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Mingus Beat - Summer 2005

"In other words, I am three..."

The Mingus Big Band released its eighth recording, "I AM THREE," on June 7, and it is already being called one of the best jazz CDs of the year. Featuring six performances by the Big Band, and two performances each by the Mingus Dynasty and the Mingus Orchestra, the CD spans the repertoire from swing to extended classical-inspired compositions, revealing the complimentary but different sides to Mingus's work. All but two arrangements were made by band members, including John Stubblefield, Boris Koslov and Robin Eubanks. "Todo Modo" and "Chill of Death" are arranged by Sy Johnson. A sample from the recording can be downloaded from the homepage of our website. Single tracks or the entire recording can be purchased from iTunes, and other download music service subscription options will be available in the future. The CD can be ordered online through Amazon or others online retailers, and can be purchased in local record stores.

Did They Really Come To New York To Go To Bed At 11?

Maybe not 11, but certainly by 1:00 a.m. The slogan, "Did You Really Come To New York To Go To Bed At 11?" didn't have the effect of "Would You Let Your Daughter Marry a Rolling Stone?" but it has turned into a partial zen koan around Jazz Workshop headquarters. After a stunning debut and two months of inspired late-night performances at Joe's Pub, the Mingus Orchestra pulled up stakes before Memorial Day weekend. Back in November 2004, the Orchestra took over the weekly Thursday night performances at Fez after the Big Band moved to the Iridium in midtown. For four months ever week, the 10-piece group – featuring bassoon, bass clarinet, French horn and guitar – played a repertoire of about 30 compositions arranged exclusively for the Orchestra, glittering gems like "Eclipse" and "Noon Night" as well as some of Mingus's extended compositions. The spit and polish really showed when they relocated to Joe's Pub, as anyone who had the opportunity to attend can attest. On a given Thursday night (and early Friday morning) a set could include "Blue Cee" or "Pithecanthropus Erectus", "Jelly Roll," "Todo Modo," "Tonight at Noon," and "Haitian Fight Song." The late hour did not stop the Orchestra from taking on Mingus's "Half-Mast Inhibition" – which premiered at the first show on March 23, conducted by Gunther Schuller – and "Shoes of the Fisherman's Wife" side-by-side with a blues like "Devil Woman." Stay tuned.

On the Road

The Mingus Big Band starts its summer European tour with appearances in Italy at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perguia on July 8 and the La Spezia Jazz Fest on July 9. From there it's off to the Blue Note Jazz Festival in De Haan (Belgium) on July 10, and the Wigan Jazz Fest in Manchester, July 11. After a short break, they resume with the San Sebastian Jazz fest on July 26, and the Vannes Jazz Festival on July 29. Upon returning to the states at the end of the month, the Mingus Dynasty is a headliner at this year's Caramoor Jazz Festival in Katonah, New York on July 30. Artistic Director Joe Lovano is dedicated one portion of the night's programming to Mingus music. For more information on the traveling bands, check our Tour Page often.

For those keeping track, the Mingus Big Band began its spring tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the musicians held a master class in front an a packed auditorium. (Video excerpts coming soon – please check back!). Mingus's April 22 birthday was celebrated with a concert in San Diego, and from there the Band headed north. At UCLA, Hollywood types turned out to see what all the fuss was about – you can read Daily Variety's review of the concert – and the band made stops in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco before wrapping the west coast tour with two dates in Alaska, a first for the Band. The trombone section – Ku-umba Frank Lacey, Ron Westray, and Earl McIntyre - held a master class for high school musicians in Fairbanks! In June, the Band performed at an arts festival for two nights in Porto, Portugal.

And remember, the Mingus Big Band performs every Tuesday night at the Iridium jazz club in Times Square, New York City, at 51st and Broadway. Sets at 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., even when the band is on the road. Call 212- 582-2121 for reservations or info.

