Sunday, August 31, 2014

Big Band Bossa Nova: Stan Getz and Gary McFarland [From the Archives]

The occasion for this re-posting is the copyright Gods granting of the reinstatement of the video that you will find its conclusion. 

On it you can hear the magic of the Getz - McFarland working relationship as Stan performs Gary's big band arrangement of Chega De Saudade which has been translated into English as both No More Blues and Too Much Longing.

From this vantage point, it is difficult to remember back to when the beautiful bossa nova melodies swept the USA in the early 1960s as a prelude to the psychedelic rock craze that closed that decade with The Beatles lodged somewhere in between.

Musical styles moved rapidly during that transitional decade and so did a lot of other socio-cultural developments. 

Many of bossa nova composers explained that the music was intended as a blending of "cool" Jazz sounds with a lighter samba rhythm so as to dial down the intensity of the street Samba which is so noisily characteristic of the Brazilian carnivals.

Unfortunately, the bossa nova did not prevail as an international musical trend, but it was nice while it lasted. 

© -Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Fresh from the sudden success of Jazz Samba and "Desafinado," Stan Getz asked the 28-year-old, strikingly gifted Gary McFarland to arrange a bossa nova album for big band as a follow-up. Getz is always his debonair, wistful, freely-floating self, completely at home in the Brazilian idiom that he'd adopted only a few months before. – Richard Ginell

Getz’s melodic gift was never more evident; even the way he plays "straight" melody is masterful. Few jazzmen have had this gift - Lester Young did - and it has to do with singing by means of an instrument, for Getz doesn't just play a solo, he sings it,… - Don DeMichael

Recorded in 1962, Stan Getz’s Big Band Bossa Nova [Verve V6-8494, CD 825771-2] which features his tenor sax in a series of magnificent arrangements by Gary McFarland is an album from a time when the world was awash in good music. 

Mainly through his early association with composers Antonio Carlos Jobim, João  Gilberto and João’s wife, vocalist Astrud, Getz was to become personified [and made quite wealthy] by his association with the bossa nova music from Brazil that became an international sensation in the early 1960s.

Lyrics were such a powerful and intriguing part of the bossa nova movement that it was initially unusual for instrumental-only versions of the music to succeed.

Big Band Bossa Nova was one of those early instrumental-only success LP’s. Getz, who had such a beautiful tone on the tenor saxophone that some musicians referred to him as “The Sound,” plays beautifully throughout, no doubt inspired in part by McFarland superbly developed and orchestrated arrangements.

Thanks to a friend in New Zealand whose collection of criticism and writings about Jazz appears to be equal to or greater than his [quite vast] collection of the recordings themselves, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles is able to share the following reviews of Big Band Bossa Nova which appeared in the Jazz press around the time of the album’s release.

Also included to further familiarize the reader with the album and its music are Gary McFarland’s and esteemed Jazz author Dom Cerulli’s liner notes to the original LP.

While Stan Getz was to go on and have a long and distinguished career, quite sadly, Gary McFarland passed away, under mysterious circumstances, at the very young age of 38.

For those interested in delving further into Gary’s music please checkout the website lovingly maintained in his honor by Douglas Payne.

Liner Notes to the Verve LP Big Band Bossa Nova [V6-8494]

“My first exposure to bossa nova was in the Spring of 1960 when a friend played a recording by João  Gilberto, a Brazilian guitarist and vocalist. I liked it immediately. Naturally, I responded to the rhythm, but it was more than that. There seemed to be more underplay, more subtlety than in other Latin rhythms but with just as much buzz or intensity. The songs had interesting chord progressions, and the melodic intervals were more modern than in traditional samba melodies. I'm sure that Gilberto's singing had much to do with my response to this music. His voice has an indefinable quality- something close to melancholy, but not quite.

I asked a Brazilian friend about the bossa nova, and he explained that it is a variation of the samba with modern harmonies and more syncopation than the traditional samba. He also told me that the first reaction in Brazil to this new music was similar to the American public's reaction to be-bop in the 40's- it was misunderstood by the traditionalists. However, it is now more widely accepted.
When Stan asked me to write an album for him, he told me to do anything I wanted. I had written a few bossa nova arrangements for Cal Tjader's group, and Stan had recorded a jazz samba album with Charlie Byrd. We both enjoyed working with this music, so we decided to do a big-band album with four songs by Brazilian composers and four songs of mine.

