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Better Get Hit In Yo’ Soul • 1960 – 1971
Part 2 of a 2 part series

Original broadcast – Sunday, January 17th/2016
on Hornby Island Radio – CHFR-FM – 96.5

Mingus @ Vanguard-1070-2


May 9th 1972
Charles Mingus Big Band at the Village Vanguard NYC

Chaos seems to be a possible description of the legendary Charles Mingus. This Tuesday evening at the Village Vanguard would perpetuate this thought, for although the music often soared to the heights that appear on many of his records, for the most part the confusion that surrounded this session hardly gave it the flavour of an organised big band making a public appearance. But of course this is not the first time that Mingus has presented his music incomplete for the listener, his Town Hall rehearsal [April 4th, 1964], released on his own label, is already a legend and it would appear that he has no intention of changing his attitudes at this late date in his career.

For me however, and indeed most of the audience, all the confusion with music sheets, starting an hour late and shouting at the band, mattered very little, for we were safe in the knowledge that a short wait would eventually bring some great music.

As the orchestra assembled on stage many faces became familiar, and like all great leaders, Mingus has surrounded himself with a steady nucleus of players, which included Charles McPherson – lead alto, Lonnie Hillyer and Eddie Preston – trumpets, Eddie Bert – trombone and Shafi Hadi and Bobby Jones – tenors. I had been informed the previous evening that although most of these musicians appear with Mingus on almost all the gigs, some of the confusion exists because the rest of the band depends on whoever turns up.

For the most part the music performed was familiar, material that he has either written or has become associated with him. Such tunes as “Wham Bam Thank You Mam”, “Fables Of Faubus”, “Take The A Train”, “Eclipse” and “E’s Flat and Ah’s Flat Too” I remember hearing. In much of this music the strong influence of Ellington could be felt and although Mingus musically acknowledges this influence, his own special disjointed beauty created, at the better moments, levels that far surpass anything his teacher ever dreamed of.

Even though the tensions created within the orchestra by Mingus’ volatile personality often disrupted the flow of things, several of the soloists produced near brilliant solos. Apart from his own incredible bass solos, fine work came from drummer Roy Brooks, Charles McPherson and excellent work from three relative newcomers to the Mingus fold; Bobby Jones, pianist John Foster and a young trumpeter named John Faddis.

For me the evening was something special because I do not often have the privilege of hearing music of the calibre that Mingus sometimes produces. Perhaps some of its raggedness is part of its excitement, for he still remains one of the few great performers in jazz history.

Mingus @ Vanguard-1095-1

April 22nd – 27th 1974
Charles Mingus Quintet at Mackenzie’s Corner House, Toronto

The Monday night had started out at the Colonial tavern, quite simply because Mister Blues had opened, and Neil Dixon of GRT had decided to pick up the press tab. Muddy Waters was just superb, but we had all heard him so many times and in the intermission the talk kept turning towards the fact that Charles Mingus was in town. Not really just in town, because this was the first time that he had been here to perform publicly since that memorial night in 1953 at Massey Hall with Bird, Diz, Bud and Max.

It must have been the time for the blues, that night, another space perhaps, for upon our arrival George Adams was shouting the middle chorus of “Stormy Monday”. What an apt title that turned out to be.

Suddenly here was the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, Mingus had once again transported his music into the time space of the seventies. It was still the same tunes, by title at least, “Fables of Nixon” (Faubus), “Goodbye Porkpie Hat”, “Qui Qui Mademoiselle”, “Celia”, “Blue Skylight” plus a couple of originals by two of the members of his current band. Where was the tired Mingus band that I had read about in the European magazines of late? This was shouting exuberant music, the accumulation of the soul spirit, causing the audience to clutch their rocking groins in ecstatic passion. They never came down for the whole week, this band. Mingus the master has done it again, assembled a band that brought back the joy that had once or twice been with him before. Danny Richmond on drums, like days of old, immaculate and always hearing. Don Pullen on piano showing that Cecil Taylor was not the only original pianist in the world, and even funky on his own tune – “Big Alice and John Henry” – when there was need to be. And that front line. George Adams on tenor and Hamiet Bluiett on baritone and clarinet created such a stir with their passion cry that the whole week turned into some kind of black sanctified ceremony. It seems weird now in retrospect that the man who had done so much to create bebop music was here again, this time helping to untie the threads and let it be free. Even when the set ended with one of bop’s national anthems, “Cherokee”, it was a wild humorous version quite unlike what we had always presumed it to be. Charles Mingus and Danny Richmond have been up there for a long time, but look out: Don Pullen, George Adams and Bunny Bluiett are here, now, waiting for their opportunity to play their own music. Loud and very clear.

Five Spot Card

End Notes:

Slightly different versions of both reviews appeared originally in Coda Magazine

Photographs by the author


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