Mingus: The Chaos and the Magic


Charles Mingus in Paris, 1964

“Charles Mingus’s audiences never knew quite what they were going to get, and this kept them coming. Mingus, the bassist, composer, and bandleader who reached the height of his fame in the mid-1960s, was notoriously mercurial. He was known to fire and rehire band members over the course of a set, and was once fired himself for chasing a trombonist across the stage with an axe. His reactions to noisy crowds ranged from announcing, ‘Isaac Stern doesn’t have to put up with this shit,’ to ordering his band to read books onstage. His music, which drew omnivorously on the blues, gospel, Dixieland, Duke Ellington, bebop, and classical music, among much else, was similarly unpredictable. It blurred the boundaries between improvisation and composition, often ignoring standard form, and was famous for its rapid shifts in mood and tempo. Mingus (1922-1979) would have turned ninety last year, and in celebration, Mosaic has released The Jazz Workshop Concerts: 1964-1965, a new box set with rare and previously unreleased performances by some of Mingus’s greatest ensembles. These concerts, recorded near the apex of Mingus’s career, are visceral and often unvarnished. At times, the music here can be forbidding—several tracks run beyond thirty minutes—and though it may not be as uniformly polished as some of his studio albums, at its best this set captures an element of shock and surprise that Mingus’s studio recordings sometimes don’t. ‘Mingus music,’ as he called it, was so complex and so much an extension of his own personality that it was largely played only by his own group, the Jazz Workshop. Turnover in the Workshop was high, partly because he couldn’t afford to pay his musicians very well, partly because the experience was so grueling (members called it the Jazz Sweatshop), and partly because so many of them, after sharpening their skills with Mingus, went on to lead their own bands (Gary Giddins once called it the Harvard University of Jazz).  Even with Mingus at the helm playing bass (and sometimes piano), Workshop performances often resembled practice sessions more than concerts. He did everything in his power to push his players beyond their limits: while a musician was soloing, he might double the tempo, cut it in half, or drop the accompaniment of the bass, drums, and piano entirely, all without warning. …”
NYBooks (Video/Audio)
Mingus at Monterey: Meditations on integration
Musica Kaleidoskopea (Video)
W – Charles Mingus, W – Charles Mingus discography
YouTube: Mingus Ah Um Full Album and Bonus Tracks 1:12:20


Eric Dolphy (center) with, from left to right: Clifford Jordan, Jaki Byard, and Mingus, Paris, 1964

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