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Charles Mingus

Reviewed on this page:
Tijuana Moods - A Modern Jazz Symposium Of Music And Poetry - Mingus A Um - Dynasty - Oh Yeah - The Complete Town Hall Concert - The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady - Mingus In Europe II - Goodbye Pork Pie Hat - Mingus At Monterey - Let My Children Hear Music - Mingus Moves - Mingus At Carnegie Hall - Lionel Hampton Presents The Music Of Charles Mingus - Something Like A Bird

You can't sum up Charlie Mingus in a few words. The composer of numerous jazz standards ("Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," "Better Get It In Yo Soul"), who continually pursued new sounds and new forms but never lost his affection for Ellington. A champion of collective improvisation (which was present at the start of jazz in New Orleans but quickly disappeared in favor of individual solos) who organized Jazz Workshops; he was also a control freak and perfectionist who was known for physically assaulting or otherwise scaring off his bandmates in the middle of a set - sort of a jazz G.G. Allin - and thus sometimes reduced his band to a solo act. (In later years he settled for insulting their performances in his liner notes.) A critics' favorite who hated critics and continually felt slighted by them. A light-skinned black man who claimed to hate whites and authority figures but recruited his white psychoanalyst to write liner notes for one of his albums. A bassist whose legend has grown so much larger nobody even discusses his skill as a bassist (average, or slightly above). A larger-than-life, paradoxical figure who never saw the full score of Epitaph performed, but did leave behind a bunch of more or less brilliant albums. Listen to one or two of 'em and you'll know more about Mingus than I could ever tell you. Important Consumer Note: any release controlled by Mingus or his estate will list his name as "Charles Mingus" - any release attributed to "Charlie Mingus" is gray market or a bootleg.

I've reviewed Mingus's autobiography, Beneath The Underdog, on our spectacularly insightful book reviews page. Here's a fine fan site, from which I got much of this discography. (DBW)

Jazz Composers Workshop (1956)
Half by Mingus, half by pianist Wally Cirillo; musicians include Mal Waldron (piano), John LaPorta (clarinet), Modern Jazz Quartet drummer Kenny Clarke, and Teo Macero (tenor sax). (DBW)

Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956)
Three compositions by Mingus, plus Gershwin's "A Foggy Day." Personnel: Jackie McLean (alto sax), J.R. Monterose (tenor sax), Mal Waldron (piano) and Willie Jones (drums). (DBW)

The Clown (1957)
Four lengthy compositions by Mingus: "Haitian Fight Song," "Blue Cee," "Reincarnation Of A Lovebird" and the title track. The players are Shafi Hadi (alto & tenor sax), Jimmy Knepper (trombone), Wade Legge (piano), Dannie Richmond (drums); Jean Shepherd adds narration to "The Clown." (DBW)

Mingus Three (1957)
A trio with Hampton Hawes on piano and Richmond on drums; the set list is mostly standards ("Summertime"). (DBW)

Tijuana Moods (rec. 1957, rec. 1962)
Five lengthy tracks, all with the "Spanish tinge" that was the rage back then. One of many albums Mingus referred to as his best, but I don't hear it: "Ysabel's Table Dance" is a pastiche of bullfighter movie cliches. Mingus sometimes gets carried away with his scissors, cutting up and splicing sections so blatantly it's disturbing ("Los Mariachis"). But it's far from bad, with occasional bursts of classic collective improvisation where Clarence Shaw (trumpet) and Hadi get in plenty of sanctified hollerin'. The concluding "Flamenco" is lovely - detached and fragile - perhaps an inspiration for similar ventures on
Miles Davis's Sketches Of Spain. The cast includes Knepper, Richmond, Ysabel Morel (castanets), Lonnie Elder (voices) and Bill Triglia (piano). I have this packaged with a full lineup of alternate takes, titled New Tijuana Moods, which is better if only because the outtakes haven't been chopped up. (DBW)

