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I post a weekly diary of the historical notes, arts & science items, foreign news (often receiving little notice in the US) and whimsical pieces from the outside world that I featured this past week in "Cheers & Jeers". For example .....

DIRECT DESCENDANTS? - h/t to UkiOli - George Carlin and Charles Darwin.

   

OK, you've been warned - here is this week's tomfoolery material that I posted.

ART NOTES - an exhibit on the subject of lunch hour - everything from school lunches to power lunches to the old Horn & Hardart Automat - is at the New York Public Library's Gottesman Exhibition Hall to mid-February, 2013.

TODAY is the final of the 2012 European Championships - a mini-World Cup of European nations - with Italy taking on Spain at 2:45 PM Eastern (11:30 AM Pacific) on ESPN.

YUK for today - guest commentator Thers (at the Atrios blog) can't quite believe he's in agreement with Maggie Gallagher, who said:

"Gay marriage furthers the disconnection of marriage from procreation; it helps in an ongoing way to sever the link between sex and diapers".
Thers continues: "I'd long thought the blessed forgiveness the moral family values crowd showed towards David Vitter was hypocritical. But gosh, I guess it is in fact fundamental in regards to their values".

TUESDAY's CHILD is a New Zealand stray who kept turning up at a woman's house the past year - and became a hero cat by alerting her to a fire that wound up engulfing her home.

POLITICAL CORRUPTION NOTES - the Italian Senate voted to remove parliamentary immunity for Luigi Lusi - the former treasurer of the center-left Margherita party - on charges of embezzling more than €23 million in election grants (from party coffers) to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Meanwhile, the Romanian Supreme Court denied the appeal of former prime minister Adrian Nastase (2004-2006) of his conviction for siphoning off funds totalling about €1.5 million ($1.8 million US) - collected from companies and businessmen invited to participate at a convention - for his re-election campaign. But he is recuperating in a hospital (after attempting to commit suicide) when police came to bring him to prison to serve his sentence.

WEDNESDAY's CHILD is the 18-month-old Diesel the Cat - rescued after being stuck up a tree for five days (by a fifteen year-old boy) after several fire brigades refused to rescue Diesel: in part, due to disagreement about the location of the tree near the England/Scotland border.

A THOUGHTFUL ESSAY on athletes who seemingly have it all ... then whose abilities slip away all-at-once ... cites the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Steve Blass - who seems to have come to terms with it better than many analysts.

THE RECENT OUSTER of Fernando Lugo - elected four years ago in the first instance in modern history that Paraguay underwent a peaceful transfer of power to an opposition party - suggests that the 35-year rule of dictator Alfredo Stroessner may not have been truly dead and buried as had been thought.

IN THIS PAST Thursday night's Top Comments - I wrote of receiving a reply from my high school principal of thirty-eight years ago - and how the school he ran shaped my life.

ART NOTES - an exhibition exploring the theme of an earthly paradise, or Arcadia - popular in art since antiquity, and including works by Gauguin, Cézanne and Matisse - are at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through September 3rd.

IN THE DISCUSSION about changing banking regulations in the USA, Canadian business writer David Olive suggests looking north for ideas.

IN A REVERSAL of at least one category that the Board of Trustees for the Grammy Awards had eliminated: they have now reinstated Latin Jazz as a category for the 55th annual Grammy Awards (to be held next February).

IT SEEMS IMPROBABLE given that the film version of "Gone With the Wind" was released seventy-three years ago .... but that film's nominee for best-supporting actress (and two-time Academy Award-winner) Olivia de Havilland is still alive .... and turns age 96 today.

THURSDAY's CHILD is Vincent the Cat - discovered in a Maine shelter after going missing for four years, and who will soon be flown out to California (where his family now lives).

THE SOUTH AMERICAN nation of Uruguay is considering legalizing and regulating marijuana sales - to cut cocaine consumption and remove a significant source of funding for criminal groups.

A BBC REPORTER who just finished covering the trial of the racist Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik wrote that "I found that sometimes words from the Breivik trial would lie in my mind like timebombs - and only later, back at the hotel, or back home, they were detonated - and the full horror of what had been said ... would hit home".

TIME MARCHES ON - an increasing number of senior care centers - that once wouldn't let anything with fur in the front door - now welcome companion animals.

FATHER-SON? - ecologist Herbert Bormann - the scientist that identified acid rain (who died earlier this month at age 90) - and Kelsey Grammer the TV star.

   

....... and finally, for a song of the week .................................. in the field of jazz, there have been several great bassists, several great bandleaders and several great composers - but only Charles Mingus fit all three categories, whose passing thirty years ago ended one of the most brilliant (and stormy) careers by an American musician in the 20th Century. He stated that his abilities on bass were the result of hard work, but that his composing "was a gift" - which he put to good use.

He was born in 1922 in a Nogales, Arizona army camp but came-of-age in the Watts section of Los Angeles. His stepmother forbade all music except church music, but he heard Duke Ellington on his father's crystal radio, and the rest is history. An excellent music student, at age 18 he wrote a score (Half-Mast Inhibition) that was semi-classical in nature and which he finally recorded in 1960. And while that blend of classical and jazz music was not his normal style, he dabbled in what is known as Third Stream throughout his career.

