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This album copy card is dated June 2, 1959, exactly three weeks after the final recording session. At this point, which compositions would be included, their final titles and the LP sequence were already resolved, indicating that this project was on the fast track.
Teo Macero’s original notes for the album sequence. Note the early song titles and the fact that Horace Parlan at that point is credited as co-composer on what became “Better Git It In Your Soul.” Macero’s proposed album title “Sing Along With Mingus” is no doubt a sarcastic comment on Mitch Miller’s “Sing Along With Mitch” series of LPs, which were blockbuster best sellers for Columbia at the time and the antithesis of hip.
FOLLOWING ARE THE ORIGINAL LP LINER NOTES BY DIANE DORR-DORYNEK:
MINGUS AH UM
Producer Teo Macero’s budget approval request, submitted one month before the first session. It is interesting to note that he writes “all Jelly Roll Morton compositions.” It is conceivable that this was Mingus’s idea at the time.
Then it was a classical workshop where musicians could exchange ideas and perform their new compositions. Mingus moved to New York in 1951, and, deciding to try the idea in the more spontaneous medium of jazz, by 1953 had organized a series of jazz workshop concerts at the Putnam Central Club in Brooklyn. Some of the musicians who participated in the early days were Max Roach, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, and the audience, who also had a hand in the working out of new compositions and arrangements.
Because of the success of this workshop, a Composer’s Workshop was formed, in collaboration with Bill Coss of Metronome, that included Teddy Charles, John LaPorta, and Teo Macero (who, as an A&R man for Columbia, arranged the date for this album). Mingus believes now that it got too far away from jazz—spontaneity—since almost all of the music was written. He remembers one rehearsal at which Teddy had left several bars open for blowing and everyone jumped on him with “Man, are you lazy? Write it out!” From this series of concerts Mingus discovered two important things. “First, a jazz composition as I hear it in my mind’s ear— although set down in so many notes on score paper and precisely notated—cannot be played by a group of either jazz or classical musicians. A classical musician might read all the notes correctly but play them without the correct jazz feeling or interpretation, and a jazz musician, although he might read all the notes and play them with jazz feeling, inevitably introduces his own individual expression rather than the dynamics the composer intended. Secondly, jazz, by its very definition, cannot be held down to written parts to be played with a feeling that goes only with blowing free. “My present working methods use very little written material. I ‘write’ compositions on mental score paper, then I lay out the composition part by part to the musicians. I play them the ‘framework’ on piano so that they are all familiar with my interpretation and feeling and with the scale and chord progressions to be used. Each man’s particular style is taken into consideration. They are given different rows of notes to use against each chord but they choose their own notes and play them in their own styles, 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.” Of the musicians on this album, John Handy, Booker Ervin, Horace Parlan, and Dannie Richmond are currently working with Mingus.
Willie Dennis, Jimmy Knepper, and Shafi Hadi have worked with him in the past, and were called especially for this date. John Handy was born in Dallas on February 3, 1933. While in Dallas he began studying the clarinet, then moved to Oakland, California, where he played alto sax at McClymonds High School. He gigged in rhythm and blues in Oakland for two years and later, when he moved to San Francisco, at Bob City. All of the musicians passing through were sure to show there, and although he wasn’t working in jazz, he heard a passing pageant of the greatest names in jazz. He didn’t hear Bird until 1952 when Bird was playing at the Say When. He feels that Bird was probably his greatest influence, but the list of musicians that were important to him musically is long: Louis Jordan, Lester Young, Flip Phillips, Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Stan Getz, early Konitz, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane. In 1952 he studied at San Francisco City College, playing clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone sax, alto and tenor. After a stint in Korea, he returned to San Francisco and switched his main instrument from alto to tenor. He studied for a secondary teaching degree at State College, and plans to complete it and eventually teach improvisation at the college level. Handy came to New York in July 1958. He met Mingus in December at a jam session at the Five Spot. He’d been pacing about anxiously, hoping to blow, but the musicians on the stand thought he looked too square. Mingus asked them to give him a chance to play, and they did. A day later Mingus asked him to join his group. Booker Ervin was born on October 31, 1930, in Denison, Texas. When he was nine he wanted to learn the saxophone, but his mother bought him a trombone. He played it for five years and then gave it up. He had wanted to be a jazz musician after hearing Count Basie and other bands of the ’30s on the radio, but it wasn’t until 1950, when in the Air Force, that he finally took up tenor sax and played with a jazz group in Okinawa. He attended the Berklee Music School in Boston in 1954 and then went on the road for a year
