New York–based drummer Devin Gray says that a large-ensemble job he picked up over the summer was like many paying gigs: Show up and then find out who you’re playing with and what you’re playing. Some of the music was that of Charles Mingus, which Gray knew from his undergraduate days playing in a large ensemble that at the time was called the Peabody Big Band. “So I show up 5 minutes before the show, set up, and the leader’s just handing out tunes” on sheet music, says Gray, who graduated from the Peabody Institute’s Jazz Studies Department in 2006. “Three of them were Mingus tunes—and two of them, I remembered the whole arrangement. And when I was playing those tunes I could remember playing in the [Peabody] big band. And I was like, Whoa—I know this music.” …
On March 28th, 2014, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis performed works by Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington.
“By spotlighting music from both artists’ enormous oeuvres in a single program, the orchestra shed light on the similarities of jazz giants often perceived as contrasting figures.
…Mingus’ music surely builds on Ellington’s precedents (as does almost everything in jazz), vigorously developing its harmonic, rhythmic and tonal vocabularies. The centerpiece here was Ron Westray’s arrangement of four pieces from Mingus’ “Tijuana Moods” album, the orchestra riding the twists and turns of this tremendously ornate music with considerable technical elan. Marsalis’ whirring, high-register trumpet flurries on “Dizzy Moods,” Elliot Mason’s lusty trombone exhortations in “Los Mariachis” and Victor Goines’ muscular tenor saxophone solo in “Ysabel’s Table Dance” stood out.
But, ultimately, it was the riot of sound that the ensemble produced, while somehow making sure that the motifs of individual orchestral sections rang out, that represented the greatest feat of this performance. That the band also looked at Mingus’ introspective side, in a warmly whispered version of his “Self-Portrait in Three Colors,” deepened one’s appreciation for the composer’s range and the performers’ sensitivity to it.”