A Modern Jazz Symposium Of Music And Poetry (1957)
The album title's pretentiousness is ironic, but it is an ambitious set. The centerpiece is the twelve-minute beat poetry extravaganza "Scenes In The City" (later covered by Branford Marsalis): Melvin Stewart reads (rather stiffly, I'm afraid) Mingus's words on the difficulties of being an urban jazzman, while the band shifts between a slow vamp and a fast one; when Stewart takes a break, the instrumental solos begin (Knepper's is particularly fine). As these things go, I prefer the text and narration of Rúben Blades's "GBDB," but Mingus does do a better job of integrating the words and the music. The mood throughout is downbeat and pensive, none of Mingus's raucous side shows through except on the closing "Slippers," but the record is no less rewarding for that. "N.Y. Sketchbook" is a suite of unfinished ideas, as the title implies, but it's also fascinating: like Tijuana Moods, the scissors are sometimes in evidence, but this time the editing helps shape the piece, instead of just getting it over with sooner. The players are Richmond, Shaw, Hadi, Bill Hardman (trumpet), and Horace Parlan and Bob Hammer (piano). The CD re-issue has two outtakes ("Wouldn't You" and "Bounce") and though I figure you should never object to bonus tracks, here they are really incongruous: uptempo hard bop that doesn't fit the mood at all. (DBW)

Jazz Portraits (1959)
Also known as Mingus In Wonderland. One standard (Gershwin's "I Can't Get Started With You") and three Mingus originals; a quintet with Booker T. Ervin (tenor sax), John Handy (alto sax), Richard Wyands (piano) and Richmond. (DBW)

Blues & Roots (1959)
All the tunes are by Mingus, and judging by the titles ("Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting," "Cryin' Blues") it's steeped in blues and gospel idioms. Players include McLean, Handy, Ervin, Knepper, Waldron, Richmond, plus journeyman Pepper Adams on baritone. (DBW)

Mingus A Um (1959)
The bedrock of Mingus's reputation as a composing and arranging genius. Crafting pieces for collective improvisation and tailoring them for the musicians who will be playing them is a lot harder than it sounds; both talents are heard to full effect on "Better Git It In Your Soul," sophisticated and gutbucket, modern and throwback, all at the same time. Other classic, much-covered material includes "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" (later recorded by Jeff Beck and lyricized by Joni Mitchell) and "Fables of Faubus." "Open Letter To Duke" is even better in a way, a terrific example of his ability to express very complex emotions musically. The band is Handy, Ervin and Shafi Hadi on sax; Willie Dennis and James Knepper on trombone; plus Parlan and Richmond. (DBW)

Dynasty (1960)
This applies the same approach (with most of the same musicians) of Mingus A Um to more Mingus originals, and couple of tunes from Ellington's book ("Things Ain't What They Used To Be" and a beautiful take on "Mood Indigo"). It's certainly enjoyable (the coda on "Slop" is a high point), but often the tunes aren't as memorable as his previous outing ("Song With Orange"). My copy of this is on a CD retitled Shoes Of The Fisherman's Wife, with one track added from Let My Children Hear Music and a few solos Mingus edited out reinserted. (DBW)

Pre-Bird (1960)
An orchestral record with too many players to list: Yusef Lateef, Eric Dolphy, Slide Hampton and Charles McCracken are just some of the more notable. Also released as Mingus Revisited. Includes "Prayer For Passive Resistance." (DBW)

Mingus At Antibes (rec. 1960, rel. 1976)
Live renditions of tunes like "Better Git It In Your Soul" and "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting." The band is Ted Curson (trumpet), Ervin, Dolphy and Richmond; Bud Powell guests on the standard "I'll Remember April." (DBW)

Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus (1960)
A quartet featuring Curson, Dolphy and Richmond; titles include "All The Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother." This and the following three albums were all cut over a couple of days for release by Candid Records. (DBW)

Mingus (1960)
Three lengthy pieces: "MDM," the Harold Arlen standard "Stormy Weather," and "Lock 'Em Up." A medium-sized band featuring standard Mingus players like Dolphy, Curson, Woodman, Richmond, Ervin and Knepper. (DBW)