MANHA DE CARNIVAL (Morning Of The Carnival) is a theme from BLACK ORPHEUS. When I saw the movie, 1 was deeply touched by the gentle melody. In keeping with this mood is Jim Hall's treatment of the introduction on unamplified guitar. Following Stan's statement of the theme is an interlude in 5/4 leading into the guitar solo.

BALANCO NO SAMBA (Street Dance) was inspired by the film BLACK ORPHEUS, particularly the street scenes with the marching bands romping, the people dancing and yelling. This is more like a traditional fast samba. 1 think the band got a real happy feeling on this song.

MELANCOLICO (Melancholy) is another tune of mine. Stan plays the verse, the band enters, and he states the melody. The piano solo is by Hank Jones.

ENTRE AMIGOS (Sympathy Between Friends). Stan's phrasing on this tune is, as always, extremely lyrical. After Stan's solo the trumpets play a 16-bar figure that is typical of the high level of their performance on the entire date.

CHEGA DE SAUDADE (Too Much Longing) was also written by Jobim and is one of the best-constructed songs I have ever heard. Notice the restatement of the original minor theme in major during the last 16 bars of the song. Doc Severinsen introduces the melody in the opening statement. Stan begins his solo and is joined by Bob Brookmeyer for 32 measures, leading into the complete statement of the melody. Doc's sensitive handling of the introduction and the interplay between Stan and Bob are high points.

NOITE TRISTE (Night Sadness) is a song of mine. The melody is first stated out of tempo by Hank Jones and then restated by Stan leading into his solo. Drummer Johnny Rae plays Chinese finger cymbals on the first 16 bars of the solo.
SAMBA DE UMA NOTA SO (One Note Samba) was written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, a composer-arranger who works with Gilberto on most of his albums. I have a lot of respect for Jobim's work. This is a song I heard Gilberto sing, and I thought it would be a good ensemble piece.

BIM BOM, by Joao Gilberto, is a lilting melody in the lighter spirit of bossa nova. Solos by Stan and Jim sustain this happy feeling.

I am indebted to the whole band for making the always difficult task of recording much easier. Drummer Johnny Rae did a wonderful job of heading the rhythm section; his experience in Latin music made him an invaluable asset to the band.

About Stan - well, his is a unique talent. In the strong romantic quality of his playing, in his regard for the melody and the spirit of a song, he is perfectly in tune with bossa nova.”


DOWNBEAT 1962  Rating:*****

This is one of the most musical albums I've ever heard. And, please, let's drop the pigeonhole bit- it doesn't make a great deal of difference if this music is called jazz, bossa nova, or what.

And Getz. . . . His playing is flowing, lyrical, inventive, beautifully songlike -commonplace words all, and none describe adequately or even come close. Those words don't capture that sad-glad feeling he achieves on Melancolico or Entre Amigos. Nor can they substitute for hearing his tenor line rise like a dove from a descending trumpet figure on Melancolico; it lasts but a moment, but it's just one of many little diamonds strewn through this record.

Getz’s melodic gift was never more evident; even the way he plays "straight" melody is masterful. Few jazzmen have had this gift - Lester Young did - and it has to do with singing by means of an instrument, for Getz doesn't just play a solo, he sings it, as can be heard on any of these tracks, most evidently on Noite Triste and Chega De Saudade.

The most remarkable performance in the album is Chega De Saudade, a lovely tune by Antonio Carlos Jobim. It begins with Severinsen's unaccompanied trumpet and gradually builds, like a flower unfolding its beauty. Following Getz1 first solo, he and Brookmeyer engage in a twining duet, as if they were dancing around each other's phrases- it's a wonderful moment.

McFarland shares in the artistic success of the album. His writing is peerless. With what he's shown on this effort and his own adaptation of 'How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' released earlier this year, he looms large as an outstanding writer. He knows the proper combination of instruments to achieve certain sounds, and he has the taste not to use all the instruments at hand all the time. His sparing use of the ensemble allows the beauty of the soloist and the material to shine through.

