1959: The Year Classic Albums Were Born
Says Blumenthal, "You could pick a piece, like 'Better Get It In Your Soul,' and say that's (Mingus') gospel music references from his youth, his experiences in church. He wrote other pieces like that. 'Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting' from around the same time is very close to being the same piece. But maybe this version is a little more succinct, so the impact is a little more. 'Jelly Roll' is very similar to a piece called 'My Jelly Roll Soul.' 'Self Portrait in Three Colors,' I believe, uses two pieces he wrote and recorded under a different name somewhere else. He's really been working on some of this music and improving on it and editing it down and getting a stronger idea of how to make it work than some of the earlier versions.
"There's some stuff he wrote around this time, as well, like 'Fables of Faubus,' which was very contemporary in terms of commenting on what was going on in the country at the time," he added. It was a protest against Orval E. Faubus, governor of Arkansas, who in 1957 and sent the National Guard to prevent black children from attending high school in Little Rock. The music is delicious, and the words Mingus used to chant during live performances of the piece, openly questioning and criticizing the government, were appropriately biting and chastising.
The Legacy package also includes a second album Mingus made in 1959 with some of the same musicians, but adding others like Teddy Charles, Don Ellis and others. Mingus Dynasty continues to show the composer's brilliance, both in writing and arranging, particularly covering some Ellington material. It was done in November of that year.
On Mingus Dynasty, "There is stuff on there that's much more of him trying to relate to classical music, than on Mingus Ah Um. I think that was part of Mingus' character as well. He was very ambitious. He wanted to write long, extended pieces. I don't think you would necessarily come away from Mingus Ah Um with that feeling. I don't know that (Mingus Ah Um) is a complete portrait of him to that point. I think it's probably the best recording of him executing a lot of the ideas that he was already known for: his blues stuff, his historical reference, his political protest, his very passionate, emotional playing when he writes ballads. There are great examples of all of those sides of him on there," says Blumenthal.
"I think it was a nice idea they added that album ... There are things that sound a little different on there. The band is different. He's using different instruments. He has vibes playing, but it's not like vibes solos, more than the orchestral sound of the thing. He was moving forward. He was going in different directions. Even after he made what many people might consider a perfect album (Mingus Ah Um), he was already looking for other things to do.
To give a picture of his musical personality, you really need Dynasty. 'Far Wells, Mills Valley' is probably the most obvious example, although I think 'Song With Orange' and 'Diane' also have the feeling of Mingus the composer, who is writing all these complex parts. Above and beyond the ability to improvise on the music, the musicians have to interpret it like an orchestra would interpret a symphony. I think that's an important part of the guy. You can hear in the music that he has a lot of diverse and volatile moods to him."
Meanwhile, in the 1950s Brubeck was taking flack from people, even though he was popular, so much so that Time magazine made him their cover story feature in 1954. Some people said what his groupPaul Desmond, Eugene Wright and Joe Morellowere playing was not jazz. It didn't swing, was a complaint. Others didn't like Desmond's sound, which was more out of Johnny Hodges than Charlie Parker. Time Out caused further confusion at first, though "Take Five" skyrocketed as a single, getting radio play, and became jazz's first million-selling single.
Brubeck broke not only time signature rules, doing music in odd meters, but he also approached Columbia with an idea of all-original material. The record label preferred to have something interspersed that listeners could attach themselves to, i.e., interpretations of standards or some popular fare. Thankfully, Goddard Lieberson, president of the label, supported the project.
"Time Out had a huge impact on me," says pianist David Benoit. "My parents played this record in the early '60s, then I learned 'Take Five' in high school and began experimenting with odd time signatures. I loved the mix of sensual odd time grooves mixed with beautiful rich melodies and harmonies. This record was clearly the basis of how I developed my own sound. I later had a the good fortune to become very good friends with Dave Brubeck and performed a series of concerts with him. Time Out remains one of my favorite recordings of all time."