with Ernie Fields, playing rhythm and blues. For the next few years he traveled. He stopped off in Denver for a year and there played his first jazz gigs—at the Piano Lounge, and as house combo at Sonny’s Lounge. In the meantime he had studied clarinet and flute. He’d listened to Lester Young and Dexter Gordon earlier, now he listened to Sonny Stitt, and later, to Rollins and Coltrane. He quit music to work in the post office but that became unbearable after three months. “There was no place to go but New York.” He came east with a drummer who lived in Pittsburgh and stayed there for six months (where he met Horace Parlan). He landed in New York in May of 1958. Shafi Hadi, then working with Mingus, told him, “There’s a new cat in town cuts everybody, me and Sonny and all those cats. I’m a sax player so I know what he’s doing on that instrument.” Horace brought Booker to the Half Note where they were then working and he finished the gig with them, but didn’t join the group until November. Horace Parlan was born in Pittsburgh on January 19, 1931. He gigged around Pittsburgh awhile with Tom Turrentine and others, and has played with Sonny Stitt and Dizzy Gillespie. One night Mingus was invited to a jam session in Pittsburgh, and Horace, who was also jamming there, was playing so much and so consistently that Mingus tried to outdo him with his bass. It wasn’t until later that he noticed Horace’s right hand was paralyzed. He had polio when he was five and can use only two fingers of his right hand. Bassist Wyatt “Bull” Ruther and his teacher, Mary Alston, encouraged him to overcome this, and he has developed a predominantly left hand style—single note solos, left hand chords, or chords with right and left interlocked. He names as his favorite pianists Horace Silver, Bud Powell, John Lewis, and Ahmad Jamal. After this session in Pittsburgh Mingus lost contact with Horace until a year later when a car drove up to the Alvin Hotel and Horace got out to check in. Mingus, who was passing by, found he had come here looking for work, and hired him. Horace’s father was a
preacher and he, like Mingus, has a strong church music background. On “Better Git It In Your Soul,” Mingus took a moaning repetitive churchlike line from one of Horace’s solos and added it to the piece. Dannie Richmond was born in New York 30 years ago, and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina. He returned to New York to study tenor sax at the Music Center Conservatory and then went on the road with rhythm-andblues units like the Clovers, Joe Anderson, and Paul Williams. He left rhythm and blues in 1956 because he felt it was exhibitionism rather than music, and at that time switched to drums. That summer the jazz workshop was at The Pad in Greenwich Village (later called Lower Basin Street). At one intermission, after they had played a fast number on which their present drummer couldn’t keep up, Lou Donaldson told Mingus, “I’ve got my hometown buddy here. I bet he’ll make those fast tempos.” He introduced Mingus to Dannie, and Mingus, noting his careful grooming and nice clothes, was skeptical. Dannie sat in for several numbers. On the first number, an uptempoed “Cherokee,” he had very little trouble. Mingus says he could tell Dannie was a good musician and just needed more work. Dannie joined the workshop later that winter when the regular drummer left. Mingus believes the drummer is the most important member of the group and says he’d rather have no drummer at all if Dannie weren’t available. “He’s a musician, not just a timekeeper, one of the most versatile and creative drummers I’ve ever heard.” A shorter word about the non-regulars. Shafi Hadi was born in Pennsylvania on September 21, 1929, and raised in Detroit. He served his apprenticeship in rhythm-and-blues bands such as Ivory Joe Hunter, Ruth Brown, Paul Williams, and the Griffin Brothers. He left rhythm and blues late in 1956 and joined Mingus in 1957, with whom he worked regularly until the fall of 1958. He was among the nine musicians (along with Knepper, Richmond, and Parlan) who recorded the score, composed by Mingus, for the experimental film Shadows. The theme song from Shadows, retitled “Self-Portrait In Three Colors,” is recorded in this album.
