June 17, 2024
Charles Mingus
Music written for Monterey 1965 Not Heard
Played in it’s entirety At UCLA Sept. 25, 1965

(RLR – 2006)

This recording captures Mingus leading an octet performing at the University of California, Los Angeles. To expand the story of the title: Mingus had triumphantly performed at Monterey Jazz Festival in 1964, and returned the following year with a collection of difficult new material that he intended to debut there. However, Mingus’ set was truncated to a half an hour, and most of the set list was scrapped. A week later he premiered and recorded the material at UCLA, which demonstrates in raw, you-are-there detail why Mingus liked to refer to his live shows as workshops, where he could continue to rehearse new material (not written down for the other musicians) until he was satisfied with the spirit and sound.

That this “workshop” concert was also recorded opens a window on Mingus’ creative process, and the listener is privy to the inner workings of the composer, his outward shouts and reprimands. It is an unvarnished behindthe-scenes look at the struggle Charles Mingus sometimes faced in his efforts to get his demanding compositions performed. It includes musical confrontations on stage, the difficulties band members experienced with brand new music, his own furies and, ultimately, his refusal to edit out the warts, to tell it like it was.

This fearless exposure of the creative process in all its contradictions had led earlier to his concept of the jazz workshops– performances on stage in which the trials and errors of creating music were presented to viewers, unedited. He also understood the fascination with “process” for an intelligent audience. “All these years I’ve been trying to promote Mingus the composer, and downplaying Charles the larger-than-life character,” Sue laughs. “By putting this CD out, here I am playing right into that image of Charles. But what eventually transpires after the musical fist fights, extraordinary solos, hirings and firings and a feast of new composition –is musicians achieving incredible musical heights as they resolve their conflicts in the fire of the music.”

Released by Mingus’ own label forty years ago, Mingus pressed only 200 copies before he ran out of money, and then the masters were destroyed in 1971 when Capitol cleaned out its vaults. This two-disc CD was re-mastered from the original vinyl. (Sue Mingus and Fred Cohen also issued a limited edition version of the LP in 1984.) In the liner notes to At UCLA Sue writes, “It should be obvious that no established re-cord company at that time – or any other – would have released a recording with so much dissension and so many irregularities. Mingus opted for the truth of the performance, and we witness not only the flaws and failures but the sheer joy as he shrieks his approval, encourages his drummer, exhorts his trumpet player and jumps from the piano chair to the bass and back in order to conduct his compositions.”

Mingus’s band included trumpeters Hobart Dotson, Lonnie Hillyer and Jimmy Owens; alto saxophonist Charles McPherson; French horn player Julius Watkins, tuba player Howard Johnson; drummer Dannie Richmond; and Mingus on bass. Tunes included “Meditation on Inner Peace,” “Don’t Be Afraid, the Clown’s Afraid, Too,” and “Once Upon a Time There Was a Holding Corporation Called Old America” (a later version was titled “The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife Are Some Jive-ass Slippers”), and a rare opportunity to hear Mingus perform on otherwise unavailable compositions “They Trespass the Land of the Sacred Sioux,” “Don’t Let It Happen Here,” and “The Arts of Tatum and Freddy Webster,” and arrangements of “Muscrat Ramble” and a be-bop medley, “Ode to Bird and Dizzy.”

Jon Pareles in the New York Times wrote about the “irrepressible” UCLA concert, and how Mingus, through his workshop format, was “eager to remind his audiences that jazz is simultaneously a body of tradition and an art of the moment.” Four decades later, this recording still sounds as modern as the Mingus Big Band Live at Tokyo, which spans generations of Mingus compositions and still manages to combine the unique personalities of the performers and art of the moment with the timelessness of these compositions.

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