Summer Reading

Two books published by Harvard University Press take on a specific aspect of the cultural history of the United States: the role and effects of jazz and jazz musicians as ambassadors of American culture abroad. Both books explore the ambiguities of presenting jazz as the face of America. "Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties" by Scott Saul (394 pp.) bases its premise on two musicians, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, and one theory: that while jazz and some of the elements of the so-called jazz life were adopted as a way of the American life, exponents of jazz were culturally disenfranchised in the United States. In "Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War" by Penny M. Von Schen, the author takes up the tradition of the U.S. government-sponsored "jambassadors" dispatched to far corners of the globe to play jazz. The latter is particular relevant for the Mingus legacy – both Mingus as well as the repertory bands have participated in State Department tours.


Mingus Beat - Winter 2005

...And the Band Played On

The music of Charles Mingus has filled the Fez Under Time Cafe in the East Village each Thursday night for 13 years, but in March of this year that tenure will end as the restaurant and club undergo six months of renovations. Until then, the 10-piece Mingus Orchestra continues to play two sets at the club, at 8:30 and 10:30. This doesn't mean an end to weekly Manhattan performances: the 14-piece Mingus Big Band began playing two sets on Tuesday nights at the Iridium club in Midtown in November and new performance spaces to host the Orchestra are being considered for late spring. The smaller Mingus Dynasty can be heard intermittently at select venues.

On the road, the MBB will perform at Strathmore Hall in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 23, in Santa Fe, New Mexico on March 3, and in Denver on March 5. The Band begins its spring tour with two gigs in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on April 18 & 19, returning to San Diego to celebrate Mingus' April 22 birthday. From there, it's up the coast of California, through Oregon and Washington state, ending the tour with two shows in Alaska - a first - in Fairbanks and Anchorage, respectively. For details on dates, please visit the Tour Dates & Performances section of the website.

In the studio, the three current bands - the MBB, the Charles Mingus Orchestra, and the smaller Mingus Dynasty - recently finished recording ten tunes for an upcoming release entitled, "I am three." The title takes its name from the first line of Mingus' autobiography, Beneath The Underdog, and refers to the different people he thought he was: the vulnerable man, the impassioned man, the observer. "He might as well have said a hundred and three," says Sue Mingus. "There were that many Minguses." The title also refers to the three different approaches to Mingus' music on this CD.

On the recording, the Mingus Dynasty performs Mingus's famous gospel piece, "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" and also a new arrangement by bassist Boris Kozlov of "Free Cell Block F, 'Tis Nazi USA." As Mingus once said, "titles should speak from time to time to issues that ought to be of concern." The title could probably be up-dated to "Free Cell Block Alpha One," of Abu Ghraib infamy.

The Orchestra - with an exotic instrumentation that includes bassoon, French horn and bass clarinet, performs "Todo Modo" and "Chill of Death," focusing on the more orchestral side of Mingus composition.
The Mingus Big Band tracks include three new arrangements by tenor saxophonist John Stubblefield, who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer. He left the hospital to attend the recording sessions and to personally conduct the tracks. It was an enormously moving occasion and produced some of the "swingingest" pieces the MBB has recorded, including "Orange is the Color of her Dress," "Pedal Point Blues," and "Song with Orange." The musicians, who stayed in the studio from noon to 8 at night, along with Stubbs, included: Randy Brecker, Kenny Rampton, Jeremy Pelt, Ku-umba Frank Lacey, Conrad Herwig, Earl McIntyre, Alex Foster, Craig Handy, Jaleel Shaw, Wayne Escoffery, Abraham Burton, Boris Koslov, Johnathan Blake, John Hicks and George Colligan.

The remaining material includes a Mingus composition called "Tensions" arranged by bassist Boris Kozlov, an arrangement by trombonist Robin Eubanks of "MDM" (for "Monk Duke Mingus") and a vocal by trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy of a tune Mingus wrote in the Forties called "Paris in Blue," arranged by trombonist Earl McIntyre. Of the ten tracks on the album, eight are arranged by band members, for the first time. The other two compositions ("Todo Modo" and "Chill of Death") performed by the Orchestra, are arranged by Sy Johnson. The release date is scheduled for May 2005, and video clips from the recording session will soon be available for viewing on this website.

