The music of Charles Mingus in California, 1942-1949:
an analytic survey

by Stefano Zenni (stzenni @ tin . it)

This is a brief summary of a long analytic essay on the music composed and arranged by Charles Mingus between 1942 and 1949. The complete essay (95 pages, including 30 musical examples, 28 analytic diagrams, catalogue of works in chronological order, discography and bibliography) is published in Italy in "Quaderni di Siena Jazz", I, 1, January-June 1995, a musicological review: the first number is devoted to Charles Mingus. It is not intended for sale, but it is possible to try to order it: (Siena Jazz).

Mingus' early compositions are the less known and studied, due to unavailability of recordings, but they are of the greatest importance to understand the evolution of the young composer. Now it is possible, through the study of the sources (manuscripts, the autobiography and the recordings) outline the features of Mingus' early music.

In mid-forties, rhythm'n'blues industry was at its peak, and many young musicians worked in the r'n'b field as major source of work. Mingus' early recordings date from June 1945, and many of them are in rhythm'n'blues style. Probably there are compositions not recorded, or recorded later, but composed before 1945. We know that Mingus early work, The Chill of Death and Half-Mast Inhibition, were composed in 1939 and 1940, but recorded decades after. Now we think other three compositions date back to early Forties (that is before 1945):

  1. This subdues my passion. In the manuscript written for the 1962 Town Hall concert, we find in the heading "Subdued Passion Epitaph 1938-1940". But Mingus could have advanced the date: in fact, the tune is patterned on Billy Strayhorn's Chelsea Bridge, recorded in September 1941. So if this song was composed at least in 1942, it could be the first known song of Mingus.
  2. The song Paris in Blue was recorded in 1952, but it was surely composed in 1944. In the autobiography Mingus says that the song was composed during his marriage with Canilla Jane Gross (Barbara Jane Parks in the book), that is 1944. The text of the song is written at the beginning of the chapter 16 of the book, where Barbara asks Charles to sing the song and, after his refusal, he sings the words of Paris in Blue. He maybe changed the title and dedicated the song to the singer Jackie Paris years later.
  3. The third song, maybe written before 1945, is Love's Fury, never recorded. In the heading of the incomplete manuscript (only intro), beside the title, there is written: "music by C.M., words by C.J.G" (that is his wife Canilla Jane Gross; but there is no text). The instrumentation is the standard of that used by Mingus in his those year manuscripts (clarinet, tenor sax doubling on clarinet, baritone sax, two trumpets, trombone, guitar, piano, bass and drums), as well as the music papers have the same trademark. Canilla Jane Gross left Mingus in September 1944: so, if they wrote the song together, they made it before.

The first official recording session was unissued. Then Mingus recorded again in June 1945: the most important tune of the session is The Texas Hop. It's a standard rhythm'n'blues vocal tune, but in the background of the third A section of the AABA vocal chorus, the two tenors quote Stuffy by Thelonious Monk. Stuffy was a typical pre-bop riff tune. Many early bop tunes, as r'n'b hits, stem from Kansas City riff tradition (Blue 'n Boogie, Salt Peanuts and later Now's The Time): Stuffy is a riff tune of that kind. It appears for the first time in Stompin' at the Savoy, recorded by Cozy Cole with Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax (Savoy, 1944). In 1944 Monk was the pianist of the Coleman Hawkins quartet: they played several Monk tunes, Stuffy included. In late 1944 the quartet became a quintet and made a long trip in California, with Howard McGhee on trumpet but without Monk. This group is credited to be one of the first nearly-bop groups. The Hawkins quintet recorded for Capitol Rifftide and Stuffy the 23th February 1945: actually, these are two Monk's tunes recorded later by their composer as Hackensack and Stuffy Turkey. The Hawkins quintet played in Los Angeles until mid-April, and appeared also in a movie, The Crimson Canaries. Mingus surely heard them, on record or live, because his quotation of Stuffy in The Texas Hop has no other possible source. So we have a Monk-bop connection in early Mingus through Coleman Hawkins, a connection which Mingus was not totally aware of. But bop did not really influence his music until 1947.

Another interesting tune is Lonesome Woman Blues, from the same session. It is a song with several typical features of his former blues: parallel writing for horns; major seventh chords instead of dominant seventh chords on I and IV degree (ex. 1); descending chromatic movements in bar 8-9 (Abmaj7 Cm7 Bm7 Bbm7/A7(#11) Abmaj7); ascending parallel movement (I-II-III) in the introduction (or, elsewhere, in bars 1-2); the melodic cadence here at bars 9-11 of the theme (ex. 2); the last phrase of the composition is reminiscent of Concerto for Cootie: this is the first hint of Ellington's influence on Mingus.

