Reviews that mention Charles Mingus

Myself When I Am Real

The Life and Music of Charles Mingus
By Gene Santoro
Oxford University Press

The most surprising revelation of Gene Santoro's new biography is that bassist Charles Mingus was barely five foot nine inches tall. It's noteworthy because mercurial Mingus (1922-1979), gave the impression of being someone much larger. Through sheer force of personality, he was able to dominate any ensemble he was in.

Jazz's most distinctive composer after Duke Ellington, Mingus was a gargantuan figure in every other respect. Bearded and massive (his weight frequently edged towards 300 pounds), and as selfish and self-obsessed as he was prodigiously talented, the bassist became famous for his excesses as much as his music.

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February 11, 2016

Paul Bley

A Modern Jazz Piano Master
By Ken Waxman

Paul Bley who died at 83 in early January was probably never bothered that he was usually described as Canada’s second best-known jazz pianist; Oscar Peterson was the first. But Bley, who shared a Montreal birth with Peterson, and who similarly was honored with induction into the Order of Canada in 2008 – albeit 30 plus years after Peterson – was for all intents and purposes a much more radical pianist than O.P. Peterson, seven years Bley’s senior, was a flamboyant stylist who adapted Art Tatum’s all-encompassing swing era techniques to the structure of modern jazz during an almost incalculable number of performances from the late 1940s until his death in 2007. However Bley, represented on more than 100 discs during his career, cycled through a variety of keyboard strategies from the outgoing to the cerebral, eventually matching the atonality of off-centre techniques with straightforward, melodically measured motion. He was also one of the first serious improvisers to deal with the sonic possibilities that could be extracted from the then brand-new portable Moog synthesizer. Later, such better-known pianists as Keith Jarrett, The Bad Plus’ Ethan Iverson and Satoko Fujii developed their playing following the examples of Bley’s breakthroughs. MORE

December 11, 2015

Lest We Forget

Gunther Schuller
By Ken Waxman

During his long professional career Gunther Schuller, who died this past June and was born November 22, 1925, was a French horn player, composer, conductor, author, university professor, record company and orchestra founder, festival administrator and conservatory president, whose associates included Aaron Copeland, John Lewis and Charles Mingus. But for certain segments of the music world he’s best-known for a phrase he coined during a 1957 lecture at Brandeis University: Third Stream. While his idea of uniting the streams of jazz and classical music into a tributary that melded influences from both was initially greeted with derision, nearly a half-century later cross over between the two is increasingly common. MORE

August 11, 2014

On Screen

The Pleasures of Being Out of Step: Notes on the Life of Nat Hentoff
David L. Lewis (First Run Features)

By Ken Waxman

Ask most serious jazz writers who they would like to be when they grow up and the answer would likely be Nat Hentoff. For almost 70 years, Hentoff, now 89, has been involved with every aspect of jazz. At the same time he has been a staunch First Amendment advocate, defending absolute freedom of expression.

Produced and directed by David Lewis, The Pleasures of Being Out of Step is an intelligent 90-minute profile, weaving together frank interviews with Hentoff, his advocates and detractors, archival footage and audio, and it does an excellent job of placing the writer within political, journalistic and sociological currents. When he wasn’t writing about jazz, Hentoff was involved with the Civil Right and Anti-War movement was a friend of Malcolm X and Bob Dylan (he did the first serious interview with Dylan), a defender of Lenny Bruce (a clip of Hentoff cajoling a stoned Bruce into coherence is included) and debated everyone from conservatives like William F. Buckley to representatives of the Woman’s Movement. “Nat loves conflict,” his wife Margot says. Although Hentoff never missies an opportunity to return to the First Amendment, even citing Max Roach’s linkage of jazz’s group improvising with the American constitution, his importance to jazz is illuminated throughout. MORE

October 14, 2013

Lest We Forget:

Julius Watkins (1921-1977)
By Ken Waxman

A stylist whose innovative work in the ‘50s and ‘60s putting the French horn into a jazz context is analogous to what Coleman Hawkins did for the tenor saxophone and Louis Armstrong for the trumpet 30 years earlier, Julius Watkins almost singlehandedly created a viable role for the curved horn during the bop and post-bop eras.

Born in Detroit on October 10, 1921, Watkins began playing the French horn at nine in his school band and continued his studies at that city’s famous Cass Technical High School. Although he also played trumpet during a three year stint in Ernie Fields’ territory band in the mid-‘40s, by the end of the decade he had already recorded on his chosen instrument on sides with drummer Kenny Clarke and vocalist Babs Gonzales and toured as a hornist with pianist Milt Buckner’s band. After studying at the Manhattan School of Music in 1952, he spent the next quarter century in NYC. Within a few years he had recorded a couple of 10-inch LPs for Blue Note, featuring heavyweight such as tenor saxophonists Frank Foster or Hank Mobley, drummers Kenny Clarke or Art Blakey and bassist Oscar Pettiford. MORE

August 6, 2012

In Print

Music in My Soul
Noah Howard (Buddy’s Knife)

