This was originally posted by Pat in the message board of his official website and has also surfaced in the newsgroups and email.
The piece is long for a blog post, but I wanted to share it with you. Yet Mingus was undertaking, like Davis and Coleman, a novel approach to jazz. Some of it is intimidating in its complexity; some is angry and vituperative; some verges on the bleating of free jazz.
Mingus the person was everything the music represents, plus a lot more.
He had his tender moments, a fine sense of humor, and a deep knowledge of how to make jazz traditions resonate in his music. Mingus Ah Um captures the full flavor of the man better than most any of his recordings. The title played with the case endings in Latin declensions—Mingus showing off a bit perhaps, and asking to be taken seriously.
It is the best musical redaction of middle-period Mingus, with his musicians playing at the top of their form in compositions that have never been equaled.
Ah Um grew out of the Jazz Workshop approach that Mingus established early on in his New York career and used through much of his later years. From the original liner notes by Diane Dorr-Dorynek quoting Mingus: My present working methods use very little written material.
They are given different rows of notes to use against each chord but they choose their own notes and play them in their own style, from scales as well as chords, except where a particular mood is indicated.
In this way I can keep my own compositional flavor in the pieces and yet allow the musicians more individual freedom in the creation of their group lines and solos.
This approach to playing jazz enabled singular and collective improvisation to work within a structure. I think Mingus was the first to fully develop such a method since Jelly Roll Morton.
What he accomplished in Ah Um was not only a way to give form to freedom but a means to echo and respect basic jazz traditions and styles. The album is a kind of mini-jazz history, an epitome of what jazz music can convey. Standouts here are Knepper, Ervin and Hardy, though all give fine performances.
Mingus had lately discovered and coached Dannie Richmond, and in Ah Um the two achieved amazing rhythmic unity. On Ah Um Mingus has fun with jazz styles while interpreting them in his unique way and giving them a new flavor. There is wonderful use of repetition, pedal points a Mingus trademarkriffs, handclaps and hollers.
Other highlights on the album: This is Mingus blues of the first order. Faubus, one remembers, ordered out the National Guard in to prevent black teenagers from entering Little Rock Central High School and was vocal in his opposition to integration.
In Ah Um, his first album for Columbia, the company may have suppressed the lyrics, as Mingus later charged. Without lyrics, the song loses some of its punch. Mingus, who never hid his political feelings, played and recorded it often.
I interviewed Teo in the course of compiling my book of interviews with Mingus and others, Mingus Speaks. There have been several releases of the album and some of its outtakes over the years, but I still prefer the original nine tunes, which constituted a musical program as Mingus intended.
He was very careful about how he programmed his music, one reason why Mingus Ah Um has been a success. The album also looks forward to the coming band with Dolphy when Mingus would work his music into a freer mold, beginning with The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady But Ah Um was his first breakthrough with the jazz public at large and for many, including yours truly, it brought the particular genius of Mingus to light.Chart Your Course in Music As an undergraduate at Berklee College of Music, you'll enjoy the advantages of a small college experience with faculty who are some of the world's most renowned musicians and music educators.
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