Reincarnation Of A Lovebird (1960)
Songs include "Bugs," the standard "Body And Soul," and the title track; musicians are from the standard Mingus stable combined into sextets and a quartet. (DBW)

Newport Rebels (1960)
With "Mysterious Blues," "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams," "Me And You," this is apparently some kind of protest against the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, which Mingus co-organized(!). Knepper and Dolphy are joined by Tommy Flanagan (piano), Roy Eldridge (trumpet) and Jo Jones (drums). (DBW)

Mysterious Blues (rec. 1960, rel. 1990)
A compilation of outtakes from the sessions which produced the preceding albums. (DBW)

Oh Yeah (1962)
This time Mingus left the bass to play piano, and sing. His singing is straight out of country blues ("Devil Woman") with plenty of gospel influence ("Ecclusiastics") - often he dispenses with traditional lyrics in favor of expressive hollering. The compositions are grittier than before: "Hog Callin' Blues" is directly, intensely emotional; "Portrait of a Man" is even more intense, although the emotions are harder to pin down. For balance, he includes the broadly comic "Eat That Chicken." He's deft on piano, often Monk-like. Doug Watkins fills in on bass; longtime associates Ervin, Knepper and Richmond are still around; but the guest of honor is Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who plays not only tenor sax and flute, but also two sax-like instruments (manzello and strich) and siren. Best known for his freaky act (playing two or three wind instruments at the same time), Roland Kirk's also an impassioned, blues-based sax player, and his every solo here is of interest. The CD is supplemented with a twenty-minute interview with Mingus, in which he discusses the music on the album (among lots of other subjects) - fun the first time through. (DBW)

The Complete Town Hall Concert (rec. 1962, rel. 1994)
Not your average live big band recording: Mingus had piles of new music in his head, and wanted to stage an open rehearsal, which United Artists and producer Alan Douglas wanted to record and release. Then UA moved up the date five weeks, Mingus kept writing even newer music while rehearsals were underway, the musicians were unprepared, and the audience - most of whom were apparently expecting a fully rehearsed concert rather than a taping session with false starts, retakes and edit pieces - was flabbergasted. At the time, the concert was written up as a disaster, but the outcome, while not great, isn't bad at all. The leader plays a lovely bass solo on "My Search," and the guitar-prodded "Epitaph Part Two" is creepy in a good way. I will admit that I can't see the point of "Osmotin'," which lifts the main line from a Monk song but can't find anything interesting to do with it. The musicians include Dolphy, Charlie Mariano, Jerome Richardson and Charles McPherson (sax), Snooky Young (trumpet), Grady Tate (percussion), Zoot Sims (tenor sax) and Toshiko Akiyoshi (piano) among many others. An abbreviated version containing about half this material was released in 1963 as Town Hall Concert. (DBW)

The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (1963)
One extended piece, broken up into six sections. There's a fair amount of collective improvisation (the opening two-chord "Solo Dancer"), but the first three sections are carefully structured, alternating between group and solo segments and varying instrumental shadings. Nice moments include the raucous end of "Solo Dancer," Jay Berliner's Spanish guitar break on "Group Dancers," and the lurching brass on "Duet Solo Dancers." The last three sections run together ("Trio And Group Dancers") and at least to my ears the endeavor loses focus and mostly sounds like random jamming. Aside from Richmond, players include Rolf Ericson and Richard Williams (trumpet), Mariano, Richardson and Dick Hafer (sax and flute), Quentin Jackson (trombone), Don Butterfield (tuba) and Jaki Byard (piano). (DBW)

Mingus Plays Piano (1963)
Yep, a solo piano album, with everything from Mingus classics ("Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress") to new material ("She's Just Miss Popular Hybrid") to standards ("I Can't Get Started," "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You"). (DBW)

Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus (1963)
Enough with the "Mingus" already! Jesus Christ! Anway, the same basic cast as Black Saint, plus Ervin, Dolphy, Woodman et al., interpret compositions old ("Better Get Hit In Yo' Soul" [sic]) and new ("Celia"). (DBW)

Mingus In Europe II (rec. 1964)
There are a lot of recordings floating around from his Spring 1964 tour of Europe, and if they're all this good, I'm glad there are. One of the few legit releases (on Enja) with a lengthy version of "Orange Was The Color," a piano-bass duet on "Sophisticated Lady," Byard's "At-FW-You" and "Peggy's Blue Sky Light." Mingus's playing is the busiest I've heard from him, including a bustling solo on "Orange," while Richmond and Byard stay mostly in the background. I know I talk about Dolphy's tone too much, but I can't help it: on "Orange" he plays the smoothest bass clarinet I've ever heard, and on "Sky Light" he makes outlandish melodic leaps on alto sax but still sounds musical, because his legato is so fluid - at times I though I was listening to a viola. Clifford Jordan plays tenor in the lyrical style of Coleman Hawkins, a refreshing reminder that Coltrane's harsher approach isn't the only one. The CD release, which I don't have, also contains a 22-minute "So Long Eric." (DBW)

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat (rec. 1964)
A singularly inappropriate title, as the song listed with that title here is in fact "So Long Eric." Recorded in Paris on April 17, this is the concert where trumpeter Johnny Coles collapsed onstage with a perforated gastric ulcer: as a result, only Jordan, Dolphy, Byard, Mingus and Richmond appear on the disc's other cut, a 25-minute rendition of "Fables Of Faubus." Both tunes consist of individual solos after a brief group introduction, and the solos often bear little or no apparent resemblance to the main theme. There are a lot of brief quotes from other popular songs and nursery rhymes: when there are a couple of those it's cute, but when there are too many you start to suspect the musicians have lost focus on the song they're supposed to be playing. And unlike on Mingus In Europe, Dolphy's playing isn't particularly revelatory. A gray market release; these tracks were later collected on the Sue Mingus-compiled 2-CD set Revenge!. (DBW)

Right Now: Live At The Jazz Workshop (1964)
Side-long renditions of "Meditations" and "Fables," with Jane Getz and Handy replacing Byard and Dolphy. (DBW)

Mingus At Monterey (1964)
A complete set with just three extended pieces; the band is Lonnie Hillyer (trumpet), Charles McPherson (alto sax), John Handy (tenor sax), Byard and Richmond. The Ellington medley runs twenty-five minutes but is tightly arranged, flowing smoothly through "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good," "In A Sentimental Mood," "All Too Soon," "Mood Indigo," "Sophisticated Lady," and "Take The A Train." Different soloists are featured (the leader emphatically included) as pieces shift. I'm not as crazy about the rushed, noisy take on "Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk," better heard on Mingus In Europe. The centerpiece is the 25-minute "Meditations On Integration" - though it was also performed on the European tour, I believe this the only recorded performance with an expanded lineup: in addition to the core band, there's Bobby Bryant and Melvin Moore (trumpet), Lou Blackburn (trombone), Red Callender (tuba), Buddy Collette (alto sax, flute, piccolo) and Jack Nimitz (baritone sax). Opening with Mingus on bowed bass, alternating sedate classical-sounding sections (including a lovely flute solo) with mournful and defiant jazz, and ending in blaring confusion: it's the best extended Mingus piece I've heard, granting that I haven't heard many. My rating is predicated on the assumption that this version of "Meditations" is the best available: the rest of the set is worthwhile but not extraordinary. (DBW)

My Favorite Quintet (1965)
Namely, Mingus, Hillyer, McPherson, Byard and Richmond. There's an 18-minute version of "So Long Eric," a medley of standards, and "Cocktails For Two." (DBW)