Swinging an Echo is a tune in the A Night in Tunisia mold (but without direct connection with the Gillespie tune), with chromatic harmonies. The A section has the Cm7-Db7 chords, but the overall effect is a C pedal point: this is the first hint of pedal technique in a Mingus recording.

In December 1945 Mingus played bass in three sessions for r'n'b singer Dinah Washington. For the first time we can credit four arrangements to him (see also the Mingus interview in Enstice & Rubin, Jazz Spoken Here, p. 221): Wise Woman Blues, Walking Blues, Rich Man's Blues, Mellow Mama Blues. All the tunes have the same kind of writing for horns in parallel voicing, like in Lonesome Woman Blues; Rich Man's Blues has a 4 bars introduction with parallel voicing and powerful chromatic chords (on a Bb point), a kind of "modernism" that only the composer of The Chill of Death and Half-Mast Inhibition could write (ex. 3); in Mellow Mama Blues introduction, there is a whole-tone phrase, totally alien from the blues context (like in Rich Man's Blues); in the same tune, the more dissonant chords, the dark colour of the unison in bar 4 of the theme, the free part of baritone sax, are clues of a deep Ellington influence and are hints of the Moods in Mambo kind of writing. Wise Woman Blues has typical I e IV major seventh chords. In bar 10 of the "special" we find a typical Mingusian "expressive" lick (ex. 4): a tritone substitution of the V, and an oscillating movement between bVI and bVII in the melody. This kind of lick, first appeared at the opening of The Chill of Death, is like a Mingus signature. It appears in the intro of Walking Blues (bar. 2) and in countless other Mingus compositions of the following decades, until Sue's Changes.

It's evident that Mingus has not a real blues consciousness. He is a composer who likes Richard Strauss, who aims to write complex compositions. Forced to play r'n'b to survive, he concentrates his more advanced ideas in introductions to r'n'b songs.

In January 1946 he recorded two important compositions: Weird Nightmare and Shuffle Bass Boogie. The first one is well known, because Mingus will record it in the following years (in May 1946 as Pipe Dream, in 1953 as Smooch, leader Miles Davis, in 1960 as Vassarlean for Candid, plus other versions with the original title). In Weird Nightmare, a sombre ballad in D minor, once again the more complex ideas are packed in the introduction, as the quintessence of the composition: in bar 3-4 we can see the typical Mingus writing by layers in a A7b5/#9 chord, with a touch of latin rhythm in the bass and trombone part. We found a typical way of creating tension with harmony: in A section there is static harmony; in B chord changes modulate to a brighter key, then coming back to the sombre A section. This kind of colour movement of the harmony will be typical of Mingus later ballads, until Duke Ellington's Sound of Love. The unconventional words and chord changes of Weird Nightmare are available in The Mingus Fake Book. The sombre atmosphere of the tune, the strict connection between words and music, the expressionistic texture of the music make of Weird Nightmare more a Lied than an usual ballad.

The recording of Weird Nightmare of May 1946, here titled Pipe Dream, was issued under the name of the pianist Lady Will Carr. According to the Ellington discographer W.E. Timner, this was a pseudonym of Billy Strayhorn: he used the same one one year later in two Al Hibbler sessions in Los Angeles. The Timner identification is definitely wrong. According to Priestley, instead, she was a former member of the Al Adams band. She was a pianist with a a late-romantic style, with a light, bright touch and a brilliant technique. The arrangement is basically a showcase for the piano player: but the basically whole-tone intro, notwithstanding the bad acoustic quality, has a terrific power, like a visionary and dissonant apocalypse. The good piano solo and the interesting ending make of Pipe Dream a little masterpiece.

Shuffle Bass Boogie is a forerunner of the later Boogie Stop Shuffle. Through the tune, the bass plays the typical piano boogie lick, so the rhythmic drive is powerful for all the tune long. This is a fundamental tune of the history of jazz bass: because here - differently to Pluckin' the Bass (Milt Hinton with Cab Calloway, 1939) or the Blanton solos with Ellington - the bass is not the less important instrument of the band which became a star, but it is a joint voice, chief character and follower in the same time. Here the bass marks structural changes, launches soloist, directs the tune, clarifies the layout of the composition. Shuffle Bass Boogie is the first Mingus tune where the bass is the conductor of the performance.