Willie Dennis was born in South Philadelphia 33 years ago. He picked up the trombone when he was about 15, learning by ear. He has played in a long list of famous bands; with Percy and Jimmy Heath, Elliott Lawrence, Howard McGee, Claude Thornhill, Sam Donahue, Woody Herman (with whom he went to South America and became interested in flamenco and concert guitar), and Benny Goodman (touring Europe). He has also worked with the smaller groups of Charlie Ventura, Coleman Hawkins, Lennie Tristano, and Kai Winding. At one of the early jazz workshop concerts in Brooklyn, Mingus brought together Dennis, J. J. Johnson, Kai Winding, and Bennie Green. This concert was billed as the Battle of the Trombones, and marked the beginning of the Jay and Kai team. In 1956 he went to the West Coast with Mingus. He is currently working with Buddy Rich. Jimmy Knepper, winner of the 1958 Down Beat International Critic’s New Start Award, was born in Los Angeles on November 22, 1927. His early musical experience was mainly with big bands, Charlie Spivak, Woody Herman, Charlie Barnet, Claude Thornhill, and Ralph Marterie; and he played for awhile with Charlie Parker. He joined the jazz workshop early in 1957 and was one of the musicians playing at the Brandeis Festival that summer, where Mingus’ “Revelations” was performed along with the compositions of five other jazz and classical musicians. In the spring of 1958 Knepper organized his own group, later joined Tony Scott, and more recently toured with Stan Kenton. He is very accomplished technically. Britt Woodman and Duke Ellington’s other trombonists listened to him enthusiastically last summer at the Great South Bay Festival, where he played with the jazz workshop. Britt summed up their feelings, saying: “Man, he’s all over that trombone!” Mingus’ biography has been noted quite fully elsewhere, but for the benefit of new members of his audience I’ll recapitulate it in brief. He was born in an army camp at Nogales, Arizona, April 22, 1922, and soon thereafter his family moved to Los Angeles. He grew up in Watts, three miles from L.A.
The first music he heard was church music. His stepmother took him to the Holiness Church where there were trombone, tambourines, bass, and a bass drum, and the music was filled with blues, moaning, and riffs set by the preacher. One day, listening to his father’s crystal set (at the risk of being severely punished if found tampering with it), he heard Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo.” “It was the first time I knew something else was happening besides church music.” He tried the trombone when he was six, later took up the cello, and switched to bass in high school. He studied the bass with Red Callender and then, for five years, with H. Rheinschagen, formerly of the New York Philharmonic. His early gigs were with Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory, but under pressure of kidding by his friends, he left the oldtimers and gigged with Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Red Norvo, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Art Tatum, finally becoming a leader of his own group in 1952. I’ve mentioned in passing his foray into film scoring, and I’d like to add a word about jazz and poets. Mingus played with poets in Frisco ten years or so ago. He feels it hasn’t had the proper chance in New York, despite the many efforts to present it, including his own concerts last March with Kenneth Patchen. But music and poetry (or acting) does seem to have a definite future—if his recent experience with actors on television is a reliable forecast. At this writing, he has just completed work on the first of three plays by Leo Pogostin for the Robert Herridge Theatre. The first play of this trilogy uses bass alone for the score; the other two will employ other members of his group. During the week of rehearsal, and the three dress rehearsals, musician and actors worked in close reaction to one another. For the actual taping of the show, however, the music was cut down so low as to be inaudible to the actors, to avoid feedback into their mikes. Two of the actors said they missed it—the bass had seemed to be another actor and had become an integral part of the play.