We're In the Movies

The year is off to a good start with at least two Mingus tunes secured for major upcoming Hollywood movies. "Constantine," the film version of the comic book Hellblazer starring Keanu Reeves, taps "Better Get Hit In Your Soul," and "The Ballad of Bettie Page," a bio-pic of the naughty 1950s pin-up is said to feature a classic jazz soundtrack, which includes Mingus's "Love Chant." Speaking of naughty, last year's "Young Adam" starring Ewan Macgregor, is now is available on DVD. Close readers of the column will recall that the context of David Byrne's arrangement of "Haitian Fight Song" generated notoriety in the film press. And running on the Sundance Channel (as well as released on video) is the Tom Dowd documentary, "The Language of Music." Dowd engineered many of the Atlantic Mingus sessions in the 1960s, and while the bulk of the documentary focuses on Dowd's later work with rock bands, a fair amount is devoted to jazz, and Dowd refers to Mingus in the documentary.

Best of 2004

It's the time of year when critics sit around and make lists of the best records of the previous year, and it is no surprise that two Mingus reissues made various best jazz albums lists. "The Great Concert of Charles Mingus " (Verve) features Mingus leading one of his best bands - including saxophonist Eric Dolphy -- in this 1964 concert in Paris. The two-disc set is generally considered required listening for those unfamiliar with one of the essential architectures of modern jazz. Fresh Air, the syndicated PBS radio program, played portions of the recording during its annual review of the year's best releases. Says jazz critic Kevin Whitehead: "It comes from a difficult tour which is widely documented on other CDs, but this one stands out. The trumpeter got sick and dropped off the tour, and the reed player, Eric Dolphy, announced he'd be leaving the band when it was over to remain in Europe, although no one had an inkling that Dolphy would die of complications of diabetes about 10 weeks later. Despite all the troubles, Dolphy and tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan blend well to cover for the missing trumpet, and pianist Jaki Byard could play in any style and usually did in the course of a concert. Mingus on bass and Dannie Richmond on drums played fancy games with the time, and anchored the band's engaging looseness in a good way." Indeed, the "wide documentation" Whitehead refers to is the poorly recorded, bootleg versions - most notably the one released by Musidisc in the late 1990s, which misidentifies the tunes. He is, however, evidently unaware of the superb release on Sue Mingus's Revenge Records of the illegal French version.

The other major re-issue is part of the Atlantic Masters series, "Tonight At Noon." The performances on this album were recorded on two separate occasions, some four years apart. The 1961 date includes 'Invisible Lady' and 'Peggy's Blue Skylight' featuring Roland Kirk. Originally released as three sides of a double vinyl album, it comes with spoken interludes. Though the two sessions cover different stylistic ground, they blend together seamlessly and feature some of Mingus's loveliest tunes.

For those who like visual with their audio, Eagle Rock Entertainment issued a series of eight DVDs of famous performances from the history of the Montreux Jazz Festival. Among the best is "Charles Mingus: Live at Montreux 1975." Well reviewed, it features his core group from that era, with pianist Don Pullen, longtime drummer Dannie Richmond, Jack Walrath on trumpet, and saxophonist George Adams. This is basically the band that recorded "Changes 1" and "Changes 2," a pair of Mingus' most notable albums. The last two songs - "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train" guests Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax) and Benny Bailey (trumpet). Other DVDs in the series include jazz guitarist Al DiMeola, Curtis Mayfield, Earth Wind & Fire, bluesman Gary Moore, Shane McGowan and the Popes, and Marvin Gaye.

