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    Let My Children Hear Music: The Genius of Charles Mingus

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    Charles MingusCharles Mingus is often seen as simply a jazz bass player. While it’s true that the bass was his instrument of choice, referring to him as just a bass player is not enough.

    You see, Charles Mingus (Or, as afficionados often refer to him, Mingus) was an innovative composer and bandleader, and played the piano, and brass in addition to the bass. He always aspired to be a Duke Ellington for a new generation, and in many ways he has. Based on the title of one of his later albums “Let My Children Hear Music”, you can cleary see Mingus’s aspiration to leave his music behind for future generations to enjoy.

    My first encounter with Charles Mingus was around 2001, when I started collecting Ken Burns Jazz CDs to become more familiar with the most important recordings from artists that I was interested in. I picked up the Mingus CD, and immediately enjoyed the walking bass line for the opening “Haitian Fight Song”. I also enjoyed the big-band sound, and emotional soundscape of “Solo Dancer, Stop! Look! and Listen, Sinner Jim Whitney!”, from Mingus’s legendary composition “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady”. I enjoyed the album, but never really dug deeper into the work of Mingus until I started doing research for this website.

    I went out and got a copy of “Tijuana Moods“, “Let My Children Hear Music“, and most recently, “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady“. All three albums are total knockouts in terms of the musical complexity, emotional subtext, and straight up musical enjoyment. Let My Children Hear Music is widely reported as one of Mingus’s favorite albums, and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady tops many of the greatest jazz albums in history lists.

    So, without further ado, let me talk about what I love about Mingus.

    First of all, I love the big band. Many of Charles Mingus’s bands have 10-11 different musicians playing various parts of the composition. The resulting sound is big and complex, with all sorts of colors, textures, and emotions coming at you. People who love orchestral music are sure to appreciate the sound of Mingus’s compositions.

    I also love the unique instruments that Mingus uses in his bands. While many musicians prior to Mingus stuck with percussion, piano, brass and sax, Mingus’s compositions have excellent guitar parts, as well as strings, flutes, oboes, tubas, and other instruments not commonly found in jazz.

    Lastly, I wanted to talk about the emotions. Mingus’s compositions are heavy emotionally. Being highly outspoken and political personally, it follows that the same sort of emotional expression would be found in the music. The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is up there with A Love Supreme in terms of emotional intensity. Popping one of these albums on commands your attention, and is a feast for the mind.

    Charles Mingus is one of the great contemporary composers of jazz music, and his music definitely deserves some attention. Pick up an album or two, put your feet up, grab a drink, and enjoy the music.

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    Topics: Artist Tributes, jazz, Musicians I Like | No Comments »