The acting methods used were peculiarly akin to jazz. The script formed the skeleton around which the actors might change or ad lib lines according to their response to the situation at that moment, so that each performance was slightly different. Martin Balsam, the lead, said “Sticking too closely to lines is stifling. This method gives an air of the unexpected and keeps us alive to the situation and the other actors.” A jazz musician works in this way, using a given musical skeleton and creating out of it, building a musical whole related to that particular moment by listening to and interacting with his fellow musicians. Jazz musicians working with actors could conceivably provide audiences with some of the most moving and alive theater they have ever experienced. One poet, Jonathan Williams (if we may return to poets for a moment), in noting the rather bare poetic scene writes, “The only solace for a poet in New York is the occasional spirit in painting and jazz—the ‘opening out of my countree,’ the projective flash that Charles Olson sees inherent in the greatest American art: Ives, Ryder, Sullivan, Melville. In the winter of 1959 this spirit radiates for me from the paintings of the Kooning, which seem like the best landscapes since Oz, and from the sessions of the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop. I heard this Quintet more than thirty times in three months, increasingly rapt by the presence of those tired but necessary words ‘nobility’ and ‘love’ in the music. “It is incredible that Mingus can dredge out of the contemporary slough the potency and healing grace of his music. Pieces like the ‘Fables of Faubus,’ ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ and others are miracles of a kind. They are there, available, God knows, for anyone of those not so bugged by the crazy barrage of the Communication of Nothing that they can still hear. Poetry and music are for those with straight connections between ears, eyes, head, heart, and gut.”
—Diane Dorr-Dorynek 1959
FOLLOWING ARE THE ORIGINAL LP LINER NOTES BY CHARLES MINGUS, AS TOLD TO DIANE DORR-DORYNEK:
It seems to me that ten or fifteen year cycles in jazz are camouflages f o r insecure musicians who hide b e h i n d the current style.
Teo Macero’s November 30, 1959 memo to Walter Dean to try to get approval to pay Jimmy Knepper’s “surprise” arranging bill. Practically every album ever made has additional lastminute costs for which the producer must then beg business affairs to approve and pay.
Jimmy Knepper’s bill for four arrangements and some copying work on the “Mingus Dynasty” session. It’s amazing by today’s standards, but $50.00 was the average rate for big band arrangements at recording sessions at that time.
I remember too well the era when critics raved about a new creative dissonance in jazz and its unheard of harmonies—or disparaged what they later renamed “boppers” and their long lines of unrelated notes. I went around listening to find these boppers and came up with a handful of musicians who adopted this idiom to their instruments and became famous through their invention in this style. But I wonder about the wealth of individuality and creativity we might have had and what they could have added to the evolution of jazz had they not been caught up in the Charlie Parker trend. Who were the other boppers that critics spoke about, as though a myriad of bop disciples were taking over the earth of jazz? Anyone who attempted to play a familiar rhythmic pattern from the beginnings or endings of Bird’s phrases or wore a goatee and bop glasses like Dizzy was called a bebopper. I disliked stylish “new looks” then and still think that such fashions generate sterile rehashings of one man’s achievement. I studied Bird’s creative vein with the same passion and understanding with which I’d studied the scores of my favorite classical composers, because I found a purity in his music that until then I had found only in classical music. Bird was the cause of my realization that jazz improvisation, as well as jazz composition, is the equal of classical music if the performer is a creative person. Bird brought melodic development to a new point in jazz, as far as Bartók or Schoenberg or Hindemith had taken it in the classics. But he also brought to music a primitive, mystic, supra-mind communication that I’d only heard in the late Beethoven quartets and, even more, in Stravinsky. Looking backward, I realized that this kind of communication has been there in other jazz creators’ improvisation, for instance in Rex Stewart’s trumpet. Bartók and most other composers knew about life up to death and wrote music as though it and they only existed here. But Bird had an unafraid soreness of self and of the relation of self to life, and death, and creation. His music exists here and beyond—as though he had been playing before he got here.