In a busy year, one event that stands out was the October all-star concert and 45th birthday party for in London, at which the Mingus Big Band headed the bill (and performed at the club throughout the following week). As a young musician, the late Ronnie Scott visited 52nd St in New York, where, in cramped basement bars all the greatest jazz musicians performed night after night. Scott conceived the idea of bringing something similar to London. The Soho club has survived longer and with more loyal friends among fans and musicians alike than almost any other jazz establishment on the planet. There is an anniversary double CD available on Universal (oddly, without any performances from the club) and a limited edition book documenting the club's history in photographs. Critics of the CD also note that only a sprinkling of names from the first three decades of the club are among the 22 tracks. One track from the past that sneaks in is Mingus' "II BS."

Speaking of cellar bands, a bit further north, an 18-piece Norwegian ensemble named released a CD called "Mingus Schmingus." The arrangements are mostly Sy Johnson's and that of the bandleader, Erik Johannessen; the vocalist on "Chair in the Sky" and "Invisibly Lady" has a nice voice. There's a CD available on Sonor Records (2004) but the tunes can also be downloaded as MP3s from the band's website.

Finally, Pantheon's collection of Dan Morgenstern's essays, entitled "Living With Jazz" (edited by Sheldon Meyer, October 2004) is probably the most notable jazz book of the year. Known for his work on Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington in particular, the essays are brilliant. Author Will Friedwald ("Sinatra!") in writing a review for The New York Sun, said that one essay in particular caught him by surprise: Morgenstern's obituary for Charles Mingus.

"Whatever Mingus did, he did with conviction and courage." Mr. Morgenstern wrote. "In a world of codes, charades and compromises, he refused to play by the rules for which he had contempt. Always ready to strike the first blow, he left himself wide open in the process. It was this openness - to experience, to emotion, to action, to risk - that made Mingus and his music such intense and involving forces."



September 2004


At the Berklee College of Music convocation on September 3, 2004, to welcome new students and to present saxophonist Michael Brecker with an honorary degree, the new campus mascot was celebrated as well-- a human sized "hip cat", whose name, Mingus, was voted on by the student body. Sue Mingus gave her blessings to the cat in a brief speech during which she presented him with the Charles Mingus CATalog for Toilet Training your Cat.

Many of the musicians that have participated in the Mingus Big Band or Charles Mingus Orchestra attended the Berklee College of Music, including Jaleel Shaw, Seamus Blake, Frank Lacy, Jeremy Pelt, Steve Slagle, Eli Digibri, Julian Joseph, Mike Sim, Douglas Yates, Jamal Haynes, Kurt Rosenwinkle, David Kikoski, Geoff Keezer, Duane Burno, Gene Jackson, Scott Robinson, Ingrid Jensen, and Miguel Zenon.

click on any photo to enlarge


Saxophonist Michael Brecker
received an Honorary Doctor of Music.


Mingus Beat - Spring 2004

Happy Birthday to Charles Mingus… Celebrate with the Mingus Big Band at their weekly gig at Fez under Time Café (in Manhattan) on Mingus' birthday, Thursday April 22nd (for reservations, call (212) 533-7000 or visit ticketweb.com) … it has been 25 years - a quarter century - since Mingus' death on January 5, 1979 in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

What's summer without music festivals? Catch a flight to the Caribbean for the St. Lucia Jazz Festival in May. The Mingus Dynasty band - seven musicians (half of the Mingus Big Band) will perform. The music continues with a summer-by-the-sea concert as the Mingus Big Band plays the 50th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island on Sunday, August 15th. As historians know, Mingus and Newport have an unusual track record: Mingus performed at Newport in July of 1956; protested the event in 1960 by co-directing, along with Max Roach, an alternative festival to Newport (Newport Rebels) … and returned to play Newport one last time in the early 1970's.

