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.
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."
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
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
click on any photo to enlarge
Saxophonist Michael Brecker
received an Honorary Doctor of Music.
Mingus Beat - Spring 2004
Happy Birthday to Charles Mingus
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
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
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
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.
John McLaughlin previously recorded an acoustic version of "Goodbye
Pork Pie Hat" on his 1970 album My Goal's Beyond.
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.
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
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
- Elizabeth Saperstein