He went on the road at age 20 and played in many big bands of the day: Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton and notably Duke Ellington (his original idol). Even more notably: Charles Mingus became the only bandmember ever fired personally by Duke Ellington. Mingus went on to perform in Red Norvo's trio (with guitarist Tal Farlow) where Mingus first stood out as a soloist, leading to his beginning his own bands.

But first: he played in the legendary 1953 Jazz at Massey Hall concert in Toronto, Canada that many critics consider the best post-war jazz concert ever. In no small part since it also features Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Max Roach as well: some of the founding fathers of modern jazz.

From 1956 through 1966, Charles Mingus released a total of thirty albums - and although his sidemen often changed, and going on to noted careers (Eric Dolphy, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Jackie McLean among them) the one constant was his drummer Dannie Richmond who stayed with him almost continuously from 1957 on.

The late 1950's saw the release of some of the most legendary jazz albums, including Kind of Blue from Miles Davis and Time Out by Dave Brubeck. Another in this category was Charles Mingus' 1959 debut album for Columbia Records Mingus Ah Um - which ranged from Gospel/good-time blues (Better Git It in your Soul) .... to elegies (Goodbye Pork Pie Hat) being his most famous tune (that rock stars such as Jeff Beck often perform) ... as well as his ode to the segregationist governor of Arkansas, Fables of (Orville) Faubus - as Charles Mingus was quite outspoken for the day about racism.

Some of his later works include his magnum opus Epitaph - that was never successfully performed in his lifetime - as well as other songs about injustice: Remember Rockefeller at Attica was a more recent example. At this time, Mingus also sought to create collective workshops and artists guilds - and while many did not last, they created almost a university-like atmosphere in his bands.

That is, unless you crossed Charles Mingus. He was known to upbraid inattentive audiences, and to fire musicians on-stage who weren't up-to-snuff. In his autobiography, Miles Davis (no slouch in having a temper) was even surprised at some of the latent anger inside Mingus. Mingus once punched out trombonist Jimmy Knepper, whose playing was never quite the same after the injury. Over the years, his fiery personality mellowed but it remained part of his aura (along with his inventive music).

His career peaked in the early 1960's, despite an infamous 1962 Town Hall rehearsal session (billed as a "concert") in which "Epitaph" did not come off successfully. He recovered with his 1963 Black Saint and the Sinner Lady album, which also makes it into his top albums list, intended as accompanying music to a ballet. But by 1966 (unable to find a publisher for his Beneath the Underdog autobiography) he largely left the music business, tired and frustrated.

He returned in the early 1970's, revived not only by the publishing of his autobiography and the re-release of several old works: but also by a Guggenheim Fellowship for composition. More secure, he sought out younger musicians and began to produce some innovative music that once again endeared him to audiences and critics (Cumbia and Jazz Fusion adding Colombian music to his mix) - and his old mercurial temper days were behind him.

Sadly, he contracted ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and became more of a producer than performer. Still releasing some fine recordings, he was honored by President Jimmy Carter at a 1978 White House concert. He produced Joni Mitchell's album Mingus though he did not live to see its release. Charles Mingus died from ALS in January, 1979 at only age 56, and his ashes were spread in the Ganges River. His widow Sue oversees his estate, and the Mingus Big Band performs his works to this day.

The legacy of Mingus is extensive, and not only in the jazz community. Besides being a favorite of Joni Mitchell, a 1992 tribute album Weird Nightmare features the likes of Elvis Costello, Keith Richards/Charlie Watts, Dr. John, Henry Rollins, Robbie Robertson and Chuck D. - in addition to jazz and even bluegrass performers. Recorded a full thirteen years after his death, somehow I think Mingus would have been impressed.

   

Years after his death, a jumbled-up score for Epitaph was discovered. Noted Third Stream conductor Gunther Schuller (who had worked with Mingus previously) was hired to (first) decipher it, then bring it to life.

Which he did in 1989 at Alice Tully Hall in New York (with six of the original 1962 Town Hall musicians still alive to perform on it). It was also performed in 2007, with a Walt Disney Concert Hall recording made.

And while much of the music of Charles Mingus is instrumental, one song in "Epitaph" was recorded with vocals by itself in 1963: "Freedom" - and below you can listen to it.

This mule ain’t from Moscow
This mule ain’t from the South
But this mule has something in him:
Mostly mouth-to-mouth

This mule could be called stubborn and lazy
But in a clever sort of way
this mule could be working, waiting, learning and planning
For a sacred kind of day

A day when burning sticks and crosses
is not mere child’s play
But a madman in his most incandescent bloom
Whose lover’s soul is imperfection
and its most lustrous groom

So stand fast there, young mule
Soothe in contemplation
That burning whole and aching thigh
Your stubbornness is ever living
And cool anxiety is about to die

Freedom for your daddy
Freedom for your momma
Freedom for your brothers and sisters
But no freedom for me

Originally posted to DKOMA on Sun Jul 01, 2012 at 08:30 AM PDT.

Also republished by Shamrock American Kossacks.

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