Did anyone see beer tapped from a tuba at Ronnie Scott's? A reporter for London's Evening Standard newspaper, presumably chatting up a friendly fan between MBB sets during the six-night March stand, concludes his review of the concert:

"As befits one of the big weeks in the club's year, audience reaction was warm. "I love it here," said Jo, an enthusiastic blonde with classical-cello experience and a novel viewpoint. "And isn't the band marvelous? It looks like a [Gerard] Hoffnung drawing!"

Another ale, please.

Speaking of Germany, Sue Mingus' book, Tonight at Noon is now translated into German, French and Italian. Sue read from the book at select Italian, Swiss and German locales concurrent with band performances during the recent three-week European tour. Tonight at Noon reached Italy's Top 10 list… The Mingus Big Band will return to Europe for a three-week tour in the fall, including concerts in Istanbul, Cork, and London, and another week at Ronnie Scott's to help celebrate the club's 40th anniversary.

Ad junkies and Herman Miller fiends take note: the high-end chair maker's interactive agency, Imaginary Forces, designed and produced a two minute promo video, "Get Real," touting Miller's sleek furniture line and featuring a swinging Mingus "II B.S." Watch the video at www.imaginaryforces.com (look under "commercials" - but be warned, Flash & QuickTime plug-ins are required for viewing). The video will appear at the numerous conferences on design and workplace issues that Herman Miller sponsors this year.

Mingus Amungus is well, still among us! The Oakland-based group, an eclectic local group of talented players and arguably a Bay Area institution, are celebrating their 10th year of convening in tribute to the music and spirit of Mingus. This spring has them booked solid - check out the schedule at www.mingusamungus.com.

Mingus makes another list! The Library of Congress has announced its second annual selection of 50 sound recordings to the National Recording Registry. This is a relatively new event, based on the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000. An LOC librarian picks recordings that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Nominations are gathered from the public, who submit suggestions online, as well as the National Recording Preservation Board (made up of leaders in the fields of music, recorded sound and preservation). So while checking out which Mingus recording made this year's list, be sure to vote for next year!
http://www.loc.gov/rr/record/nrpb/

It's the holidays and there are Angels in America … or at least in Mingus' "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting." An unattributed piece of interpretive journalism appeared in the March 11, 2004 issue of the Christian Science Monitor extolling the spiritual significance of the tune:

"Given the title, we can assume we are hearing individual testimonies to God's goodness, which elicit cries of support from all who hear them. Spontaneous jumping-up-and-down gratitude to God is a natural response to the fullness of His thoughts - His angels. Like the Coltrane work [A Love Supreme], it's not a subdued piece, but one telling us that angel messages of gratitude can come in droves, armies of individual joys reinforcing one another. They don't exist alone, in a kind of static solitary splendor, but happily jostle one another in a universe of rejoicing. At first the works may sound chaotic, but familiarity gives an assurance of structure, an order where a multiplicity of ideas exist simultaneously yet don't tear the piece apart." In conclusion? " We're not in this alone, and our gratitude leaps to respond to the legions of angels that are there to help us. Being good and doing good is not a matter of willpower struggling against the flesh or poverty or disease. Our true wellness, one that is not fragile, can lie in accepting and rejoicing in this jazzlike teeming atmosphere of angels."

- Elizabeth Saperstein

Mingus Beat - Fall 2003

On Audio:
Two Mingus recordings on Bethlehem Records from the 1950s are reissued this month by The Musical Heritage Society (Oakhurst, N.J.) through its mail order music club: East Coastin' and A Modern Jazz Symposium of Music and Poetry With Charles Mingus.

John McLaughlin's latest, Thieves and Poets features a three-movement, full-orchestral work that includes Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" in the second movement. The work was orchestrated by McLaughlin collaborator Yan Maresz and is performed by the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie. On Verve.
John McLaughlin previously recorded an acoustic version of "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" on his 1970 album My Goal's Beyond.

In Performance:
The Charles Mingus Orchestra will undertake an extensive European tour in November. Check the tour dates page for more details.