Between 1945 and 1946 Mingus record three times Baby Take a Chance with Me, a modest composition. On the contrary, the most successful ballad Mingus wrote is This Subdues my Passion (perhaps composed, as we've seen, in 1942). It is a true composition, definitely inspired by Strayhorn's Chelsea Bridge (the opening chords and melody are very similar). The most meaningful feature is the continuous melodic variation. After a six bars introduction, the tune has a two-layer structure: the harmonic structure is ABCB'C'A; the melodic one is ABCDEA. Every section seems to have an autonomous theme, but the overall effect is a kind of melodic line as a continous development, made of a network of few ever changing melodic reminiscences (ex. 5). There are references to Johnny Hodges and Lawrence Brown styles, and a melodic foreshadow of a theme of The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady.

In Spring 1946 Mingus recorded an unknown number of lost tunes with a legendary group called The Stars of Swing. It was a septet with John Anderson (tp), Britt Woodman (tb), Buddy Collette (alto), Lucky Thompson (ten), Spaulding Givens (p), Charles Mingus (b) and Oscar Bradley (dr). The recordings are lost, but the group is said to play very advanced music, very ahead of its time. It was a cooperative group, without a leader. Everyone wrote the arrangements or took part with ideas to rehearsal. The accent was more on arrangement than on improvising; Givens wrote arrangements with contrapunctal elements and Mingus, in the words of Buddy Collette, wrote tunes which asked a different approach to jazz performance. Mingus and Givens said that they used very chromatic harmonies, but drawn from a second-hand source, the easy listening albums from Hollywood. According to Priestley, The Stars of Swing could play contrapunctal tunes, recorded later, like Getting Together (based on All the Things You Are), or pieces with two themes spliced on two levels, like Tea for Two (Tea for Two + Perdido) or Take the "A" Train (i.e. the Strayhorn's tune + Exactly Like You). Mingus said that What Love (Candid 1960) was written for this group. It could be an exaggeration, but if we imagine the melody played straight with a piano playing the chord changes at a medium tempo, we'll hear a tune very close to some Mingus tune of late Forties, like Make Believe. Of course, with soloist of late swing tradition as Lucky Thompson, Britt Woodman and Mingus himself, and with a conservative name (The Stars of Swing), the music couldn't be too much advanced. But it foreshadowed future trends of Californian Jazz, with its emphasis on arrangement and counterpoint, and lush harmonies. And "a proclivity for sperimentation, an emphasis on compositional structures, a deep feeling for the blues and the jazz tradition, a stable of strong soloists - all these characterizations of the Stars of Swing could easily be applied to almost any Mingus band of late years (see Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz, p. 338).

In February 1947 Mingus recorded for Columbia The Chill of Death, his first composition, written in 1939, for speaker and orchestra. Charlie Parker attended at the session and encouraged the young composer. But Columbia never released the recording, probably because the music was too "strange" and different from the standard product of black musicians: they didn't know how to sell it. In August Odell Carson, his brother-in-law, died at 46. He was a seminal figure in his musical life, because he helped Mingus to know Mexican and Spanish music.

At the end of the summer, Mingus joined the Lionel Hampton big band. For Decca he recorded with it two originals, Mingus Fingers for big band and Zoo-Bab-Da-Oo-Ee for combo; there is also a live recording of an arrangement of Body And Soul for big band. The Body and Soul chart was later inserted in Epitaph, with a slightly different instrumentation.

Zoo-Bab-Da-Oo-Ee is a Eb blues, with a vocal riff, of the kind introduced by Dizzy Gillespie in tunes like Dynamo or Oop-Bop-Sh-Bam. The theme is the most interesting feauture of the tune. It's 12 bars long: the first 4 bars are consonant, the second four more dissonant, the last four very dissonant. Here we can see the typical Mingus approach to bebop: in bars 9-12 of the theme (ex. 6) the most important interval is the flatted fifth b flat-e natural. Mingus wrote it the first time against the Fm7 chord (bar 9), the second time against the Ebmaj7 chord. Here we have a traditional bop lick, the flatted fifth, in a different context: usually in bop the flatted fifth is played "inside" the chord, that is is the flatted fifth of the chord played (for example c-g flat against a C7 chord: in bar 11 of Zoo-Bab-Da-Oo-Ee we have a against Ebmaj7). But in this tune the flatted fifth is out of context: the same interval is played against different chords, and the real flatted fifth of the chords is never heard: we hear a flatted fifth interval but the notes aren't in a flatted fifth relation with the chords. This is a kind "bitonality" unknown to jazz until that time, and it will be typical of Mingus advanced writing in late Forties.