By Ken Waxman

Metaphorically, alto saxophonist Noah Howard’s musical life mirrored the history of jazz. Born April 6, 1943 in New Orleans, the music’s purported cradle, before his death on Sept. 3, 2010 in Belgium, Howard had travelled to San Francisco and New York, recorded for small labels like ESP-Disk, expatriated overseas, toured Europe, Africa and India, while developing ties with emerging local players. Completed just days before his death from a cerebral hemorrhage, Music in My Soul is written in the artless but competent prose of a constantly working musician with some haziness in chronology, spelling and details. MORE

August 6, 2012

In Print

Music in My Soul
Noah Howard (Buddy’s Knife)

By Ken Waxman

Metaphorically, alto saxophonist Noah Howard’s musical life mirrored the history of jazz. Born April 6, 1943 in New Orleans, the music’s purported cradle, before his death on Sept. 3, 2010 in Belgium, Howard had travelled to San Francisco and New York, recorded for small labels like ESP-Disk, expatriated overseas, toured Europe, Africa and India, while developing ties with emerging local players. Completed just days before his death from a cerebral hemorrhage, Music in My Soul is written in the artless but competent prose of a constantly working musician with some haziness in chronology, spelling and details. MORE

May 16, 2011

Lest We Forget:

Clifford Jordan (1931-1993)
By Ken Waxman

Two of the milestone discs featuring tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan can serve as a summation of his musical life. The first, Blowing In From Chicago (1957, Blue Note), split with tenor man John Gilmore, played up his home town legacy. The second, These Are My Roots: Clifford Jordan Plays Led Belly (Atlantic 1965), featured Jordan’s highly personal rearrangement of some of the Texas songster’s uncompromising hollers, chain gang laments and folk songs for sextet augmented by a vocalist and a guitarist. Notwithstanding Jordan’s presence in ground-breaking ensembles such as bassist Charles Mingus’ sextet with Eric Dolphy and pianist Jaki Byard plus pianist Randy Weston’s African-oriented band, his talents were most comfortably expressed through the mainstream bop, blues and ballads that characterized his Windy City youth. “Bearcat”, one of his best-known compositions, first recorded in 1961 on the Jazzland album of the same name, could easily have fit in with among the blues-influenced tunes of his post-war Chicago. MORE

August 12, 2010

Lest We Forget:

Booker Ervin (1931-1970)
By Ken Waxman

Most advanced of the fabled Texas tenors, Denison-born Booker Telleferro Ervin II was able to adapt the state’s distinctive bluesy and gutsy tenor saxophone style to the advanced compositions of bandleaders such as bassist Charles Mingus. Yet as the classic mid-generation jazzman, his playing was deemed too traditional by the avant-gardists and too far-out for the mainstreamers.

A late bloomer, Ervin who played trombone in high school, only took up the tenor saxophone during an Air Force stint in the late1940s. He took to it so well that by the end of that decade he was a professional, working with various R&B aggregations throughout the country. Gigging in Pittsburg, he discovered a like-minded player in pianist Horace Parlan, and the two set off for New York, where by the end of the 1950s both joined Mingus’ Jazz Workshop. Ervin would stay until 1963 working alongside players such as alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy and pianist Jaki Byard. Ervin’s heavy-toned, impassioned playing is featured on such classic Mingus LPs as Blues and Roots, Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, soloing on tunes like “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” and “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting”. MORE

January 15, 2008

Ken Waxman’s Top CDs for 2007

[In alphabetical order]
For CODA Issue 337

1. Muhal Richard Abrams, Vision Towards Essence Pi Recordings Pi23

2. Johannes Bauer/Thomas Lehn/Jon Rose, Futch Jazzwerkstatt JW 010

3. Bruce Eisenbeil Sextet, Inner Constellation Volume One. Nemu 007

4. Exploding Customer, At Your Service Ayler aylCD-063

5. Scott Fields Ensemble, Beckett Clean Feed CFO69 CD

6. Frank Gratkowski/Misha Mengelberg, Vis-à-vis Leo CD LR 476

7. François Houle, Evan Parker, Benoît Delbecq La Lumière de Pierres psi 07.02

8. Lucas Niggli Big Zoom, Celebrate Diversity Intakt CD 118 MORE

December 18, 2001

LANDING ON THE WRONG NOTE

By Ajay Heble
Routledge

The most recent schism inside the warring Baltic states that make up the landscape of much of present-day jazz, involves the neo-conservatives verses the experimenters.

Neo-cons, characterized by their champion, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, insist that the music must follow a set of rules and regulations that includes a background in the blues and the necessity of swinging every time a musician plays. Experimenters, among which can be found some of the readers of this magazine, are less doctrinaire. Their playing and compositions welcome other influences, and they aren’t obsessed with producing the “correct” note every time. MORE

March 19, 2001

CHARLES MINGUS

Tonight At Noon
Label M 495723

TONIGHT AT NOON is the most impressive record session that Charles Mingus never made.

That's because the LP -- which was originally released by Atlantic in 1964 -- was pieced together from tunes left off 1957's THE CLOWN and 1961's OH YEAH albums. Still, it's probably a tribute to the talents of both Mingus as a composer and his sidemen that the tunes recorded four years apart hang together so well.

Mingus did have an overwhelming point of view, nonetheless, as many of the stories about him would attest. Considering the bassist's most consistent assistant, drummer Dannie Richmond, and one of his most fluent interpreters, trombonist Jimmy Knepper, are present on all tracks, things are that much more cohesive.

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