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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On June 27th, the Mingus Dynasty performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (click for link) for the screening of Manny Kirchheimer’s 1981 film “Stations of the Elevated”.
The film hasn’t been seen much since, except by generations of graffiti fans and writers who watched it on VHS tapes. Now it’s being re-released on the big screen, with a showing Friday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It will hit screens around the country this fall.
Stations of the Elevated is not a documentary in the usual sense. It’s only 45 minutes long; there’s no narrative and hardly any dialogue. The camera follows subway cars painted from top to bottom with vibrant graffiti compositions over a soundtrack of jazz by Charles Mingus.
Stations of the Elevated on NPR’s All Things Considered (click for link)
A Critic at Large
Black, Brown, and Beige
Duke Ellington’s music and race in America.
…”Two years before Ellington died, in 1972, Yale University held a gathering of leading black jazz musicians in order to raise money for a department of African-American music. Aside from Ellington, the musicians who came for three days of concerts, jam sessions, and workshops included Eubie Blake, Noble Sissle, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Mary Lou Williams, and Willie (the Lion) Smith. During a performance by a Gillespie-led sextet, someone evidently unhappy with this presence on campus called in a bomb threat. The police attempted to clear the building, but Mingus refused to leave, urging the officers to get all the others out but adamantly remaining onstage with his bass. “Racism planted that bomb, but racism ain’t strong enough to kill this music,” he was heard telling the police captain. (And very few people successfully argued with Mingus.) “If I’m going to die, I’m ready. But I’m going out playing ‘Sophisticated Lady.’ ” Once outside, Gillespie and his group set up again. But coming from inside was the sound of Mingus intently playing Ellington’s dreamy thirties hit, which, that day, became a protest song, as the performance just kept going on and on and getting hotter. In the street, Ellington stood in the waiting crowd just beyond the theatre’s open doors, smiling.” ♦
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Charles Mingus’s original score for the iconic and political work Fables of Faubus will be displayed as part of a new exhibition at The Library of Congress. Opening on June 19, 2014, the exhibition is entitled “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle of Freedom”.