Listening Closely No 5. Mingus, Mingus, Mingus by Charles Mingus.

I'm writing this in the morning sunlight in my mum's kitchen, I managed to do a 'stupid', yesterday I ran my 14 miles, all went well, but while having a bath, I suddenly felt very poorly, like an instant migraine. I've not felt that terrible in a long time; the last time was running in the midday sun after eating only a croissant and a coffee, a ridiculous thing to do, I had to be rescued that day. On thinking about that, I realised I'd only had breakfast and a few snacks before my 14-mile run, which I set out on at 18.30, so by the time I was having my bath it was nearer 21.00, I'd not eaten since 7 am, what an idiot, so no sleep for me. I still feel poorly but listening to Mingus is weirdly soothing.

Anyway, this week's Listening closely is Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, by jazz double bassist and bandleader, Charles Mingus, (1922-1979). I've chosen this album as it was my first, not only jazz record, but double bass-led record. I was 17 and had just started learning double bass; my mum bought me my first double bass; it took years to pay it off. My bass's name was 'Blue', it cost £750, which was an unbelievable amount of money for us, to this day I don't know how she did it. With my own bass, which I couldn't stop playing, I was looking to know more about the music that could be played on it, in my local jazz and classical cd shop there was this cd, Mingus etc. I bought it on a whim. When I got home, I stuck it in my cd player; my mind was blown, the bass on the first track, II B.S., changed everything for me. I'd never heard anything like it; expressive doesn't cut it, it felt like those notes where being pulled from the ground, earthy, guttural, aggressive but at the same, sweet, passionate and exciting. Mingus introduced me to the idea that the double bass could have a unique voice, the double bass being a conduit for your voice.

This album is a big band album, think Duke Ellington, but where the double bassist is shouting at you, Mingus was known for this, often pulling out the best performances any way he knew how to, cajoling and scaring the shit out of them, you name it, he would do it. Mingus is known for both his double bass playing and his composing/arranging, a monster at both. This album was recorded in 1963 and released the following year on the record label Impulse; it's a look back at his career with reworkings, rearrangements and the renaming of tracks. Preceding this album was arguably his best work 'The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady', the title alone is fantastic.

'II B.S', which is basically 'Haitian Fight Song, from the 'Clown' album, starts with an awesome bluesy double bass solo/vocal part, with some addition cymbals by Walter Perkins. Mingus plays the body of his bass and the drums answer it, then he hurtles into this amazing riff, a repetitive walking bass line, joined by a fast swing on the drums. On listening back to this intro, it reminds me of the wonderfully inventive Avishai Cohen, who also accompanies himself playing the body of the double bass at the same time as a bass line or melody. When the horns enter, what a sound. Tuba, saxes, trumpets and trombone, driving it all though, is the rhythm section, pure excitement and passion.

II B.S. From Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus.

'IX Love', is a beautiful ballad, played with a lovely swing, the horns slipping and sliding around, beautiful. This track has a stunning sax solo and a beautiful sax break towards the end. This album was recorded with an 11 piece band, two different bands, recorded at two separate sessions. They were featuring some of Mingus's key players, Jaki Byard on piano, Eric Dolphy, alto sax and flute and the legendary Dannie Richmond on drums. These players were part of the 1964 quintet and sextet that toured Europe; there were no amps, only mics. Mingus, like Danny Thompson, was a loud double bassist though, so no worries on him not being heard.

‘Celia’, is the only newly written track for this record and when it goes it to the hard swing, it feels great, I love the muted trumpets and stabs. Written for a former wife, it's gentle and loving, the alto sax solo brings a ray of sunshine into my day.

'Mood Indigo' written by big band master Duke Ellington. Mingus saw Ellington as the best, and it's hard to argue really, I for one wouldn't argue with Mingus. The sparsely accompanied bass solo by light piano and brushes on the drums, is truly wonderful, so lyrical and expressive. I love how Mingus bends, not only the strings but sometimes, it feels like he's bending his bass. Mingus is a dynamic player, with something to say. The following piano solo, could be off any Oscar Peterson record, lovely.

'Mood Indigo'.

Better Get Hit In Yo' Soul', Oh yes the bass drives this track, It's fierce, and its hard swing is sublime, so fast and in 6/8, the whole track feels like a gospel tune, Mingus is hollering, and at points, it sounds like different members of the band are too, 'can I get a witness' sort of vibe. The ending is class too, a real feeling of a group having fun, going into four at the end.

‘Better Get Hit In Yo Soul'.

'Theme for Lester Young', is in fact 'Goodbye Porkpie Hat', initially off the album 'Mingus Ah Um' and written in 1959 as an elegy for Tenor Saxophonist Lester Young. Young had died a few months before, and the night Mingus heard of his passing he sketched this tune. Covered by many great artists including Joni Mitchell with another bass legend Jaco Pastorius.

‘Goodbye Porkpie Hat’ Live at Montreux 1975.

‘Hora Decubitus’, means ‘at bedtime’. That wonderful bass intro, yet again a really hard swing. ‘Hora Decubitus’ is a reworking of ‘E's Flat, Ah's Flat Too', from the 'Blues & Roots' album. The solos are on fire here, Booker Ervin, tenor sax, Eric Dolphy, alto sax and the blistering trumpet solo by Richard Williams. The track ends like a train leaving the tracks at speed, collective and organised chaos.

‘Hora Decubitus’.

'Freedom', this track has Charles Mingus narrating as well playing the double bass, feels very gospel. It also highlights what it must have been like being black in America at this time, with despicable racism at nearly every turn.

Mingus was an angry man; in fact, Mingus was known as 'the angry man of jazz' often berating members of his band onstage. Mingus would not musically compromise and would not tolerate anything but 100% from his musicians. His autobiography 'Beneath the underdog', is a hard book to read and I only made it through some of it, it's a sprawling, a stream of consciousness and reveals many dark and challenging things. Mingus sadly developed 'ALS’, and this eventually rendered it impossible for him to play the double bass. Mingus died in Mexico aged 56, at the time he was working on Joni Mitchell’s ‘Mingus’ album with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius.

Charles Mingus's sextet in Europe 1964, fantastic viewing.

Hope you enjoy. JP X

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