Written by Becca Pulliam from WBGO-FM
Get ready for ecstatic sounds, as the French horn, bass clarinet, bassoon, guitar and harp — along with reeds and brass, hand claps and vocals, bass and drums — dig the deep, dark, blues-drenched, jubilant Charles Mingus groove. From St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue in Manhattan, it’s all here in one concert: “Better Get It in Your Soul: The Music of Charles Mingus.” The spirit of Mingus fills a sacred space.
Mingus grew up studying the cello and contra bass, but orchestras did not hire black musicians in the 1940s. Mingus fought back against this injustice all his life, during which time he became one of the greatest jazz bassists in history. He composed more than 300 pieces, and 84 boxes of his materials reside in the Charles Mingus Collection in the Library of Congress. And Mingus never forgot his childhood love of the orchestra. In liner notes to his album Let My Children Hear Music, he wrote, “Let my children have music! Let them hear live music. Not noise.”
Since his death, his widow Sue Mingus has launched the groups Mingus Dynasty, the Mingus Big Band, the Mingus Orchestra and now — with Manhattan School of Music — she co-produces the annual Mingus High School Competition and Festival. It takes place President’s Day weekend in New York.
MSM associate dean Justin DiCioccio is her co-producer. As early as 1972, when he had only three published charts to choose from, DiCioccio began teaching Mingus to high-school students in New York. He says improvising on a Mingus piece is like standing on a soapbox: You have to be yourself. “Play who you are” was Mingus’ mantra, Sue Mingus says. It’s a tall and exhilarating opportunity for teen musicians.
Coleman Hughes, Julian Lee and Zoe Obadia of the Jazz House Kids Big Band in Montclair, N.J., and director Julius Tolentino were successful in the competition in 2011, and they’re back in 2012.
“We really would like to win [again],” Hughes says, “but we know there’s going to be lots of great groups there. We have to do what we do. The rest is left up to the judges. It’s out of our hands.”
The 2013 Mingus High School Competition and Festival will take place in New York from February 17 -20, and the Mingus Orchestra plays its annual Saturday evening concert on February 18, again at St. Bartholomew’s Church.
This program originally Feb. 9, 2012.
- Frank Lacy, trombone
- John Clark, French horn
- Alex Sipiagin, trumpet
- Scott Robinson, flute and alto sax
- Wayne Escoffery, soprano and tenor sax
- Douglas Yates, clarinet and bass clarinet
- Michael Rabinowitz, bassoon
- David Gilmore, guitar
- Edmar Castaneda, harp
- Boris Kozlov, bass
- Donald Edwards, drums
Our recording of the Mingus Orchestra is co-produced with Let My Children Hear Music, Inc., with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Surround Sound mix by Duke Markos.