Jazz certainly has its share of quirky. This week, I bring you focus onto two of the most individual and influential artists in all of Post war Jazz, and a third person for some similar reasons. Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, and Oliver Nelson.
And thank you all for supporting my weekly jazz bloggery! If you are new to jazz, remember that jazz is at its core just damn good music to listen to! It's my mission to share with the Daily Kos community the beauty, the sophistication, and the swing and the cool that is jazz.
Enough yapping! break on through the orange squiggle to nightingale square
Its enigma week! And they don't get much more enigmatic than the great composer, bassist and band leader, Mr Charles Mingus, April 22, 1922 - January 5, 1979. Mingus is originally from LA. Early in his career he played with the likes of Monk, Miles, and a certain alto saxophonist named Charlie Parker.
I was never a deep student of Mingus' music. Probably because much of it is hard to adapt to the repertoire appropriate to the limited places to play jazz in the northern NJ area. And all but maybe one would be off limits to the "piano trio in an Italian restaurant" gig. Im really just not that familiar with the great recordings Mingus made in 56, 57 and 58. I listened to a bunch this week, and they are all really good.
Mingus obviously incorporates a unique sense of dissonance in his music. But this is slightly different from the avant guard jazz to come in the 60s. Much of the dissonant harmony is completely intentional and preplanned--written and arranged--by Mingus. Arranging is a key skill to composition in any genre. Its basically deciding who plays what and when and writing it out in an manner that other players can read and properly interpret. It is similar to what a produce might do on a modern recording, but many well know and successful producers have developed knowledge to work a recording studio and not the skill set of an arranger. George Martin had the skill set of an arranger and a producer with regard to the technology of his time. Quincy Jones as well.
Mingus is a composer and arranger. In fact a big band has been established which performs in Manhattan every week in NYC that just plays the compositions and arrangements of Charles Mingus. Mingus hit new heights with his 1959 recording Mingus Ah Um
This recording includes Mingus' most famous composition, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. This is written for the late great Lester Young
Mingus has a reputation for having had a temper. This is true, he did. Mingus spoke his mind. The second jazz diary I wrote 3 or 4 weeks ago was themed around the issue of civil rights. In the cutting and pasting..I left something out! and I am disappointed in you folks for not calling me out on it! This is the original version of Mingus' musical indictment of segregationist Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus, Fables of Faubus
Mingus continues to write and perform through the 60s and 70s. His compositions become more orchestral as time proceeds. But before we move on...Mingus had a close relationship with the expert multi-instrumentalist, Eric Dolphy, June 20, 1928 -June 29, 1964. Dolphy died from complications due to a diabetic coma, I think in Germany (it was definitely Europe). There are conflicting accounts over Dolphy's death. Mingus has suggested that the Doctors saw a sick Black American Jazz musician and assumed he was going through an overdose of drugs. Mingus claims they misdiagnosed him and didn't treat the diabetes. Perhaps this is true, perhaps not. Regardless, Dolphy left us much too early.
Thelonious Sphere Monk, October 10, 1917 - February 17, 1982, was once called the High Priest of Bebop. Born originally in North Carolina, Monk was there in NYC with Charlie Parker and Dizzy and Bud and JJ Johnson when Be-Bop was born. Dig this relatively early track and you can clearly hear the Monk style when the piano solo comes up. The slouch on alto sax aint too bad either. Heheh
Early in the 1950s, Monk was driving with pianist Bud Powell. Bud was driving, but he was on probabtion and was carrying some heroin. The police pulled them over and rather than have Bud go to jail on a probation violation, Monk claimed the drugs were his. Monk lost his cabaret card which made it incredibly difficult for him to find any gig opportunities. The cabaret card was essentially a license to perform in NYC clubs, not having one would prevent one performing in most venues. Monk did however record several albums during this period. I may have the time line off a little and the following trio record may have been made right before the cabaret card incident and not during that period. Regardless, this album is a perennial favorite of mine with many classic and early recordings of Monk's tunes. Here's one called Little Rootie Tootie
Once he got the card back (or perhaps before he did) Monk took up an extended engagement performing at what was for intents and purposes a total rat hole called The 5 spot. Another personal favorite Monk recording for me are the two he did with Johnny Griffin on tenor, both recorded live at The 5 spot.
Monk played with many incredible saxophonists over the years. For short period, Monk had John Coltrane playing in his band. Legend has it that Trane was the only person who could get Monk to practice on a regular basis. Trane would show up at his house early in the morning (which I interpret as the crack of noon) to practice Monk's quirky tunes and ask Monk questions. Its relatively early John Coltrane, though it is great playing. Trane had already been in Miles' band for a couple of years and a couple of albums at this point, but this is two years before "Kind of Blue" and about three years before "Giant Steps"
There are only 2 recording released with the two men during their lifetimes. However, things are being found in vaults and archives. Including an amazing live concert from 1957 at Carnegie Hall .
Some of this next clip was used in the brilliant documentary "Straight, No Chaser". If I remember correctly, Monk was a little annoyed with Count Basie sitting there watching him like he is.
There is so much Monk to hear. In the 60s he establishes a long standing quartet with Charlie Rouse on Tenor and they record several albums for Columbia records. In the early 70s he records and performs with Dizzy and Sonny Stitt in a "legends of BeBop" tour. We CANNOT leave Monk without listening to his most famous composition and to him playing solo piano.
Monk is very personal to me. As a student, I wanted to play just like him. My own style has changed over the decades, but I just adore Monk's music and compositions. In 1989 I participated in a Jazz summer program in Venice, Italy sponsored by the (at the time newly founded) Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. I had the opportunity to meet Monk's son as well as jazz icons Curtis Fuller, Walter Bishop Jr, Gary Bartz, and a handful of others. We were given a private screening of "Straight No Chaser" a few months before it was released to the public. Since Ive started writing these blogs, I have emailed the links to some musician friends to read. One of my friends commented that it seemed odd that I would post on DK outside of the normal realms of Jazz bloggery. I was reminded of something Monk Jr said to me and the handful of other American students there in Venice with him: Don't go to the Jazz musicians for money, they don't have any. Engage everyone else.
OK.thats really enough music I think. But pfft!
One more. Oliver Nelson, June 4, 1932 - October 28, 1975. He was tenor saxophonist and composer arranger responsible for one of the greatest jazz albums ever: 1961's Blues and the Abstract Truth.
Less strange, less quirky, but damn swinging...and MORE DOLPHY! That's him on flute and he takes the first solo on this next one
A lot of music. And that's a good thing. I'm happy to share Jazz with y'all and love the comments. And if nothing else, I expect Monk to generate some comments! Doing this has gotten me to go back and listen to so much phenomenal music! I swear Hard Bop sounds amazingly fresh and exciting to me again and I want to start a sextet. Thank you all for listening! And don't forget, there are probably some amazing but unknown Jazz musicians living and playing near where you live. If you like jazz, go to some of their gigs! See ya next week!