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Highly Opinionated

The Unfinished Score

By Published: December 28, 2007
For Douglas Music, I wrote liner notes for the European release of Pharaoh Sanders' With a Heartbeat and Bill Laswell's OperaZone: The Redesign. This leveraged a promise from Alan Douglas to read my Mingus manuscript and 'see what I can do'. I was flattered when he called me back to say that he found the book 'raw...and beautiful'. I also sent a copy to Andrew Homzy at the University of Concordia in Montreal. Dr. Homzy, who had discovered and pieced together Mingus' last manuscript, his 'Epitaph', which he and Mingus' widow, Sue produced for the BBC, with a big band conducted by Günter Schuler. Homzy thought it 'one of the most unusual ideas to make it to poetry'. Still...no publisher! I wanted to send a copy to Joni Mitchell. She had that beautifully oblique album, Mingus', which rendered some of his great music in her context, just before he died in Mexico. But Ms. Mitchell continues to be protected by a firewall. Or so it would seem...

Then I thought about an endorsement from Sue Mingus—keeper of the legacy of my hero and alter ego. It was her readership that I came to crave, being too late to reach the Man himself by two decades! A few of the poems form the book had appeared at allaboutjazz.com and that would be grist for my grinding, at least with Mrs Mingus. She was gracious in responding to a rambling email I wrote her about "Mingus and Me". Probably curious about how Brazilian/Portuguese/Indian bloodlines could be so bold as to invade her husband's legacy and posthumously plunder his emotions and spiritualism for my own poems!

I did not bother to explain why I had chosen some of his music and not others, nor why I had left Mingus' song titles and the titles of my poems one and the same. But I did try to piece them together with—as abruptly as his own changes in tempo—incidents real or imagines by Mingus and/or me. Now when I look back at the whole epiphany, I find it hard to believe that the book actually happened. The fact that it has yet to find a publisher has nothing to do with it—although I will always be bewildered by a (Canadian) publishing industry that appears to be so strikingly and perversely like George W. Bush's Middle America. And I take comfort in a statement that Marshall McLuhan made about his difficulty in getting his message about the extensions of man out with the publication of 'Understanding Media' in 1964 (ironically the year of Mingus' first public performance of his magnum opus on the alienation of the coloured man in America—'Meditations on Integration': "...just how little consideration had (really) been given to...such matters in the past can be gathered form the consternation of one of the editors of this (Understanding Media) book. He noted with dismay that 'seventy-five percent of your material is new. A successful book cannot venture to be more than ten per cent new'."

As with McLuhan, so also with me...for as he said, "Such a risk seems worth taking at the present time, when the stakes are (still) high, and the need to understand the effects if the extensions of man"—and the importance of the legacy of my man, Charles Mingus—"becomes all the more urgent by the hour."


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