under the aegis of the indefatigable Sue Mingus, widow of Charles, the above emphatic if repetitively self-titled bassist’s album sprang to life during the 2012 Presidents Day weekend. there were a Mingus Big Band weekend at Jazz Standard (8 sets); the Mingus Orchestra at St. Bart’s Church (Sat.) and at the Standard (Mon, 2 sets), the Mingus Dynasty Ensemble at Manhattan School of Music, all wrapped around the otherwise enveloping Mingus High School Competition at MSM (both Sun.).

it was tough-sledding for one aging jazzster for an only-in-New York-happening- crowded wonderment of a weekend. in addition to the Minguses there was the Jazz at Lincoln Center Band fete for Stan Kenton’s Centenary (Fri. & Sat.) (next post) and a tribute to Four Black Immortals at Avery Fisher Hall (Sat). if planned carefully one could dance on every tune, work every room and not fall out from exhaustion, even catch some z’s. i could have nailed it if i had gotten the info on the Immortals in a more timely manner.


this aggregation was never an option for Charles when he was alive. expensive and expansive in the extreme, in Charles’ life it would be too unwieldy. there was that now-legendary Mingus Workshop Ensemble Town Hall concert where arranger Sy Johnson was passing around charts from the wings  as they were being written.

mixing metaphors, Sue took the baton and ran with it. she hired Johnson and together formed a powerhouse band which began its performing life –fittingly for Charles– underground at a place called Fez in lower Manhattan, NYC. they packed them in (literally) every Mon. night for years. they recorded for Dreyfus Jazz, for which i was publicist, so when, with some trepidation –and our encouragement– Sue decided to expand to a weekend the gauntlet was thrown. after getting all our PR ducks in a row i split for part of that weekend. upon my return i was greeted by “you are wonderful” telephone message from Sue which was high praise from her usually taciturn façade. they had sold out the joint for all three nights.


Sue uncovered snippets of not-always-music-manuscript and with the help of Johnson  and Gunther Schuller pieced together the monumental multi-movement “Epitaph” at Alice Tully Hall for 35 musicians. to my mind both the Big Band and Orchestra owes their genesis and continued permanence to those “Epitaph” movements, which are still in the book.

one such, “Children’s Hour of Dreams,” was performed at Jazz Standard on Friday night’s brooch of five Mingus originals during the first set.

the writing for the ensemble is brilliant. in the case of Mingus/Schuller that is understatement as anything they’ve done together has been nothing short of such. Mingus the colorist combines with Schuller the classicist to produce multi-hues and moods. (for the uninitiated award-winning author/educator Schuller is a french-hornist who has played on Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool” band. he has also conducted Scott Joplin’s “Red Back Book” with the New England Conservatory Brass Ensemble. and, with John Lewis, coined the term “Third Stream.)

the set opened with the band’s usual high volume energy “Nostalgia In Times Square.” baritone saxist Ronnie Cuber took the lead with Philip Harper’s trumpet and Conrad Herwig’s ‘bone following. Herwig’s approach to his soli is unique in that he starts soto voce then builds to bravura.

in years past when a newby asked to sit-in the leader usually called something like “Cherokee” up. MBB’s version of that is “Slippers,” a rarely played Mingus tune. the band was sight-reading and it quickly became a workshop event. some members had never laid eyes on it let alone played it. trumpeter Jack Walrath who played with past Mingus Workshops knew it cold. his solo stood out as did the (arrived) late pianist Dave Kikoski.

it was Kikoski who backed Seamus Blake’s sax on the plaintive “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” Mingus’ paean dedication to Lester Young’s headgear of choice.

