Charles Mingus FAQ

These are my answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Charles Mingus. They are intended to be pretty objective, but sometimes I just couldn't avoid telling my opinions.

What album would be the best introduction to music by Mingus?
First of all, Mingus's recording career spanned over thirty years (1943-1978) so there can't be (isn't) a single album that would be better than the rest. However, it seems to be quite general opinion, that Mingus Ah Um (1959) and The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (1963) are among the best works Mingus ever did. Having both of these you should get a pretty good picture of his small-group recordings (Mingus Ah Um) and large-ensemble works (The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady).
I have this album ______ and I love it. What similar would you recommend?
Okay, here's how I'd classify Mingus's records, if I had to:

Orchestral: Mingus Revisited aka Pre-Bird, The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Let My Children Hear Music. These are all quite different, but all show Mingus's attempt to write for larger ensembles and the respect he had for Duke Ellington and classical music (e.g. Half-Mast Inhibition from Pre-Bird or The Chill Of Death from Let My Children Hear Music).

Pre-Pithecanthropus Erectus (from 1943 to 1956): Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956) is Mingus's first album that has held its status as a classic. Previous recordings include sessions on the West Coast, Mingus's first albums for his own Debut label, interesting but not so well-known Jazz Composers Workshop and slightly disappointing Jazzical Moods (released under various titles). Recommended: West Coast 1945-49 (a good compilation from Mingus's early years), Jazz Composers Workshop (arranged compositions by Mingus and pianist Wally Cirillo).

The 1957 Band with Clarence Shaw: Tijuana Moods, East Coasting and A Modern Jazz Symposium Of Music And Poetry. These are all great albums, especially Tijuana Moods, which is one of the alltime Mingus favorites. Bill Evans plays on East Coasting.

The 1960 Quartet/Quintet: Mingus At Antibes, Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus. This is the legendary quartet with Ted Curson and Eric Dolphy (and Booker Ervin on Antibes concert). Perhaps due to absence of piano and presence of Eric Dolphy this may occasionally sound rather 'free'. These are both very highly recommended.

The April 1964 Quintet/Sextet: Town Hall Concert, The Great Concert, Paris 1964 - everything from European tour in April 1964. This is definitely one of the best combos Mingus ever had and most of their gigs in Europe are well-documented on bootleg recordings with varying sound quality.

Miscellaneous: Mingus Plays Piano demonstrates Mingus' abilities as pianist - not bad at all. You can also hear his piano playing and singing (!) on Oh Yeah, which features magnificent contributions from Rahsaan Roland Kirk.