Music Written For Monterey 1965, Not Heard, Played In Its Entirety At UCLA (1965)
Two LPs of new material, mostly with politicized titles like "Once Upon A Time There Was A Holding Corporation Called Old America," "They Trespass The Land Of The Sacred Sioux" and "Don't Let It Happen Here." Performed by Jimmy Owens and Hobart Dotson (trumpet), Julius Watkins (French horn), Howard Johnson (tuba), Hillyer, McPherson and Richmond. Apparently "played in its entirety" is an overstatement, as Mingus physically removed several of the musicians from the stage during the performance, feeling they hadn't learned his music well enough. After this, Mingus took about five years off from recording and performing. (DBW)

Statements (1970)
I'm guessing this is another live recording. Three long cuts - "Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress," "The Man Who Never Sleeps," "O.P." - performed by Eddie Preston (trumpet), Bobby Jones (tenor sax), McPherson, Byard and Richmond. (DBW)

Let My Children Hear Music (1972)
After laying low for several years, Mingus hired Sy Johnson to orchestrate a complex set of music ranging from big band to enormous band. I'm not kidding: several tunes feature six string basses including Ron Carter, Richard Davis and Milt Hinton - for once Mingus didn't play most of his own bass. Easily his most Ellingtonian work stylistically, with so much emphasis on written arrangements, orchestral shading and soft melody that it sounds like 19th century classical music, but the tunes just don't measure up. A couple of compositions are from Monterey 1965 ("Don't Be Afraid, The Clown's Afraid Too," "The Shoes Of The Fisherman's Wife Are Some Jive Ass Slippers"), "Adagio Ma Non Troppo" is an arrangement of a Mingus piano solo from 1963, and oldest of all is "The Chill Of Death," a Gothic death/love poem written when Mingus was in his teens. When not done by Johnson, the arrangements are by Mingus or Alan Raph; Teo Macero conducted "Don't Be Afraid." Reissues contain a bonus track, "Taurus In The Arena Of Life," which is a mishmash of Bach, Tijuana Moods-style Spanish themes, and flabby connective music. (DBW)

Charles Mingus And Friends In Concert (1973)
A two-LP (now two-CD) collection with some big names like Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Gerry Mulligan and even Bill Cosby. (DBW)

Mingus Moves (1974)
A quintet with mostly fresh faces - George Adams, sax and flute; Don Pullen, piano; Ronald Hampton, trumpet - plus Richmond. Only a few Mingus compositions here - "Opus 4," "Canon" - with the balance contributed by the sidemen (Adams's "Flowers For A Lady," Pullen's "Newcomer"). Surprisingly, Sy Johnson wrote the hardest bop piece, "Wee," with a very free, almost Cecil Taylor-like piano solo. "Opus 3" has a multipart structure and loose swing that recalls the Mingus A Um days. Maybe it's just me, but the solemn "Canon" sounds like a conscious stab at Love Supreme-era Trane. "Moves" is perhaps the weirdest tune, with dramatic vocals from composer Doug Hammond and Honey Gordon, and Adams on flute. The Rhino reissue contains two outtakes, "The Call" and Pullen's Bo Diddley blues "Big Alice." (DBW)

Mingus At Carnegie Hall (1975)
Mingus is reunited with McPherson, Handy and Kirk plus Jon Faddis (trumpet), Hamiet Bluiett (baritone sax), Richmond and Pullen on two side-long cuts, both consisting of extended individual solos rather than group improv. Ellington's "C Jam Blues" is a chaotic mess: one of the saxophonists (not sure which) gets totally carried away with Coltraneisms, imitating turkey gobbling for minutes on end and then quoting "A Love Supreme." Later in the tune, Kirk overuses his circular breathing gimmick - sure, it's hard to do, but so what? It doesn't sound good: I've never heard a circular breather who could get a good tone or stay on pitch, let alone both. Juan Tizol's "Perdido" fares much better: the solos are more focused, the prominent piano provides some structure and there's no time-wasting denouement. If I were inclined to speculate, I might suggest that the overfamiliarity of the Ellington tune pushed the musicians to get self-consciously "far out." With just two tunes, neither of which Mingus wrote, this is not recommended for the neophyte. (DBW)

