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The Mingus Big Band at The Django

The Mingus Big Band at The Django
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A large, grateful crowd showed up to celebrate the return of a pivotal NY jazz fixture and the group did not disappoint.
The Mingus Big Band
The Django
New York City
November 11, 2021

Opened in 2016, The Django jazz club in SoHo advanced the regalement of post-pandemic activity in the Big Apple by restoring the Mingus Big Band to a weekly stage appearance. A large, grateful crowd showed up to celebrate the return of a pivotal NY jazz fixture and the group did not disappoint.

Mingus fans continue to celebrate the legacy of his compositional stylings decades after his passing in 1979. This has been in large part due to Sue Mingus' dedication to his legacy—she has labored to preserve his uniqueness through the establishment of the Mingus Big Band, The Mingus Dynasty Band and other Mingus repertory groups. These bands based in NY have communicated his message for decades here and facilitated understanding of his exploratory writing. His interest in classical, gospel, bop, and free jazz traditions has necessitated scholarly examination through the years, and now that study can continue to flourish. Mingus himself best expressed his approach in his liner notes to the 1959 album Blues and Roots: "I was born swinging and clapped my hands in church as a little boy, but I've grown up and I like to do things other than just swing."

At the Django session, the musicians faithfully rendered these sentiments, in particular, executing Mingus' focus on adventurous soloing—an approach taken earlier by Duke Ellington, who was a major Mingus influence. Thus the exciting solo work of saxophonists Wayne Escoffery, Jason W. Marshall, Sarah Hanahan, David Lee Jones, and David Lee Jones, trombonists Conrad Herwig, Earl McIntyre, and Adam Machaskee, trumpeters Tatum Greenblatt, Philip Harper, and Alex Norris strategically advanced the Mingus imprimatur. An impressive rhythm section of pianist Helen Sung, bassist Mike Richmond, and drummer Adam Cruz scrupulously held matters together.

The band adhered to well-known selections from the Mingus oeuvre. In "Gunslinging Bird," Helen Sung's lyrical solo featured familiar changes in the bop idiom but this mainstream expression soon gave way to horn solos with modal, blues, dixieland, gospel, and free jazz references, all of which reflected Mingus' multifarious tastes. "Fables of Faubus" recalled Mingus' outcries against racial and social injustice with relevant solos from David Lee Jones and Philip Harper and "Invisible Lady" featured familiar harmonic dissonances from Sarah Hanahan and Conrad Herwig with intriguing rhythm interludes from Adam Cruz. Later soloing from Wayne Escoffery and bassist Mike Richmond completed the improvisational explorations initiated in the Mingus book of yore.

The Django, designed to reflect the Paris boîtes and basements where Django Reinhardt once held court, is a well-run club with excellent food, service, and ambiance and will hopefully lead the long awaited return of live jazz to Gotham.

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