Wednesday, March 21, 2007


1959 was a pivotal year for jazz: Miles released Kind of Blue, Coltrane released Giant Steps, Ornette Coleman released The Shape of Jazz to Come and Charles Mingus released his great masterpiece; Mingus Ah Um.

So many things about this record knock me out, I could go on and on, but the thing that really impresses me most is the way he incorporates all his influences; New Orleans, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, gospel, blues, and uses them to create something perfectly seamless (it could have easily sounded like a cut-and-paste job) and also absolutely in sync to his own time (it could have sounded like a series of dated homages).

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, Mingus' eulogy for Lester Young, makes you want to cry, and Boogie Stop Shuffle makes you want to act cool. The opening of Bird Calls shows that even though Mingus was strongly influenced by Duke and Jelly Roll Morton, he also had an understanding of what the free players were doing (Eric Dolphy did a long stint in Mingus' band). The driving 6/8 on Better Git It In Your Soul is proof that Mingus long-time sideman Danny Richmond is one of the most underrated drummers in jazz.

I did a little research on the cover, which is kind of a cartoony Gorky/Klee/Miro thing. As it turns out it was done by an art director at CBS named Neil Fujita, who also did the cover of Time Out by Dave Brubeck. I've always had kind of a soft spot for the sleeve, it makes me think of an abstract painting you might see on the wall in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.