Boris Koslov –who plays Mingus’ bass, but not this night as it was being repaired, Sue told me– arranged “GG Local.” a self-avowed subway and other trains expert Koslov said that Charles wanted his own train like Billy Strayhorn’s “A Train” (an express) for Duke Ellington. he settled on this. (N.B.: the GG local changed to a single G as did all locals in the system. i was a NYC tour guide with a specialty in subways. Boris has promised me a “Jeopardy” challenge round on the subject.)

another infrequently played tune, “GG” quickly devolved into Koslov giving –nay, discussing– the sections from the back of the stage to the rest of the band. there is an  alternative ending, which they did not play, twice. soloists were recent addition Al Norris, trumpet, Alex Foster, alto and Herwig.

set two was a stunner. Sue had invited members of some of the high school competitors to listen as to how Charles’ music was played. she assigned specific pieces to them. none were easy.

we were greeted by “Gunslinging Bird” which has complicated and varying rhythmic patterns: fast 3/4; medium 4/4; then slow 4; “Ecclusiastics” most often a selection from the Orchestra’s book; the always challenging and moody “Love Chant;” then came   “Opus 4,” the piece which broke the band’s resolve. it became yet another workshop affair as these masterful readers buried their noses in the fly shit that was on the manuscript. admonishment to the youths in attendance: don’t try this at home. (read on.)

my exhaustive evening drew to a close –there was a third set– with “E’s Flat, Ah’s Flat Too.” but wait, there’s more! the MBB’s traditional closer, “Better Get Hit In Your Soul” declared a dividend: a tuba coda by Earl McIntyre. the sudden musical silence was deafening drowned out only by the standing o’.


belying the absence of strings the sobriquet,”Orchestra,” was bestowed on this medium-sized ensemble by Sue because, as she said at their opening years ago in another cellar of a downtown NYC restaurant called City Hall, “you will hear instruments usually heard in an Orchestra rather than a jazz band: french, horn, double reeds (oboe, bassoon) and bass clarinet.” there is precedent for these instruments  identifying with Mingus’ music: David Amram played french horn with a Workshop; Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet was also a feature. Yuseff Lateef played oboe on occasion.

i missed their concert at St. Bart’s Church on Sat. night, but Schuller told me that it was not as good as the preceding year’s. “last year was special; magic happened. it just came together,” he said knitting his fingers.

feeling cheated for having missed this year’s St. Bart’s, i managed to catch Mon. night’s final set at the Standard where “Ecclusiastics” opened (Ku-umba Frank Lacy’s vocal and trombone, Wayne Escoffery, sax). harking to Sue’s “assignments” for the High School competitors we heard “Inquisition” (from “Epitaph”), “Self Portrait in Three Colors” (Ralph Duguay who was working the door, sat in on bass; Mark Gross was on sax); and a ragged-sounding ensemble on “Purple Heart,” a feature for Douglas Yates’ clarinet, who rose above it.

the always popular “Eclipse” featured Michael Rabinowitz’s bassoon, David Gilmore on guitar and Lacy’s vocals. “Tonight At Noon.” the title of Sue’s book on Charles, was all Adam Cruz’s drum kit and John Clark’s french horn. “Noon” segued into their theme “Better Get Hit” as the MO tried to call it a long weekend, but the small-but-mighty patrons were having none of that. the rousing encore, “Devil Woman” with Lacy as preacher closed it emphatically.


the direct descendant of Mingus’ Workshop Ensemble this septet was the finale to the High School Competition at Manhattan School of Music on Sun. it was a brief set of a trio of tunes: “Fables of Faubus,” “Pork Pie” and “Better Get Hit.” what made this a standout was the inclusion of pianist Helen Sung. her soli were dynamic, ranging, soulful and percussive making her Mingus-perfect..


i had to keep repeating to myself, “remember, these are HIGH SCHOOL students.” the performances ran as high as the underlying talent. the judges –Foster, Herwig and Schuller–  said individually and collectively that this was the hardest competition yet. “It was difficult to choose,” said host co-producer and Associate Dean Justin DiCioccio. “you are all winners,” co-producer Sue “Let My Children Hear Music” Mingus chimed in.

no cliché, that, but i can say that the Lexington (MA) High School Jazz Combo and Large Ensemble and the Jazz House Kids Small Group and Big Band (Montclair, NJ) each swept their categories. kudos go out to directors Ken Gable (Lexington) and Radam Schwartz and Julius Tolentino (Jazz House). there were some familiar named individual winners as well: trumpeters Adam O’Farrill, son of Arturo, and Wallace Roney, Jr.

the bands were an admixture of sex, color and nationality, as well as upper and lower scholastic class-people, which is always good to see.

all the winners are on the MSM website, more details, and Let My Children Hear Music a 501(c)3 not-for-profit education foundation.

- © arnold jay smith

March 2012

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