Mingus Fingers is a concerto for double bass and orchestra, in the tradition of For Bass Faces Only (for Oscar Pettiford, later recalled One Bass Hit for Ray Brown) and Two Bass Hit (for Al McKibbon). Like For Bass Faces Only, Mingus Fingers is based on "rhythm changes" (the modified I Got Rhythm chord changes) and the double bass is the absolute chief character. But some features are typical of Mingus audacious style. After a whole-tone intro, the theme-riff is stated by the bass, and the orchestra answers with an instrumentation with flute, clarinet and muted trumpets, a rare blending in the jazz of those years. The last A of the theme is 11 bars long, maybe the most original touch of the composition: it is divided in 1+4+4+2 (ex. 7); it is based on a tonic pedal (!), played by bass with bow and tremolo, a rare device in jazz until the Sixties: on it trombones play a two part counterpoint above a trill of saxes e muted trumpets chords. This kind of writing (asymmetric phrase of 11 bars, tonic pedal point, bow and tremolo, counterpoint and crescendo) is a clue of the love of Mingus for Richard Strauss (the tone poem Death and Transfiguration was one of his favorite compositions) and of his aims as a composer. After a chorus divided between bass and vibes, there is an eight bars transition divided in 5+3: five bars of bass ostinato on dominant pedal point and orchestra (with, from now on, flute and clarinet blended) plus a three bars break for the bass. The coda is seven bars long. So Mingus Fingers wides the bop orchestral language with the following features:

  1. symphonic elements: tonic pedal, asymmetric periods, flute-clarinet blending.
  2. hints of extended form: lengthening or shortening of eight bars phrases.
  3. Afro-American writing of pyramidal ostinatos.
  4. echoes of Mexican music (flute and clarinet by fourths).
Mingus Fingers was recorded again in 1949 with a quartet with Buddy Collette on clarinet. It is a straight, bebop performance with theme played in unison by clarinet, piano and bass and a long bass solo. The arrangement of Mingus Fingus No. 2, recorded in 1960, is simpler than the first one, but the last A in the first chorus and the second A in the last chorus are nine bars long. In the coda there is a complex polyrhythmic passage: maybe this is the difficult passage that Mingus deleted from the Hampton arrangement (see Joe Goldberg, Jazz Masters of the 50's, p. 135).

Body and Soul is the first evidence of a Mingus arrangement of a standard. Mingus plays both with bow and pizzicato. The chord changes are heavily substituted (ex. 8). Mind the unusual chords Gmaj7 and Emaj7 in A/6, Dmaj7 in B/4 and Emaj7 in B/6: here Mingus is playing a common root movement III-bIII-II in C, but he harmonizes it with unusual chords, as the Emaj7 chord on III: this is the same way Thelonious Monk harmonized Off Minor and Brilliant Corners: usual roots movements but unusual chord qualities.

Body and Soul, again, is a concerto for bass and orchestra, but here the two characters are on the same level. Only in the second B section the orchestra is silent, except for a ferocius, dissonant intervention in B/4. The sound is dominated by brass. After the last B section, Mingus exits from the chorus and writes a beautiful eight bars variation on three contrapunctal layers: the dissonances are of the Zoo-Bab-Da-Oo-Ee kind.

So in Mingus Fingers and Body and Soul we hear for the first time a new, wild energy in the music of Mingus, with big, heavy orchestral sounds, and the bass absolute chief character: Mingus is already a great soloist and a mature composer.

Between 1947 and 1948, Mingus knew in Lionel Hampton orchestra the trumpeter Fats Navarro, who became his friend. In the autobiography, Mingus credited Navarro, who had Cuban origins, to have let him know the Cuban music. Mingus was already interested in Latin, Mexican music, but Navarro helped him to know and play it more in depth Cuban music. In 1948 an unknown Cuban bandleader, Perez Prado, recorded in Mexico some successful records, which sold well also in California, because the American market was freezed by the Afm strike. The Los Angeles bandleader Sonny Burke recorded Que Rico El Mambo by Prado and retitled it More Mambo. The mambo craze was beginning. In 1949 Burke commissioned a mambo to Mingus. The written composition, Moods in Mambo, resulted too much complex and Burke refused it: fifteen years later it was part of the Epitaph project. Maybe before the 1962 Town Hall concert Mingus wrote on the score "Mambo 1945" (not "Bossa Nova 1945", as Schuller wrote in his liner notes in the "Epitaph" Cd).

