Mingus In Greenwich Village

Mark Sabbatini By

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Charles Mingus
Mingus In Greenwich Village
Efor Films

As he waits for police to arrive with an eviction order he plays piano, discusses Nazism and fires a rifle into his apartment ceiling as his 5-year-old daughter watches.

There's a reason Charles Mingus is known as the "angry man" of jazz.

Mingus In Greenwich Village may not win him admirers or offer much insight about his music, but the documentary offers a powerful look into the soul of the legendary bassist. Then again, it may come as little shock to those familiar with his autobiography "Beneath The Underdog," where he plays loose with facts and seems to focus more on his torturous relationships with women than his music.

The 58-minute black-and-white film, shot mostly by a University of New York student, centers on the evening wait in November of 1966, interspersed with a few performances and clips of events related to Mingus' comments. The DVD contains no extra features, but is playable worldwide in both PAL and NTSC formats.

Mingus is being evicted following numerous public nuisance complaints after he abandoned music for avant-guarde theater photography and using the apartment for teaching. It's unsettling at times watching him move about the unkempt loft, with a handful of others present, talking quietly about race and hoisting his rifle. It's less a sense of impending disaster than a gut-wretching sadness seeing someone so musically gifted so disturbed in other aspects of life.

He recites activist poetry, including pledging allegiance to the "white flag" of America; finding a woman ("maybe a nymphomaniac...my religion is that everyone should settle down, kiss, love"); and how his rifle might be the same kind the police use to capture him. Then with little warning he fires it into the ceiling.

"Whadda think?," Mingus asks as the camera focuses in on the bullet hole. "That's not bad for not aiming."

There are excerpts from three sextet performances - "All The Things You Are," "Take The A Train" and "Secret Love" - which provide a welcome foundation for those unfamiliar with his playing and offer a striking contradiction to the man in the apartment. It's hard to muster a great deal of sympathy when the police arrive and he makes a variety of contradictory ramblings to a small group of reporters outside (i.e. "I hope the Communists blow you people up"). But it's painful seeing his contrabass in a haphazard pile of belongings exposed to the elements as officials empty out the apartment. In a very real sense it captures his beauty and ugliness better than any standard documentary narrative is likely to.

Movies about troubled musicians are nothing new, so Mingus In Greenwich Village is hardly a revolutionary release. Its strength is capturing such struggles firsthand for Mingus devotees and general jazz fans whose sensitivities aren't offended. Those wanting a more straightforward documentary can get Triumph Of The Underdog. Concert performances on film include The Great Concert Of Charles Mingus from 1964 and Live At Montreux 1975.

Track listing: All The Things You Are; Take The A Train; Secret Love

Personnel: Charles Mingus, bass; Lonnie Hillyer, trumpet; Charles McPherson, alto sax; John Gilmore, tenor sax; Walter Bishop, piano; Danny Richmond, drums

Produced by Thomas Reichman and William B. O'Boyle; photographed by Mike Wadley and Lee Osborne

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