Mingus' "Meditations For Integration" gets some exercise this month. Ballet Pacifica kicked off its new season with an opening number set to the tune, with dancers performing to the Hal Willner-produced recording using Harry Partch instruments. Four dancers circle, then split into two groups: one classical, the other modern dancing. They come together in a series of pas de deux featuring extravagant lifts. Artistic director Molly Lynch. At the Irvine Barclay Theatre, Irvine. The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra is playing "Meditation" on its fall tour, and the piece, arranged by LCJO trombonist Ron Westray, figures importantly in the performance.

On Film &TV:
"Young Adam," a Scottish film starring Ewan MacGregor and Tilda Swinton that debuted at this month's New York Film Festival, features a score by David Byrne that includes an arrangement of "Haitian Fight Song" - which, according to New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott, is an erotic depiction "that may do for ketchup what Last Tango in Paris did for butter." The film is scheduled for release in Spring 2004. The soundtrack, by Bryne, is scheduled for release on Thrill Jockey Records.

Graffiti cult-classic "Stations of the Elevated," the 1980 Manny Kirscheimer film documenting the graffiti-laden subway cars through the South Bronx, airs periodically throughout the year on the Sundance Channel. The film's use of Mingus compositions is effective. Check the Sundance Channel.

On the Radio:
The week of December 9 2003, NPR will air a special program of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz. Boris Kozlov of the Mingus Big Band will perform Mingus music in a bass and piano duet with Marian McPartland on the show, and Sue Mingus will be interviewed about her book, Tonight At Noon. Check your local NPR affiliates the week of December 9th for scheduling in your area.

On October 5, the BBC aired a program of Ken Clarke's Jazz Greats on Radio 4 that was devoted to the life and music of Charles Mingus, and featured a recent interview with Sue Mingus.

In Print:
Mingus appears literally and figuratively in three new books. Jonathan Lethem's new novel, The Fortress of Solitude (Doubleday) centers around a white boy's maturation in a predominantly black Brooklyn culture. The time ranges from the end of the 1960s to the close of the century. The novel pays tribute to music and musicians - Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Al Green, Marvin Gaye - and the two protagonists - Dylan and Mingus are named after Bob Dylan and Charles Mingus. Edgardo Vega Yunqu's sprawling, bluesy novel - titled No Matter How Much You Promise to Cook or Pay the Rent You Blew It Cauze Bill Baily Ain't Never Coming Home Again - imagines its characters in various scenarios with Monk, Davis and Mingus. (Farrar Straus Giroux). From University of Virginia English Professor Saul Scott we have Jazz and the Making of the Sixties (Harvard University Press) that describes the American jazz scene from around 1955 to 1967 and looks at how jazz influenced American culture. Charles Mingus and John Coltrane are the central characters of this narrative.

Sue Mingus's memoir Tonight at Noon has been translated into German, and will be published in France in mid-November. It will be translated into Italian in Spring 2004. The autobiography received excellent reviews in the weekly journal Die Zeit and Dile Junge Welt. Sue will promote the book in November in conjunction with the Orchestra's European tour, which swings through 13 European cities. Check the tour listings for dates. Tonight at Noon is also available in the U.K. through Perseus Books.

…And Making the Meta-Lists

In the latest contribution to the "artist's favorites" categories - where established artists select songs or albums that have had the biggest influence on their own music, we have two Mingus entries. On the compilation titled "Under the Influence," former Jam frontman and solo artist Paul Weller selects Charles Mingus "Passions of A Man." Available Nov. 24 on DMC. In the November issue of Vanity Fair, also known as the Music Issue, David Bowie's lists his top 25 must-have CDs, on which Charles Mingus "Oh Yeah" makes the cut. A welcome reference, since the rest of the issue doesn't devote any real coverage to jazz. But do we really need a Zagat's desert island list of the top 1,000? It's a rock-heavy ranking, but Mingus makes the cut with "Ah Um."

- Elizabeth Saperstein