Moods in Mambo is one of the greatest masterpieces ever written by Mingus, an atonal composition, thoroughly written without improvisation, very far from traditional mambo, except for rhythmic instruments, and also far from jazz or European contemporary music. It's impossible here to make a complete analysis: we point out few essential features.

The compositional layout is simple, with several following sections, some of them returning towards the ending. Harmony can help to clarify it. Mingus wrote the music in Db key: is it the tonal center? The first two chords of the introduction (ex. 9) are Db7#4/b9 and D713b5(omit7), that is I and bII of Db major key; the last chord of the composition is a clear Db major chord; the ostinato 1 starting at bar 28 (bars are numbered according the printed score) is the horizontal movement of the first chord of the introduction (ex. 10a). The tritone is the key interval of the piece: we have the I-bII relation in the introduction; the ostinato 1 is made of two tritones a tone apart (ex. 10b); the fluegelhorn theme in the A section is based on Db with strong tritone elements (G against Db). The secondary key center, starting at bar 58, is G major, a tritone apart the key of the composition. Before it, in bar 52, we can hear the first expressionistic writing of the early Mingus, a wild atonal passage which anticipates the violence of Pithecantropus Erectus, Fables of Faubus and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. But G isn't the only secondary key; Gb7, IV blues degree of Db, plays also an important role (for example at the end of the section after the short tuba episode).

In Prado's mambos there was a kind of advanced harmonic writing, but Mingus pushed it further, showing his love for Bartók, Strauss and Stravinskij, as we can see in the contrapunctal writing of the piece. But the most disconcerting aspect of the piece is instrumentation: we range from the lowest register (baritone sax, bass and contrabass clarinet, two bass trombones) directly to mid-high and high one (alto sax and two flugelhorns). In many passages, Mingus gives up chords and counterpoint to open terrible, harsh and heavy musical landscapes, never heard in jazz and in western music, as between in bars 86-89, the tuba episode (ex. 11).

If Moods in Mambo represents the aggressive side of Mingus expressionism, Eclipse represents the lyrical one. Written maybe in 1948 for Billie Holiday (who probably never sang it), it was recorded for the first time in 1953 for Debut. The structural scheme of the song is ABCDA, a developed melody framed in two strong A sections, like This Subdues My Passion. 'Cause of the strict relations between words and music, the harmonic dissonances (melodic major sevenths against harmonic minor sevenths, third progressions in bars B/1-2 of the Mercury 1960 recording), the tormented melodic line, the visionary and metaphoric words of the text, Eclipse is (like Weird Nightmare) more an expressionistic Lied than a simple song, and a very original one. Like in This Subdues My Passion, the central sections are more relaxed; chord changes proceed through continous II-V-I, and the D section has an airy modulation to Emaj and Dmaj; twenty-six years later, we will hear the same kind of modulation in the B section of Duke Ellington's Sound of Love. Another element of melodic continuity are the lapses to d#.

Another song from this period is Bemoanable Lady, recorded in 1960 and inspired by Ellington's Prelude to a Kiss and Strayhorn's A Flower is a Lovesome Thing.

In January 1949 Mingus recorded Pennies from Heaven and his Lyon's Roar with a quartet with baritone sax. The dark rendering of the optimistic Pennies from Heaven confirms the Mingus trend to reverse the meaning of the standards (see the later A Foggy Day and Flamingo). The most interesting feature of Say It Isn't So, from the following session, is the coda reminiscing Come Sunday, beautifully orchestrated with muted brass and bowed bass. Lyon's Roar and Boppin' in Boston (this one again from the following session) are straight bebop pieces, light and without the strength of the New York bebop.

At the beginning of 1949 Mingus rehearsed in San Francisco with a big band, The Symphonic Airs, who recorded seven pieces, but only three survived. Among the lost records, there is God's Portrait, that is the song a.k.a. Portrait or Old Portrait, and recorded several times (the first known to us is from a Debut session in 1952). The song is a 32 bar form ABAC (but in the "Mingus Fake Book" the form is marked ABCD): the key is D flat. This the most important key of Mingus music: it's the key of the "autobiographic" compositions, the "soul key" in which he played by istinct. They are in D flat: Portrait, Celia, Peggy's Blue Skylight, Dizzy Moods, Myself When I'm Real, The I of Hurricane Sue, Duke Ellington's Sound of Love and part of The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, The Man Who Never Sleeps, Remember Rockefeller at Attica, Sue's Changes.