The followers who supposed Bird’s greatness lay in his melodic patterns copied them without realizing that if Bird played something as diatonic as a scale on his horn (do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti, do), he could play it millions of different ways with millions of different meanings. These sham copies have distorted Bird’s beauty and greatness. I wonder how he felt hearing copies of himself all over America? How would a great, original painter feel if he saw in every gallery copies of his paintings, copies that were being hailed as good along with his own. I think it would be difficult, if not impossible, to retain his sense of himself, and that such a situation can destroy a man’s capacity to continue to create. Recently a young man came to New York with a plastic horn who critics are saying will cause a new era in jazz. He’s doing atonal things that I’ve heard other musicians do, but he talks with his horn in the profound and primitive way Bird did. Shortly after hearing this young man, Ornette Coleman, I spoke to George Russell. George said, “I hope the critics won’t do to him what they did to Bird.” I said, “I know what you mean. They can brainwash the public into forgetting that what preceded Coleman is still valid and that Coleman is simply one more addition to the mainstream of great jazz creators. They have the power and perhaps the irresponsibility to inflate him and his style to such importance that it wouldn’t take long to erase in most musicians’ minds the awareness of anything other than the need to join the ‘new look.’ It would become an economic pressure on many who will think they have to play that way to make a living and the new camouflage for the people who have no faith in their individuality.” When the musicians who used to hide behind Charlie Parker buy plastic saxophones, trumpets, trombones and basses, hanging on to a few of the rhythmic phrases Coleman has been able to create—when they realize they have a new camouflage of atonality, no time bars, no key signature—when they all simultaneously begin to jabber in this borrowed style in all the night clubs all over America—
then the walls of all the jazz clubs will probably crumble at this pretentious era of socalled good music, jazz.
But it won’t happen again if every musician will play himself.
If you agree with me that in addition to borrowing another man’s solutions a composer can also repeat himself, then perhaps you’ll understand what I mean when I say I’d be bored with rooms full of Picasso’s early cubist paintings and that I’d prefer selections from his entire oeuvre. It has taken me many years of being misunderstood—(critics wanted to pigeonhole and stylize me, saying “Mingus uses whistles and effects” when I used them on only one piece out of thirty or forty different recorded compositions)—to finally find acceptance for my point that a composer writing twenty pieces should write twenty pieces that are different...as much as you’d want twenty paintings to look different from one another. When I went to a Gauguin retrospective I saw a great painter: no painting looked like the other, each was done by a new genius, unimpressed by himself and his previous creation. My last record for Columbia, Mingus Ah Um, on which each piece was different, sold many thousands of records, and I’m sure it’s due to the fact that people are tired of hearing vibes, piano, bass and drum groups, or any other concocted “group sound,” playing at the same low level of dynamics, with the same compositional form, the same color and embellishment. Or the same big bands with four or five trumpets, four or five trombones, five or six saxophones, and a rhythm section pounding away, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, as though the audience has no sense of rhythm or beat in its mind. And still playing arrangements as though there were only three instruments in the band: a trumpet, a trombone and a saxophone, with the other three or four trumpets, three or four trombones and four or five saxophones there just to make the arrangement sound louder by playing harmonic support to the leading trumpet, trombone and saxophone. What would you call this? A big band? A loud band? A jazz band? A creative band?
