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Charles Mingus


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Mingus Fingers: “I wrote it for Lionel Hampton’s band when he had two bass players, me and another bass player names Charles. I think “One Bass Hit” was out. Or either “Jack the Bear.” Anyway, Lionel cancelled the other bass player and told me to record by myself.”

Haitian Fight Song: “I was always doing revolutionary things, things that would alert people Like on the island of St. Maarten’s in the Caribbean they need to be alerted. They’re so subservient. I think they dig being like they are because I saw a sign in Phillipsburg that said: “We want a ghost leading us.” In Chicago they used to call the white guys “ghosts” and the black guys “spooks.””

Love Chant: “It was one of my first pedal point songs, or extended forms.”

The Clown: “I wanted Jean Shepard to narrate it and I told him a little story: this guy does everything to please people– tries all kinds of acts– and finally he invites them all out to watch him shoot himself. But he never does that. I never wanted to be that famous, myself– to be so accepted that I would put on a show like that, although a lot of people interpreted “The Clown” as being a parallel of myself. I suppose that’s what Jean thought he was doing.”

Ysabel’s Table Dance: “It was really conceived in Mexico in one of those night clubs where they have chicks that dance and take off their clothes. And the more you tip them, the more they take off. I was amazed. I also wrote my own version of “Flamingo” on the same trip. I wrote completely different changes in the key of E just to see what kind of guys would play it. But it’s completely different from what Duke did, other than the melody. “Los Mariachis” was another piece. They are the street musicians. They play completely different from the guys inside the clubs. More natural. They’re not affected. I don’t know if they make as much money. There’s seven or eight guys walking around, playing tunes in the street for people. I’ve always liked Mexican music and Spanish music because that’s jazz in a way– people’s music.”

Tensions: “It’s a technically involved composition. I called it that because the guys were tense playing it.”

Bird Calls: “It wasn’t supposed to sound like Charlie Parker. It was supposed to sound like birds– the first part.”

Gunslinging Bird: “The subtitle was “If Charlie Parker was a gunslinger, there’d be a whole lot of dead copycats.” I was just feeling crazy and thought that if Bird was a gunslinger instead of a musician in those early days, there’d have been a lot of guys getting killed.”

Far Wells, Mill Valley: “It was for my friend Farwell Taylor. To let him know I was thinking about him, because we had been very close. He’s a lot older than me, about twenty years. He’s very healthy. I talked to him last year on the phone (in l973). (When Farwell died in l977, Mingus wrote a tune called “Farewell Farwell.””

Prayer for Passive Resistance: “That was made up on a date with Yusef Lateef on a pattern I set. I set up a pattern with Dannie, and Yusef just played the blues. That was a pure, spontaneous date that day– not everything, but it was done on the same date as “Half -Mast Inhibition.” The title is signifying. I was always signifying.”

Strollin’: “I taught that to the guys in one second. I just hummed the parts and told Dannie how to break up the rhythms– how we suggest the beat rather than play the beat all the way through. I’d play two or three bars by myself, then Dannie would play two or three by himself. We didn’t have any piano. It’s called “Strollin'” because everybody would stroll and accompany the soloist. Like sometimes Eric Dolphy would play and accompany Ted Curson. Later on I called it “Nostalgia in Times Square.””