Like This Subdues My Passion, Portrait has a deep motivic unity. Following the "Mingus Fake Book" section letters (ABCD), we see that that first two-bars phrase appears again in several strategic points: A/8, B/2 (in ascending way) and B/7. The little idea in bars B/3-4 appears in a variated forms in B/5-6 and D/1-4. At bars A/3, 5 and 7 we hear the "expressive" motive. The melody oscillates between c4 and a3-a flat3, harmonized every time in different ways (including a tritone substitution in B/8).

Also the harmony has a personal touch: the B section keys are C, Ab and F, a minor third progression written many years before Coltrane's Central Park West... The D section is more dissonant and daring (see the "Mingus Fake Book").

Inspiration was recorded in the same session and is two sides of a 78 r.p.m. long, and has been unavailable for a long time. It will be soon reissued: it's probably a different arrangement of Portrait.

Only three orchestral tunes remained of the session of 1949 for Fentone. He's Gone is a Mingus arrangement of a song by R. Manza-Stevens. Mingus plays the cello and there is no bass in the orchestra, in which plays also Dante Profumato on flute, a member of San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. The long, 15 bars introduction is drawn from the beginning of Half-Mast Inhibition. Here we can hear the pseudo-symphonic writing that Spaulding Givens liked. But the role of the cello, the distribution of silences and crescendo of the brass, the dark, heavy dissonances when the singer sings the words "He's gone", and the ending are very personal touches.

But the masterpiece is Story of Love, recorded two times in two different versions: Fentone 1949 and Rex Hollywood 1949. The Fentone version has a 14 bars introduction, three AABA choruses and a 8 bars ending. A rhythmic ostinato of tambourine and drums defines an hot, Mexican mood, strengthened by the ostinato of saxes on the Phrygian-Hispanic pregression F-Gb; the muted trumpets add another touch of Mexican color.

The theme, a Phrygian riff, and solo choruses are on swing rhythm, with a richer orchestral texture; see the third modulation from F (A section) to Ab (B section); the third A of the theme has a clarinet over the riff, an intense lyrical touch. Mingus changes the chord changes for the first two A section in every chorus of improvisation : so the first chorus after the theme has an A'A'BA structure; next chorus is A"A"BA. The orchestral background is the most interesting aspect: here the orchestra is very active, not a simple background, but a real chief character: the fight between the soloists and the orchestra has a wild, overwhelming energy typical of the mature Mingus.

The Rex Hollywood version has the same layout, but a 10-bar introduction (instead of 14) and a six bar coda (instead of 8). There is no tambourine: the use of mutes for trumpet is reversed (no mutes in place of mutes in the first version and vice versa). Complessivamente, this version in less wild.

Story of Love is the first Mingus composition where the Latin influence become a structural element. This influence is coupled with a shouting quality of the music, through the trombones parts, the on and off of the reeds, and the shouting chords of the trumpets. Now there is no trace of the rhythmic stiffness of the arragements for Dinah Washinton. In Story of Love the soloists and the "background" are on the same level and create an overwhelming, dynamic, polyphonic effect, with unusual harmonic blendings and dissonant clashes. Story of Love, really the forerunner of Ysabel's Table Dance (which shares several structural elements), is far from the Afro-Cuban jazz trend of those years: it's inspired by Mexican rhythms, a new feature for jazz. Mexico has an important, symbolic meaning in the life of Mingus, and deserves separate insight: his brother-in-love Odell Carson played Mexican and Spanish music on his guitar; Mingus was born at the border with Mexico; he escaped to Mexico in his teens for a "story of love" (see the autobiography) , and he died in Mexico.

In 1949 Mingus was a mature composer, but his recordings had little if no distribution in the Los Angeles area and after a while he was virtually isolated; he hadn't the economic means to manage an orchestra; after a while, his self-confidence diminished, and he chose to work as a post office clerk. He will go back to music in 1950, to join the Red Norvo Trio, to go to New York and to start a new chapter of his life and art.

Stefano Zenni


Without the help and support of Susan Mingus this research would have been impossible. Thank you also to Gianfranco Cascella (and Roberto Castelli), Luciano Federighi, Lucio Fumo, David Hajdu, Olivier Kociubinska, Marcello Piras, Joseph Scott, Claudio Sessa, Walter Van De Leur and Uwe Weiler for rare recordings and suggestions. Thanks also to Cristiana Arena for assistance in some transcriptions and to Carla Fusco for help in translation.
Copyright © Stefano Zenni (stzenni @ tin . it)
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