Charles Mingus The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Because this is the 90th birthday anniversary year of Charles Mingus, Sue Mingus called last spring to ask Michael Cuscuna whether he might be interested in issuing some of the unreleased Mingus tapes she had in the archives. It didn’t take long to make such a decision! Charles Mingus was always the most incandescent of jazz’s few true geniuses, and the mid-1960s was undoubtedly one of the most tumultuous periods in his – and America’s – storied history. In Mingus’ case, that personal, social and political upheaval was the recipe for some of his most ferociously creative output, represented here by four intense, combustible concerts by some of his most legendary groups.
Mosaic Records collects that quartet of masterful performances on the new 6-CD box set Charles Mingus – The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65 (Town Hall, Amsterdam, Monterey & Minneapolis). Only 47 minutes of the Town Hall concert has been available on an authorized CD. Here a disc and a half worth of music from Town Hall and Minneapolis is being released for the first time in any format.
The line-ups for these concerts include some of Mingus’ most vital collaborators: Eric Dolphy, Charles McPherson, Jaki Byard, Johnny Coles, Clifford Jordan, Dannie Richmond. The repertoire includes some of the bassist/composer’s greatest works, along with three never-before-issued compositions.
Taken together, this monumental collection gathers an essential body of music from a time when Mingus was as determined to express his independence as his artistry. They represent the fruits of his famously demanding Jazz Workshop and were intended for his own newly-launched record label. Set producer Michael Cuscuna says, “These four triumphant performances capture Mingus at a peak musically and as an entrepreneur, seeking to control the rights to his own music and his economic destiny.”
The 13 months spanned by this collection were remarkably eventful for both Mingus and the country, which was embroiled in the height of the Civil Rights struggle and still reeling from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. During this period Mingus assembled his legendary sextet with Dolphy, Byard, Richmond, Coles and Jordan (which appears here on the Town Hall and Amsterdam concerts); suffered the death of Dolphy, one of his closest collaborators; met his future wife, Sue Graham Ungaro; broke off his productive relationship with Impulse! Records; and took his second stab at releasing his own work.
“After a decade of recording for some of the biggest record labels in the industry,” Cuscuna relates, “Charles Mingus decided in 1964 to return to the DIY model that he had begun in the early ’50s with Max Roach and their label Debut. The Jazz Workshop label was launched in time for his celebrated Town Hall concert and subsequent European tour (represented here by its Amsterdam concert) with his stellar sextet.”
The Town Hall Concert constitutes this set’s first disc and contains the music originally released by Fantasy/Debut, supplemented by an additional 32 minutes of unissued material. Originally a benefit for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the concert took place on April 4, 1964 (and is not to be confused with Mingus’ other Town Hall concert, the big band performance 18 months earlier in which he sought to premier his extended work “Epitaph”). The previously-unreleased portion features a duet with Byard on Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” a 20-minute rendition of Mingus’ “Peggy’s Blue Skylight,” and an incomplete performance of his Bird tribute “Parkeriana” before the tape ran out.
The sextet reconvenes at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw six days later for the stunning concert that makes up the next two CDs. The date, which revisits several of the tunes from the Town Hall Concert, showcases Mingus’ ability to look both forward and back, paying tribute to Ellington, Bird and Dizzy Gillespie (plus a vast swath of the jazz piano tradition on Byard’s set-opening “A.T.F.W.” referring to Art Tatum and Fats Waller) while displaying his barbed modernity on his own classics “Meditation on a Pair of Wire Cutters” and “Fables of Faubus.”
Much had changed by that September when Mingus performed at the seventh Monterey Jazz Festival. Dolphy had passed away unexpectedly in Europe three months earlier and Mingus was leading a new sextet. With the exception of saxophonist John Handy who was replacing an ailing Booker Ervin, this is the group that he would come to dub “My Favorite Quintet.” Byard and Richmond remain, joined by Charles McPherson and Lonnie Hillyer, recorded for the first time here. Following an Ellington medley and Mingus’ “Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress Then Blue Silk,” six more musicians take the stage. The augmented ensemble debuts “Meditations on Integration,” the orchestral reworking of “Meditation on a Pair of Wire Cutters.”
Accolades poured in for the concert. “Monterey belonged to Charles Mingus,” wrote The San Francisco Chronicle. “It was a triumph.” DownBeat ranked it among those concerts that “have that rare and delicious moment when the intensity of a performance, its inspiration, is so overwhelming it sets off something akin to an electric shock,” while Time Magazine declared that Mingus “must be ranked among the greatest of jazz composers.”
The final two discs represent a “My Favorite Quintet” concert from Minneapolis in May of 1965, demonstrating how far the ensemble had evolved. Originally licensed to Fantasy Records and released as My Favorite Quintet Volume One, the version contained in this set restores 68 additional minutes to the concert which have never been issued before, including three otherwise unrecorded Mingus compositions: “Copa City Titty,” “A Lonely Day In Selma, Alabama”and “Bird Preamble.”
Finding the leader in high spirits, the date features a medley of standards, an offbeat takeoff on “Cocktails for Two,” and Mingus replacing Byard on the piano bench twice: for the intro to “Peggy’s Blue Skylight” (during which Byard returns the favor and picks up the bass), and for a brief solo to cover stage time while Richmond’s drums were being tended to.
The release of previously unheard and hard-to-find music by a giant of Charles Mingus’ stature would be welcome under any circumstances, but these four performances find the legendary bassist, composer and iconoclast at the height of his powers. As the mutating line-ups reveal, this was a period of change and of discovery which would soon draw to a sudden close. As Cuscuna recounts, Mingus “would essentially leave the music world in 1966 for almost four years, only to rise stronger than ever in the ’70s.”
Listening to the music on these six CDs, it’s hard to imagine anyone, even Mingus, rising stronger than he sounds here. Fiery, complex, gutsy, witty, vicious and tender – all of his passion and intellect are on display here in their most elemental and vital forms. Mosaic has recovered, unearthed, and reassembled not one but four masterpieces.
For more information on Charles Mingus, please visit mingusmingusmingus.com
This limited edition set is available exclusively from Mosaic Records.Please visit www.mosaicrecords.com for ordering information, complete track listing and discography.
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