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LET MY CHILDREN HEAR MUSIC (
CHARLES MINGUS AND FRIENDS IN CONCERT (
In our survey of Charles Mingus's recordings these albums finish off his ambitious, large-orchestra works. And in several ways they are the result of his 1962 Town Hall concert -- its reputation as "a disaster," and Mingus's still unfulfilled need to see some of his more ambitious compositions properly performed and recorded. (See my review of that concert elsewhere in these pages.)In 1964 Mingus had taken a 12-piece band to the
The following five years were rough ones for Mingus, and saw him quit the music business, get evicted from a New York City loft (documented on the film/video, MINGUS), and committed to hospitals and given heavy medications. I met him in Susan Graham's apartment in 1970 for a photo session to accompany an article I'd written about him for CRAWDADDY magazine and he was as fat as I've ever seen him and remarkably subdued. Most of my conversation was with Susan, then his manager but not yet, I think, his wife.But in 1970 his autobiography, BENEATH THE UNDERDOG, was finally published (he'd been using "excerpts" -- which weren't in the published book -- as album liner notes since the mid-sixties) and Mingus began getting back into music. In 1971 his long-time friend and now
"The Holding Corporation Called Old
The album's second piece is called "Adagio Ma Non Troppo," but is in fact an orchestrated (by Alan Raph) transcription (by Hub Miller) of a Mingus improvisation on piano, first recorded for MINGUS PLAYS PIANO (a solo piano album) on Impulse in 1963, where it was called "Myself When I Am Real." Under either title it is an extraordinary piece in several movements, moods and tempi, the more extraordinary for having been spontaneously composed in a recording studio.
"Don't Be Afraid" borrows briefly from "The Clown" (Atlantic, 1957) and also makes use of sound effects which are phased to a chillingly surreal effect in the opening and closing of the piece -- an unusual (for Mingus) production device. The CD reissue of this album includes a bonus track, "Taurus In The Arena of Life" (originally "Number One Grandson"), recorded at the session, which opens with pianist Roland Hanna playing a bit of Bach. It holds up well with the rest of the album. (The CD is sixty minutes long; this was a long album before the addition of "Taurus," which itself runs less than five minutes.)
Like "Taurus," "Hobo Ho" and "The I Of Hurricane Sue" are new compositions. But "The Chill of Death" is not. Mingus claims he wrote the first version of it in 1939. As such it was a fully written out composition over which he narrates here a rather jejune poem of adolescent reflections on death. The composition lacks the sprightliness of his other adolescent composition, "Half-Mast Inhibition," being somewhat doleful and in places ponderous. Worse, the music is faded to a background level whenever Mingus speaks, diminishing its rich sonorities. (Mingus's own voice is, however, equally rich in sonorities, reminding a little of Orson Welles.) However, the entire score is played a second time (without pause), this time as the vehicle for a Charles McPherson alto solo, improvised over it throughout. This form works far better, and one could only wish it had been presented as a separate track, so that the narrated version could be skipped over.
Curiously enough, this piece is the only piece also performed on EPITAPH, the posthumous recreation of the 1962 Town Hall concert. The version used there is significantly different, however. In his notes for that album Gunther Schuller notes that "'Chill of Death' exists in a much shorter earlier version" -- the version on LET MY CHILDREN HEAR MUSIC, in fact -- and that "earlier through-composed version ... is also contained in the 'Epitaph' manuscript," but he chose not to use it. He contends that the version he did use "represented Mingus' latest (revised?) thinking on the piece," which is nonsense, since he is in each case relying on a 1962 manuscript, while LET MY CHILDREN HEAR MUSIC represented Mingus's thinking almost ten years later, in 1971. (It's clear that in his supposed score for the epic "Epitaph," Mingus first presented the "through-composed" version of "Chill of Death," probably with the recitation, and followed it with what Schuller calls "the jazz version," heard only on EPITAPH. Schuller offered the excuse that "we were doubtful of finding anyone to do the recitation in the inimitable way Mingus narrated it," but that hardly washes, since a narrator was found for "Freedom" -- another recitation included on EPITAPH. This was simply an editorial decision of Schuller's and one which compromised the goal of EPITAPH, to present all the music intended for but not performed at that 1962 Town Hall concert.) In any event the EPITAPH version is more than twice as long and liberally sprinkled with solos (some very short), making it a very different piece.
Something impossible not to notice in Mingus's music is the occasionally rough and ragged feel of it -- a sound that has sometimes been due to underrehearsal but more often is there because Mingus wanted it that way. It is at times the sounds of simultaneous and polytonal improvisation -- at other times the sounds evoked by using each instrument to play a different, contrapuntal line, building "pyramids" of sound. Sometimes Mingus juxtaposes atonal instrumental cries over sweet melodic chords. In most cases what is produced is vigorous and complex music, thick-textured and yet supple. Mingus can write melodies that melt your heart with their bittersweet beauty, and he can write ferociously angry, screaming music.
What is most impressive about LET MY CHILDREN HEAR MUSIC is how well it is realized. There are no underrehearsed moments here. The rough edges, where they exist, are purposeful and exciting. The time was taken to do things right. In most respects this was the antithesis of the 1962 Town Hall session for United Artists, where things were rushed, last-minute, and haphazard, fraying everyone's tempers and producing mixed results. Macero was the producer Mingus needed, and
The concert occurred on February 4, 1972, and was generally regarded as a success despite the occasional mistakes by the musicians (missed cues, departures from the score by soloists, etc.). It was subsequently issued by
The choice of material was interesting. Only two pieces were used that had been recorded for the forthcoming album -- "The I Of Hurricane Sue," and "Don't Be Afraid, The Clown's Afraid Too" -- although "Taurus In The Arena of Life" (not included on the LP) is also performed, minus the Bach. But the concert opened with two pieces from earlier in Mingus's career, in the fifties, "Jump Monk" and "E.S.P." -- each of which could as easily have been part of the 1962/EPITAPH concerts. They were followed by "Ecclusiastics," the piece Mingus had recorded with Roland Kirk in 1961 -- in which a large orchestra proves unequal to the challenge of besting Kirk's one-man sax section -- and "Eclipse," a mid-forties composition, sung here by Honey Gordon. "Us Is Two" (a newer composition) leads to "Taurus," a blues jam ("Mingus Blues"), and an intermission. Following the intermission came the "Little Royal Suite," "Strollin'," "Hurricane Sue," "E's Flat, Ah's Flat Too" (also recorded as "Hora Decubitus,"), "Ool-Ya-Koo," "Portrait" and "Don't Be Afraid." Interestingly, "Portrait" was part of the 1962 Town Hall Concert although Schuller omitted it from EPITAPH.
Of the last two pieces Johnson says in his notes that they "are an exhausted band and bass player's last gasp, and represent a complete account of the evening and little else." When this album was originally issued on LP five pieces (including the last two) were not used. This form of the album is available on CD as an oversized Japanese import -- and is not recommended.
sessions. Mingus himself summed it up afterwards when asked what he thought of the concert: "Mingus looked up ... and replied quietly, 'Too many friends.'"
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