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Deconstructing Money Jungle

Graham E Peterson By

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By the middle sixties, arrived the avant-garde had taken over jazz. Ornette Coleman had brought his free jazz quartet from the west coast to New York. John Coltrane had released A Love Surpeme (1965), and the Mingus Jazz Workshop was in full swing. Coleman brought his west coast quartet to The Five Spot in New York City to showcase their new sound to an audience of mixed reactions. His ensemble was instructed to play what they heard rather than what was on the page. When the main melody ended and Coleman started to improvise, bassist Charlie Haden would outline the changes he heard in his head. Mingus, Coltrane, and even Leonard Bernstein went out to see this new phenomenon. Coltrane would even go up and sit in with the band. It is no coincidence that Ornette Coleman's album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (1960) would feature a Jackson Pollock painting on the cover. Coltrane took his experiences with Coleman and Ellington and paired them with his own ideas about where music should be going, and the end result was A Love Surpeme, a four-part dedication focused around one chord. The music was chaotic but driven, and held together by the famous Coltrane quartet. Mingus' Jazz Workshop Concerts also focused on group improvisation in a similar way to Money Jungle. He had stretched his ensembles to larger groups rather than just a piano trio. His focus was more on group improvisation while still demonstrating his mastery of his old mentor Charlie Parker's style. They were bebopping still, but all together now. All of this music came out of the unrest of the civil rights movement and the constant violence that filled with streets of New York and the whole country. Not only were black men and women being beaten down in the streets, but also protests were breaking out everywhere to try an end a violent war being fought in Vietnam. The cold war was reaching its peak and the entire world seemed to be in unrest and the music reflected the frustrations of an entire generation.

In 2013 Terry Lyne Carrington, Christian McBride and Gerald Clayton got together to record a tribute to this historic album, finally cementing it as one of the most important albums in jazz. They reimagined Ellington's compositions and took their own liberties and emotions with the music, while still maintaining the stylistic ideals of the old masters. When the original album was first released, Down Beat magazine's Don DeMicheal described how Roach and Mingus push Ellington and then how Ellington took charge. "I've never heard Ellington play as he does on this album; Mingus and Roach, especially Mingus, push him so strongly that one can almost hear Ellington show them who's boss—and he dominates both of them, which is no mean accomplishment."

This is an album that embodies the romantic fragment. It leaves the listener wanting more, filled with unresolved dissonance as Mingus plays almost Webernian style phrases. Ellington has a long history as a composer and musician yet he always said that Newport in 1956 was where he was born; but it is Money Jungle where he steps into a new suit and abandons his comfort zone completely. This was music for searching. It took intense commentaries on the racial and economic issues of the time and still reminds musicians that conventional ideas of harmony, rhythm and form are entirely open to interpretation.


Carrington, Terry Lyne, Money Jungle: A Provocation in Blue, Recorded on Blue Note, 2013, Compact Disc.

Ellington, Duke, The Carnegie Hall Concerts: January 1943, Prestige, 1977 33 1/3 rpm

Ellington, Duke, Money Jungle, United Artists, 1962, New York City, New York

Mattingly, Rick, The Drummer's Time: Conversations with the Great Drummers of Jazz (Fairfield NJ: Hal Leonard, 1998), 60.

Milkowski, Bill, "Money Jungle 50 Years After the Summit" Downbeat (2013).

Mingus, Charles. Beneath the Underdog; His World as Composed by Mingus. New York: Knopf, 1971.

Mingus, Charles, Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, Recorded on Candid Records, 1960, New York City, New York, 33 1/3 rpm.

Peress, Maurice. Dvořák to Duke Ellington: A Conductor Explores America's Music and Its African American Roots. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Roach, Max, We Insist! Recorded on Candid Records, 1960, New York City, New York, 33 1/3 rpm.



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