Charles Mingus In The 1950s Essay

3740 words - 15 pages

Charles Mingus in the 1950s

Charles Mingus is one of the most original and influential jazz composers of the twentieth century. He created the second-largest volume of jazz work after Duke Ellington (McDonough 20), and is the first African-American composer to have his work acquired by the Library of Congress (Harrington B1). Mingus is known for his unusual style of composing and playing, which attempted to reconcile jazz improvisation with orchestration, in order for the final composition to conform most closely to his vision. Also, Mingus liberated the bass from its mundane role of keeping time, turning it into a fully versatile instrument as capable of stating the theme as the horns. While forging a new role for his instrument, he also forged a new style of jazz, one that acknowledged the influence of bebop but did not cater solely to that genre. Instead, Mingus' music incorporated a wide range of styles, from Ellington's big band sound, to gospel music, to early New Orleans jazz bands. At the same time, he imbued modern sentiments and an avant-garde feeling into his music. In the 1950s, his music made several important aesthetic and technical advances, punctuated by the release of numerous influential albums. These productive years were crucial in shaping Mingus' sound, as he fully incorporated gospel elements into his music and developed a means of composing and working with his musicians that allowed for endless innovation.

In the 1940s, Mingus had made great strides in developing his style of composing and playing, creating works such as Mingus Fingers, which was performed by the Lionel Hampton orchestra and recorded. In this composition, the bass has a prominent role in developing the theme, an unusual departure from the bass' normal function of keeping time. Despite numerous successes, Mingus received scant support from his record company in Los Angeles. While he was already an accomplished artist, it appeared at the time that music would not be a practical way for him to make a living. In 1949 he moved to New York and began to work for the U.S. Postal Service, his father's employer (Zenni 4, 8). By then he was thirty years old. In New York, he met drummer Max Roach, and over time, they routinely visited with each other, forming a musical and personal relationship.

Roach landed Mingus his first major date with the beboppers in 1952. Several of the great bebop artists, Charlie Parker, pianist Bud Powell, Roach and Dizzy Gillespie, were to perform at Massey Hall in Toronto. Roach asked Mingus to take the place of bassist Oscar Pettiford, who had been injured. This event, billed on the cover of its LP recording as "The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever", marked the beginning of Mingus' period of closest alignment with the bebop movement. The concert was flawed in numerous ways; most notably, an important boxing match was happening the same night, so only a third of the seats were taken at Massey Hall. Charlie Parker, who forgot his...

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