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Highly Opinionated

The Unfinished Score

By Published: December 28, 2007
The complex harmonies—dissonant in their symmetry...The surprising shifts in rhythm...all contributed to the wondrous narrative of the music. And of course, all this captured exquisitely wrapped in the mercurial character of Mingus. Elementally sad and then joyful with but a moment's notice...then empathetic, with suffering greater than his own...explosive anger at Man's inability to recognize the individuality and separateness of every human being. But above all, what came through at every turn was Mingus' immense and limitless ability to love; and in that love, to forgive all trespasses against his race. Yes, I heard this the (as now) all in that ten minutes or so of music, by one of America's greatest musicians and composers—Charles Mingus. So I decided to pursue study of the man, His music and his life as it unfolded from a myriad sources.

Mingus was different. It is true he evolved from the great Duke Ellington, but he leapt much further as a man and as a musician.

He said he was 'three' and by this he was describing his cultural ethos, being black, brown and yellow. He was neither black, nor white, but he felt 'black'. I was drawn to this image of the man and musician. It dawned on me that he was, in fact, describing me and how I felt. (I was born to a half-Brazilian-half Portuguese father and an Indian mother and grew up in a Portuguese-speaking household). I belonged to neither cultural ethos and my childhood too was brutally middle class and oppressive. I was drawn to oppression. I felt 'black' just like Mingus! And Mingus' music expressed 'me'. It also mitigated my own oppression. It mirrored my separateness; my anger...I belonged to no one race one culture. I began to feel the suffering of the entire human Diaspora...Eventually, like Mingus after a 'complete' and perfect piece of music written, recorded and performed, I was made whole again. Sadness become joy. And I always became real again...

Over the years I gained so much from Charles Mingus; I had to give something back. It began with a poem and then another...I had no ides that I wanted to write a book about Mingus. It seemed too presumptuous. But as I dug deeper into jazz...into Mingus' oeuvre, a book began to unfold like mystic leaves. It was a book that took me from 1980 to 1999 to write. Let me describe it briefly:

Like Mingus' music itself I decided to call it: The Unfinished Score—The Complete Works of Charles Mingus. It was and still is nothing like any other books that have ever been written and published about Mingus—or for that matter any other musician, jazz or otherwise. Quite simply, what I have done is captured the many moods of Mingus' tumultuous life almost exclusively form his music, and relocated this to the poetic landscape.

So, in a sense, mine is the only book about the musician that starts and ends with Mingus' music: its melodies and harmonies, complex tones and textures, abrupt changes in mood and tempi and, most of all, his insecurities, fears and his enormous appetite for loving.

The entire book is written in poetry and prose. The poems have been interspersed with prose chapters that lyrically introduce key episodes in his life that influenced his music. It was a challenge, to say the least. As I have already mentioned earlier, the book took me 15 years to research; it also took me 4 years to complete. But, by the end of my excursion into his sonic landscape, I came to know Mingus more intimately. He was one of a kind—an American who actually rose above the discrimination that he suffered AND that id the thesis of my book!

So I had to be extremely brave or foolhardy to attempt to 'sell' my book on Charles Mingus to publishers in my new home, Canada. I had to find a publisher. I agonized over a query letter. Fear of never being satisfied with one that would do the book justice, I never did write a conventional one; rather with a bluntly drafted cover letter I approached a few whom I believed to be the more adventurous publishing houses in Canada. 'Too experimental' was the typical response.

I would have lost heart sooner than later, but I decided to send copies to musicologists and people in the music industry.

A gig with the spectacularly famous online magazine, allaboutjazz.com a feature on Bill Laswell, to be precise, led to a hook up with Alan Douglas.

Mr. Douglas is a legendary figure in the world of music; a producer whose credits include Mingus' own infamous Complete Town Hall Concert, the Ellington, Mingus and Roach session that resulted in Money Jungle, Eric Dolphy's Iron Man album and the discovery of the still incredible founders of rap, The Last Poets, not to mention Jimi Hendrix's last and yet unreleased music.


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