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Tonight At Noon

AAJ Staff By

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The title of this topic is intended as an obvious reference to Charles Mingus. I hope this discussion will attract sufficient posts of Mingus, who is without question one of the key figures in jazz history, whose music is still being explored, and will provide fertile ground for exploration for decades to come.

I think we need to view Mingus in three areas: as a bassist, as a composer, and as a bandleader/talent scout.

As an instrumentalist, Mingus helped lead a revolution in the role of jazz bass. Extending the pioneering work of Jimmy Blanton, Mingus, along with Oscar Pettiford and Ray Brown, made the bass into a viable solo instrument. He also added sophisticated harmonies to his lines to make for walking that had far more melodic interest than earlier bassists. Mingus also used double stops, triple stops, bowing, and strumming, and he was one of the first to do these things. Above all, Mingus' formidable technique, huge tone, and rich imagination were in the service of a ferocious sense of swing. As advanced as his music became, it always swung hard.

As a composer, Mingus drew on bebop, classical music, rhythms and song forms from other cultures, modes and pedal points, and Ellington (he revered Ellington), as well as own bold ideas to forge a unique and powerful compositional voice. His music broke away from traditional Tin Pin Alley songs, although he was always faithful to the blues. He would use tempo and time signature changes, collective improvising, open-ended improvising, often on vamps, and use highly vocalized horns... plunger-muted brass, moaning reeds. He wrote for small groups, big bands, and large orchestras. His music required intensity and deep feeling, and as a bandleader, he got the most out of his sidemen (and women).

As a talent scout and developer of young talent, he was on a par with Blakey and Miles. A list of Mingus sidemen is fascinating: Ted Curson, Lonnie Hillyer, Don Ellis, Jack Walrath, Jimmy Knepper, Jackie McLean, Charles McPherson, Eric Dolphy, John Handy, Booker Ervin, George Adams, Hammiet Bluett, Jaki Byard, Don Pullen, and of course Dannie Richmond. And many others. Anyway, a Mingus forum is overdue, and this initial post barely scratches the surface of Mingus' universe.

Discuss Charles Mingus and his music on the AAJ Bulletin Board.


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