I’d write for a big sound (and with fewer musicians) by thinking out the form that each instrument as an individual is going to play in relation to all the others in the composition. This would replace the old hat system of passing the melody from section to section, for example from trumpet to reed section while the trombones run through their routine of French horn chordal sounds. Even this cliché would be listenable if it were not made to stand alone but were used as background for ad lib solos. I think it’s time to discard these tired arrangements and save only the big Hollywood production introduction and ending which uses a ten or more note chord. If these ten notes were used as a starting point for several melodies and finished as a linear composition—with parallel or simultaneous and juxtaposed melodic thoughts—we might come up with some creative big band jazz. “Far Wells, Mill Valley” is scored for piano, vibes, flute, alto, two tenors, baritone, trumpet, trombone, bass and drums. Section A opens (IA) with four lines: flute and vibes in a 12/8 line against alto and trumpet in a 16/16 line (that is, three notes against four), an inner counter-melody played by two tenors, and a slow melodic line on bass, baritone and trombone. The trombone leaves the bass line during pedal points and his weaving in and out blends the whole into a harmonic or organ sound. The opening is recapitulated, A, in a swinging 4/4 which repeats, in keeping with the traditional jazz structure AABA. Section B opens with a trumpet trill written to sound more primitive than it sounds here. All solos in this section are ad libbed from a voiced thirteen tone row scale against a pedal point rhythmic pattern. The scale replaces the traditional chord pattern from which musicians usually improvise. It may be broken up in any manner by the soloist. When Roland Hanna takes the first solo with the piano right hand (the left hand continues the percussive pattern), the written flute line takes up the melodic mood. When the flute line dissolves from written part to solo, the written alto part continues the melodic line. This technique assures
compositional continuity even if a soloist plays something unrelated. The soloist can’t play a “wrong” note, but he can make a bad choice of notes not related to the composer’s melodic conception. Jerome Richardson’s flute solo is played within the context and the point at which the written part ends and the solo begins is indecipherable. The alto (John Handy) joins the flute in double improvisation and the continuity is then carried by written lines for trumpet tenors and trombone. Section C has the combined emotional coloring of the opening, IA, and A proper. The background behind the bass solo is written in high register as a compliment to the bass solo and to be out of its range. The solos in this section were written to be ad libbed from open fifths. That means there is no major or minor third or tone center. All the chromatics are at the soloist’s disposal which would allow a pivot point type of atonal solo. The solos by Handy on alto and Richard Williams on trumpet are fine solos, but they are executed in a diatonic Charlie Parker chordal manner that doesn’t utilize the possibilities given by the open fifths. Booker Ervin’s tenor joins the alto in double improvisation that does achieve the compositional continuity that I’d wanted in the preceding individual solos. The final section recapitulates section B, with improvisations by Williams on trumpet and Dannie Richmond on timpani, and, foregoing the Hollywood production ending, ends with a single note. The full title of “Gunslinging Bird” is “If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger There’d Be A Whole Lot Of Dead Copycats.” A poet who heard this one night at the Showplace improvised a poem called “If Bird Were a Gunclinger There’d Be A Lot Less Robbins.” Incidentally, many of my titles are given arbitrarily to the music without being related to it. This composition features solos by Knepper on trombone, Handy in alto chorus and Richmond on drums. Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” features Ervin on tenor, Knepper, Hanna on piano, and bass. The melody’s
rhythmic pattern differs from the original in the second chorus. “Song With Orange” is the title composition from a CBS television play, A Song With Orange In It, for which I wrote the score. It features Knepper in a plunger solo and Williams on trumpet. “Mood Indigo” is played in the beautiful mood in which Duke originally wrote it and with a new inner counter-melody on the tenor. The lead is played by the alto and the solos are by Knepper, Hanna and myself. “New Now Know How” opens with the introduction followed directly by the bridge (to break the AABA routine) and ends with A. Solos are played by Nico Bunink on the piano, John Handy on alto and Knepper. “Diane” is a melodic, atonal composition. The melodies for flute, trumpet, alto, tenor, piano and bass are all equally important. I suggest listening to it as a whole rather than trying to follow one particular line. After the ensemble glissando there is a piano solo by Roland Hanna on the second theme. In the out chorus the vibes reinforce the piano line, and a trombone line is added. “Put Me In That Dungeon” is the opening music from my score for the CBS television ballet, Frankie and Johnny, starring Melissa Hayden. It features Handy on alto. “Slop” was written for a barroom scene for Frankie and Johnny. If you notice a similarity to a 3/4 composition on my last Columbia album, it is not coincidental. The choreographer had rehearsed his dancers to “Better Git It In Your Soul,” and asked for something like it when I composed the score. “Slop” has the same church influence, but with a looser, sloppier approach—they’ve left church meeting and gone to the picnic grounds where they sing the same meeting songs but the Rev or the Deacon has just sneaked a few nips to a few of the leading voices. In the beginning you hear Ervin on tenor and Hanna solos on piano. Both “Slop” and “Put Me In That Dungeon” feature cellos.
—Charles Mingus 1959
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