Happy (89th) Birthday, Mingus!
Charles Mingus, bassist, bandleader, composer
April 22, 1922-January 5, 1979
In celebration of Mingus’s birthday, WKCR-FM (broadcasting from Columbia University) is playing his music all day. We’re celebrating by revisiting some favorite clips.
Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Miles Davis: so many of the greatest figures in jazz weren’t just great musicians, or composers, or arrangers. They were great bandleaders. As important to their artistic success as anything else was their ability to find, and showcase, players who could make the music come alive—people like Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster and Jimmy Blanton and Lester Young and Freddie Green and Jo Jones and John Coltrane and Bill Evans and Tony Williams.
That small circle of elite bandleaders includes this man. He hired musicians who played their instruments like no one else (Eric Dolphy, Jaki Byard, et al.). He gave them a musical setting in which structure and freedom were exquisitely balanced. And together they made music that sounds (even on something familiar) like nothing else.
Charles Mingus Sextet (with Johnny Coles, trumpet; Jaki Byard, piano; Eric Dolphy, alto saxophone and bass clarinet; Clifford Jordan, tenor saxophone; Dannie Richmond, drums), “Take the A Train,” live, Norway (Oslo), 1964
I nominate Charles Mingus one of America’s greatest composers—Ran Blake (in the liner notes to his recent album Driftwoods)
(Originally posted 12/1/09.)
No jazz composer since Thelonious Monk has a stronger voice.
Lyrical beauty, inexhaustible drive, deep feeling: what more could you ask for?
Enormously influential, his music served as a bridge between the compositional elegance of Duke Ellington and the freewheeling rambunctiousness of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Henry Threadgill, David Murray, et al.
“So Long, Eric”
“Peggy’s Blue Skylight”
“Meditations on Integration” (excerpt)
. . . [Mingus's] music was pledged to the abolition of all distinctions: between the composed and the improvised, the primitive and the sophisticated, the rough and the tender, the belligerent and the lyrical.—Geoff Dyer, But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz (1996)
Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.
I, myself, came to enjoy the players who didn’t only just swing but who invented new rhythmic patterns, along with new melodic concepts. And those people are: Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Parker, who is the greatest genius of all to me because he changed the whole era around.
In my music, I’m trying to play the truth of what I am. The reason it’s difficult is because I’m changing all the time.
(Originally posted 4/22/10.)