All About Jazz

Home » Articles » What is Jazz?

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

41

Deconstructing Money Jungle

Graham E Peterson By

Sign in to view read count
Ellington, Mingus and Roach all had very different interpretations of the 20th century struggle that black men and women had to deal with. Ellington was more reflective with a historical approach, but Mingus and Roach were aggressive. Roach's title We Insist! says it all. These are individuals who have become aggressive through years of oppression, and are ready for the leadership of figures like Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This aggression comes through in Mingus' bass playing and string bending on Money Jungle and Backward Country Boy Blues, and in Max Roach's intense, driving bop and hard bop technique that he pioneered. These musicians were doing more than just playing on this day in 1962; they were expressing their dissatisfaction with a society that did not value their very existence. This recording takes the listener on an existential journey for meaning through the medium of the avant-garde.

Ellington was one of the most pioneering American composers in the 20th century in regards to harmonic structure, rhythm, and arranging. He created the paradigm of American music that Mingus and Roach were working to shift. Despite all of Duke Ellington's amazing innovations in compositions and in music, it is important to note that until this point his music was primarily dance music. Jazz had strayed far from "Jungle Nights in Harlem" and was now reserved for smaller clubs that hosted quintets with no room for dance. Hipsters, beats, and poets who were into liberal experimentation with sex, drug use and improvisatory art, were replacing well-dressed upper class patrons looking for an evening of big band swing. This new direction drags Ellington into new treatments of dissonance and motivic ideas. The title track Money Jungle in its most basic form is just a 12 bar blues. Mingus' aggressive bass style grouped with Ellington stretching into more altered and unresolved chord tensions and Max Roach's fiery drumming, creates a completely different approach to playing a blues. Where most jazz basses would walk, Mingus moves to the upper end of his range digging into one note so aggressively on one motivic theme that he bends the pitch. He rarely plays a straight walking bass line for even an entire chorus. This alteration in style for Ellington led to players altering forms entirely and even throwing them away to create more avant-garde music.

Charles Mingus and Max Roach came from the Charlie Parker school of thought in terms of improvisation, and the Thelonious Monk school in regards to space, treatment of dissonance and from both they take logic. The beboppers were very logical yet very chaotic musicians. Their music involved playing long runs of swung eighth notes that sounded like Jackson Pollock splashing you with a paint can, yet each line was focused. Every downbeat was a chord tone, and all scale tones or chromatic tones happened on the offbeat. No matter how chaotic this music got it always had focus. Every musical phrase or idea was going somewhere, and it was never just floating off into the ether. They had more enlightened views on syncopation and harmony (particularly suspended dissonance). Just as Ellington's earlier records influenced them, these two musicians took Ellington down a road of more modern possibilities. While Ellington wrote the majority of the music for this album, Mingus and Roach bring an unperceived dimension to the music; such as Mingus insistently hitting the same high notes continuously even if they may not be rhythmically or harmonically functional in a traditional bass function. Rather than playing the role of a bassist for a piano trio, Mingus insists on being on the forefront and playing more compositional lines. When Ellington hears this he at first just fills in the blanks for Mingus' odd playing. By the time they get to Money Jungle, rather than playing more traditionally, Ellington is right behind Mingus; diving deeper into the abyss while Roach keeps everything together with his polyrhythmic style.

The intensity grew thick as the session went on. Mingus and Ellington had had falling-outs in the past but if they have any residual issues with one another neither of them had shown it. The real conflict was between Mingus and his contemporary: Max Roach. Among jazz musicians, and especially beboppers, there has always been a tendency to try and out do one another. Mingus had criticized some of Roach's playing that day and the producer of the album Alan Douglas recalls the boiling point of the session.

Mingus started to complain about what Max was playing. Mingus was getting louder and louder as the session went on. I forget what song they were doing, but in the middle of it Max kind of looked up at Mingus and smiled and said something. And at that point, Mingus picked the bass up, put the cover on it and just stomped out of the studio.

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Jazz House Kids:  The House that Jazz Built What is Jazz?
Jazz House Kids: The House that Jazz Built
by Bob Kenselaar
Published: April 6, 2018
Read Jazz Stories: 2017 What is Jazz?
Jazz Stories: 2017
by Michael Ricci
Published: January 1, 2018
Read Craft Beer and Jazz What is Jazz?
Craft Beer and Jazz
by Thad Aerts
Published: December 22, 2017
Read BAN BAM: Talking Music What is Jazz?
BAN BAM: Talking Music
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 7, 2017
Read Jazz, Suffering, and Meaning What is Jazz?
Jazz, Suffering, and Meaning
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: November 23, 2017
Read Penang House Of Music: Shining Light On Penang's Jazz/Indigenous Music Heritage What is Jazz?
Penang House Of Music: Shining Light On Penang's...
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 22, 2017
Read "The Many Faces of Jazz Today: The Big Picture" What is Jazz? The Many Faces of Jazz Today: The Big Picture
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: November 10, 2017
Read "Jazz Stories: 2017" What is Jazz? Jazz Stories: 2017
by Michael Ricci
Published: January 1, 2018
Read "Jazz House Kids:  The House that Jazz Built" What is Jazz? Jazz House Kids: The House that Jazz Built
by Bob Kenselaar
Published: April 6, 2018
Read "Jazz and Philosophy" What is Jazz? Jazz and Philosophy
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: October 15, 2017
Read "In Praise of Young Jazz Musicians" What is Jazz? In Praise of Young Jazz Musicians
by Steve Provizer
Published: September 30, 2017
Read "Jazz, Suffering, and Meaning" What is Jazz? Jazz, Suffering, and Meaning
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: November 23, 2017