieces in 20th century music, and Mingus' greatest achievement.

"For my tombstone", he said of the work. An interesting characterization. EPITAPH is not a summary nor a recap of Mingus' music. It is, however, the one piece in which all his influences, inclinations and ambitions come together.

The story of the piece is typical Mingus: written over 23 years, it was scheduled to be recorded in 1962. Mingus persuaded his label to record the work at an open session to be held at Town Hall. They agreed, then rather late moved up the date by six weeks, even though so much work remained to be done that it made success impossible. Moreover, the promoters advertised the event as a concert, raising expectations among ticket-buyers of a complete, finished performance rather than the start-stops to be expected at a recording session.

The result was a predictable mess. Some musicians walked into the hall having never seen sheet music; copyists were seated on stage, hurriedly duplicating the later parts of the score, while musicians attempted to play the early parts. It was a disaster of colossal magnitude. Even though, as Sue Mingus says, "Charles expected failure, and his music was written to cope with it", a stung Mingus shelved the score for some ten years.

Later in his life he dug it out and began to work on it again, but he died before he could finish. Andrew Homzy and Gunther Schuller found the score in Mingus' papers after his death and undertook to piece together the work. Schuller's role was key, akin to that of the editor who recently pasted together a book out of Hemingway's notes, drafts and scribbles.

One may, and probably should, quibble with some of Schuller's choices. He is quite honest and open in the liner notes about what is his vs what is Mingus'. Of course any Mingus piece that does not have the Boss himself to curse and rage and cajole and growl and laugh and force the music into his image, is lacking *something*. But, and this is perhaps the supreme compliment to be paid to Schuller and Homzy, upon repeated listenings it is clear that this is a Mingus piece, and that it is played like a Mingus piece. Somewhere in the great bandstand in the sky, the man himself is listening, and smiling.

The biggest thing about EPITAPH is a sense of massive scale. It is played by a double sized jazz orchestra, thirty musicians including two basses, two pianos, guitar, vibes, drums, percussions, six trombones, six trumpets, three altos, two tenors, two baritones, a basson, a bass clarinet and tuba. The music itself is also huge. Gigantic, polytonal chords come crashing about in patterns of frightening complexity. Passions of a man? Yes, if the man is a giant.

Some familiar themes float throughout. The "Main Score" intro contains strong hints of "Pithecanthropus Erectus." The work includes separate tunes like "The Chill of Death", "Peggy's Blue Skylight", a completely rewritten "Percussion Discussion", and in a glorious septet romp, "Better Get It In Your Soul." But, except perhaps for "Better Get", all these familiar pieces are subservient to the overall piece and its mood of dark foreboding only partially relieved by joy.

There's not enough space in this forum for a full discussion of each section. Let me just mention:

Nothing I've said here, and nothing I'm likely to be able to say further, would really do justice to EPITAPH. Buy the thing, the $25 it'll cost you is well worth it. Then listen, behold, and wonder.

Marcel-Franck Simon             mingus@attunix.ATT.COM, attunix!mingus

    " Papa Loko, ou se' van, ou-a pouse'-n ale'
      Nou se' papiyon, n'a pote' nouvel bay Agwe' "

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