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Still Swingin' Mingus

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0 T.itnain' F V " pteased to leam of anopportunity to interview venerable jazz bassistcomposer Charles Mingus. Any of us who've read Mingus' autobiography Beneath the Underdog might expect a bitter man. The book describes growing up black andstrange in racist Watts íorty years ago; the sad tale of. his turn to pimpdom in an ultimateiy degrading attempt to lead a life more comfortable and independent than that of a musician's playing his heart out only to realize that he and his gifted comrades were "just work-ants - the [White Man] owns the magazines, agencies, record companies, and all the joints that sell jazz to the public". Eisewhere he describes the loving relatioiiships he'd had with Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday.and trumpeter Fats Navarro -- ill-fated giaiHs of Black k ie all, taken from him and us by the killing É pressures of that same Man. And to this day, Mingus still has to scuffle while his massive I genius goes largely unrecognized and unrewarƒ ded. i AIso, the various publications that have prin9 ted anything at all about Mingus over the years never fail to note his "hostile attitude" towards the media and to the critical establishment and, directtv or indirectly, help to perpetúate the ful state of affairs described above. Despite aü this. Mingus in his charity had allowed himself to be interviewed at CJOM in Windsor and had consented to our interview and to one later that evening at WABX, after his band's last set at Detroit's newly-opened Rainbow Room, in the Sheiby Hotel. I When we asked him about his hopeful new attitude to the media, he explained, "I just think it might help to sell some records". ■ mg oí records and record compames, we asked Mingus m why it was that be d recorded, durm ing his long and brittiant career, m for so many different m íes inciuding Candid, Impulse, f Fantasy, Columbia, Atlantic, Savoy, and Prestige. He "explained" very briefly that that was simply because the contraéis had run out. There is dissatisfaction implied, F though, with the way record companies wereare. which led Mingus, with the help of his wife-ofthe-dav Celia Zaentz. to form i Debut Records, an independent ! label, as long ago as the early Fifties. Indeed, this advanced idea was oniy one manifestaron of the volatüe Mingus' reaction to racial prejudice and artistic exploitation. Hé's always been outspoken and asserts todav that in 'a societv like America, thaf s an anarchy with lots of problems, a musician should speak out, if he don't get killed" as did Martin i Luther King and V Malcolm X, tbr example. A k man of action X and words, I Mingus k wrote and k perforroed Oh Lord, tía more Ku Klux Klan MingusVöMt' me a kandful that's hduulous. Drummer Donnie Richmond-" ñilbo, Thomas, Faubus, Russell, Rockcfeller, Bums, Bisenhower. Mingus: Why are they so sick and rídiculous? Richmond : Two, four, six, eight; they brainwash and teach you hate, Mingus establishes the lineage of the imperialist oppressors with the 1974 version of "Fables of Faubus", retitled "Fables of Nixon' which includes a verse that goes: Two, four, six, eight; they all lied at Watergate". The cast changes, but the script and direction remain the same. Helping Mingus sing that powerful message and others at the Rainbow Rom June 26-29 were Bunny Bluette, baritone sax.George Adams, tenor sax and flute; Don Pullen, piano; and, surprise!, longtime associate Donnie Richmond, drums. This racy edition of the Jazz Workshop can píay both inside and outside mainstream forms, Historically, Mingus' composition has always Ie ft a lot of room for the soloist, and Adams and Bluette both use that space to speak the gospel according to Coltrane and Ayler; while one can hear piantsts from James P. Johnson to Monk to Cecil Taylor in Pullen's play. And the young audience was dancing Halielujah in response to that good gospel. Mingus, in fact, is on a crusade. This man, who dismisses the jazz-rock synthesis out-of-hand ("it's too loud") and Miles Davis in particular ("he's not playing music"), who continúes to listen to Brahams, Beethoven, Bartok, Stravinsky, and others. means to get kids up and dancing asain to his music. He tains that jazz, even be-bop, was originally dancing music but that "they tooic dancing away fromjazz", "killed it systematically", because it was apt to enough the case in B troit that last weekend in June, and Mingus himself looked animated and happy - a different man completely from the one who'd only hours earlier complained that the Miles Davis aggregations of the early Sixties, which included John Coltrane and Paul Chambers. had stolen without credit "a form l had, called extended form. It's when we piay on one chord". No, Mingus on stage the night we saw him was one moment smiling at some sly figure of Donnie's, the next soloing sonorously on "I Caa'l Get Started" or leading the band through a classic Mingus favorite like "Flowers for a Lady" or a new Mingus favorite like "Wee". The workshop ended each set with an hysterical, blazing fast runthrough of Bird's "Koko" that had people on the floor. When we spoke to Mingus, we reminded him of a quote in Underdog which we'd remembered inaccurately. We suggested he'd i written that jazz music "could heal white k-. people". He didn't remember writing that and even said that the idea sounded "quaint". What Mingas did wriie was, "Someday one of us put-down, outcast makers of jazz music should 1 show those ehurchgoing clockpunchers that people like Monk and Bird are dying for what they [the ciockpunchers] believe". That day comes every time that that outcast Mingus perforrns, as it is undeniably evident then thaí (as he's also written) "jazz musicians play for iove".