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Rutgers University Program Celebrates Charles Mingus

Program celebrates jazz legend Charles Mingus, connects students with master musicians

Jazz legend Charles Mingus died of complications from ALS in 1979, at age 56.

But thanks to the tenacity of his widow, Sue Mingus, it seems as if the endlessly innovative bassist, composer, band leader, and political activist never left the stage.

Sue Mingus is determined to share her late husband’s music with young people. She closely curates his social-media presence, oversees a Mingus high school festival and competition, and finances The Mingus Project, a program in which musicians and scholars conduct intensive master classes with Mason Gross School jazz students. Rutgers launched the program in 2013 and recently formed the Rutgers University Mingus Ensemble.

“Mingus left so much music,” Sue Mingus says. “It’s so varied and rich; it covers the waterfront. Kids seem to really enjoy playing it.

“There was a perception that his music was very difficult and for the chosen few. It shows you how [much] things change with time,” she adds. “We have these youngsters just playing the life out of it.”

Mason Gross jazz students say The Mingus Project grants them access to “the real world.”

“Before there were institutions for [learning] jazz, this is how you learned,” says Dan Giannone, a drummer who has participated in numerous classes with musicians from the Grammy-winning Mingus Big Band, the Mingus Orchestra, and the Mingus Dynasty. All three tribute bands, which Mingus began to assemble right after her husband’s death, have included Mason Gross alumni and faculty members, such as jazz studies chair and trombonist Conrad Herwig, bassist Kenny Davis, pianist Orrin Evans, and trombonist “Ku-umba” Frank Lacy.

The bottom line, Giannone says: “Playing with people greater than you makes you better yourself.” The Mingus Project allows him to do just that, on a regular basis.   … ….(CONTINUED)


Leader of Peabody Jazz Orchestra talks about value of playing in big band

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.” …

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Juilliard Ensemble performs Mingus

Free Concert Opens the 2014-15 Juilliard Jazz Season with New Director, Wynton Marsalis
Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Juilliard Jazz Artist Diploma Ensemble performed with Juilliard Jazz Director Wynton Marsalis at Juilliard’s Convocation Ceremony on September 3, 2014 in Juilliard’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Photo by Nan Melville)

NEW YORK –– Juilliard Jazz presents Meditations on Integration: Two Masters of Time and of Times, Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck featuring the Juilliard Jazz Artist Diploma Ensemble, the most advanced Juilliard Jazz musicians, on Tuesday, September 30, 2014 at 8 PM in Paul Hall at Juilliard (155 West 65th Street). Free tickets will be available beginning September 22 online at The concert opens the 2014-15 season of Juilliard Jazz with new director, Wynton Marsalis, at the helm.

Members of the Juilliard Jazz Artist Diploma Ensemble are: Lukas Gabric, saxophone; Gregg Duncan, guitar; Reuben Allen, piano; Paolo Benedettini, bass; and Jordan Young, drums. Saxophonist Charles McPherson is guest coach working with the ensemble.

The Artist Diploma Ensemble will perform Charles Mingus compositions (Meditation on Integration, Portrait in Three Colors, Fables of Faubus, Ecclusiastics, and Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk) and Dave Brubeck compositions (Unsquare Dance, Fast Life, Strange Meadowlark, We Will All Remember Paul, Blue Rondo à la Turk, Maori Blues, and The Duke).

Bassist Charles Mingus was among one of pianist Dave Brubeck’s champions. Mingus and Brubeck had known each other since the late 1940s in San Francisco when Mingus, a native of Los Angeles, happened to be performing in the Bay Area. The two began a long friendship. Aaron Flagg, Acting Chair and Associate Director of Juilliard Jazz, remarked: “As close friends, these two creative artists often discussed and wrote music about the unrealized promise of democracy in the United States. As we Americans celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this program brings these friends together again so our students can explore their music and message from a contemporary standpoint.”

Guest coach, Saxophonist Charles McPherson, has toured the United States, Europe, Japan, Africa, and South America with his own group, as well as with jazz greats Billy Eckstine, Lionel Hampton,Nat Adderly, Jay McShann, and others. Mr. McPherson has recorded as guest artist with Charles Mingus, Barry Harris, Art Farmer, Kenny Drew, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.

The next concert in the Juilliard Jazz season takes place on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 8 PM in Juilliard’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater and features the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra in Blues, Ballads, and Train Whistles. Bill Dobbins, professor of jazz studies and contemporary media at the Eastman School of Music and conductor of the Eastman Jazz Ensemble and Eastman Studio Orchestra, is guest conductor.