Changes One (1975)
A whole album of new material - "Remember Rockefeller At Attica," "Sue's Changes," "Devil Blues," "Duke Ellington's Sound Of Love" played by Jack Walrath (trumpet), Adams, Pullen and Richmond. (DBW)

Changes Two (1975)
Mostly new material, cut at the same sessions as the previous album: "Free Cell Block F, 'Tis Nazi U.S.A.," Walrath's "Black Bats And Poles," a vocal version of "Duke Ellington's Sound Of Love" sung by Jackie Paris, Sy Johnson's "For Harry Carney," and another version of "Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress." Same personnel as above, plus Marcus Belgrave's trumpet on "Sound Of Love." (DBW)

Three Or Four Shades Of Blues (1977)
Some of Mingus's best known compositions ("Better Git Hit In Your Soul," "Goodbye Porkpie Hat") arranged by Paul Jeffrey and performed by personnel including Sonny Fortune, Ron Carter and John Scofield. (DBW)

Cumbia & Jazz Fusion (1977)
Two side-long cuts composed by Mingus and performed by a percussion-heavy band; a recent CD reissue also includes two solo piano takes on "Wedding March." (DBW)

Lionel Hampton Presents The Music Of Charles Mingus (1977)
Legendary vibraphonist and union-buster Hampton joins Woody Shaw (trumpet), Mulligan, Jeffrey and Ricky Ford (tenor sax), Bob Neloms (piano), Walrath and Richmond for a set that's mostly Mingus standards ("Peggy's Blue Skylight," "Slop") with a few new tunes ("Just For Laughs," "Caroline Keikki Mingus," "Farewell Farwell"). As you might expect from Hampton, there's an old-school big band vibe, but it's fun, and Richmond brings things up to date by slipping into funk drumming on "Fables Of Faubus." Hampton solos like crazy: sometimes he's too busy, but he sounds great on "So Long Eric" and a decidedly unsloppy version of "Slop" (where Neloms also gets in some tasty playing). Mulligan is more subtle but no less captivating. And the truth is, other things being equal I'd rather hear ten five-minute tunes than two half-hour ones - wouldn't you? Apparently this was Mingus's final studio appearance on bass, but you'd never guess it: his support is rock-steady, and his interplay with Neloms and Richmond on "Just For Laughs Part 2" is razor-sharp. Released on CD as His Final Work with one bonus track, "So Long Eric." Produced by Hampton and arranged by Jeffrey. (DBW)

Me, Myself An Eye (1978)
Put together while Mingus's health was rapidly deteriorating from ALS - Walrath arranged and orchestrated, and the album was mixed and released posthumously. The new composition is the half-hour "Three Worlds Of Drums," and the album also includes new versions of "Devil Woman," "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" and "Caroline Keiki Mingus," performed by a ton of musicians including the Brecker Brothers, Sammy Figueroa and Steve Gadd. (DBW)

Mingus collaborated with Joni Mitchell on her album Mingus, completed after his January 1979 death.

Something Like A Bird (1980)
Recorded in early 1978, with two tunes - the half-hour title track and "Farewell Farwell" - and a zillion musicians including the Breckers. Review coming soon. (DBW)

Epitaph (1990)
Musicologist Gunther Schuller conducting his reconstruction of the score Mingus intended to perform at the 1962 Town Hall Concert. Much of the material was performed at that 1962 date, but there's also a lot of stuff that doesn't sound familiar - "The Children's Hour Of Dream," "Noon Night" - and a couple of old standbys like "Better Git It In Your Soul." After some thought and a few listens, I decided not to review this, because it's not particularly Mingus: somehow the pieces have been turned into classical music, and that's not due to the orchestral instrumentation, but to the lack of improvisation and overwhelming air of reverence. I will note that John Abercrombie's guitar tone is jarringly modern. (DBW)

Things sure ain't what they used to be.

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