Perhaps McFarland's mastery of writing in song form explains his taste in orchestration, for the four songs he contributed (Balanco No Samba, Melancolico, Entre Amigos, and Noite Triste ) are much, much more than record-date lines. Others deserving credit for their work on the album are Jim Hall, for his sensitive unamplified accompaniment and for his solos on Manha De Carnival and Bim Bom; Hank Jones, whose taste matches that of Getz and McFarland. as can be heard on his out-of-tempo Noite Triste theme statement; and Johnny Rae, for general excellence (his use of finger cymbals behind Getz on Noite Triste is a perfect touch).

But it's still Getz who is most responsible for the beauty of the album. This record, 'Focus', and 'Jazz Samba', all issued this year, plus the quality of his 1962 in-person performances - well, most of them - lead me to believe Getz is at the height of his creative powers. And he sure wasn't a slouch before.”

Don DeMichael


“Gary McFarland, who arranged all the numbers here and conducted the band, wrote Balanco No Samba, Melancolico, Entre Amigos, and Noite Triste in the style of such native Brazilian bossa nova composers as Antonio Carlos Jobim and Louis Bonfa. In recent months McFarland has been the arranger on a number of records and has contributed several pleasant melodic themes, but it is still too early to detect any very clear personality in his work.

The bossa nova is, to all intents and purposes, a samba played with jazz overtones, the themes using more 'modern' chord progressions and the rhythm being more subtle than is the case with most of the older sambas. I find the work of Bonfa in particular very interesting in the compositional field but while the idiom provides an attractive means of varying the content of a jazz LP I suspect that too many records solely devoted to it will prove a little wearisome. This is by the way, of course, for this present release is the best of its kind that I have heard to date.

Stan Getz is a particularly good choice to carry the main solo role, for his style, although it has developed more strength over the past few years, is notable for a melodic awareness that fits aptly with the thematic content to be heard in the best of bossa nova. The lightness and grace of his work on Chega de Saudade and Bim Bom is immensely attractive - these are perhaps the best tracks on the LP- but one must not overlook the fact that graceful as the outlines of his solos may be they do not lack, as was sometimes the case in his earliest records, the necessary swing. Throughout this LP the impressive aspect of Getz's playing is the balance between refinement and rhythmic strength, illustrated very well on his finely constructed solos on the two tracks already mentioned and on Manha De Carnival and Balanco No Samba. The only other soloist to be heard at length is Jim Hall who is also playing better than before, with a continuity previously lacking, and he is heard to best advantage on Manha De Carnival and Bim Bom.

Two points which bossa nova can claim credit for is far superior themes than one hears in the case of the average jazz 'original' and the guiding of guitarists to the potentialities of their instrument in its unamplified form. Bossa nova may be something in the nature of a gimmick in its exploitation by the record companies but when a musician of Getz's talent uses it this LP proves that it can be stimulating and melodically attractive. I think that most readers will find this a very worthwhile LP, the playing time being rather short at 33 1/2 minutes, and the recording excellent.”

Albert McCarthy

Friday, August 29, 2014

Cal Tjader, Paul Horn and the 1959 Monterey Jazz Festival

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

For many years, newspaper columnist Ralph J. Gleason [San Francisco Chronicle], radio disc jockey and impresario Jimmy Lyons, newspaper columnist Philip Elwood [San Francisco Examiner] and Jazz educator and writer Grover Sales, provided a running commentary on the San Francisco Jazz scene.

All were particularly devoted to those musicians who based themselves in that lovely city with special emphasis on Dave Brubeck [even after he left to take up residence in Wilton, CT], Cal Tjader and Vince Guaraldi.

And all were very proud of their association with the Monterey Jazz Festival, which Jimmy Lyons and Ralph co-founded in 1958 and which has been held at the Monterey County Fairgrounds on the third weekend in September for much of its storied existence.

Today, Jazz Festivals are so universal that it is difficult to remember how novel they were when first established at Newport, RI and Monterey, CA in the 1950s.

The standard Jazz environment of the time, aside from occasional forays into philharmonic halls and auditoriums, was usually a nightclub in the seedier part of town. Booze and blues went hand-in-hand.

I was fortunate to be able attend both the Newport and the Monterey Jazz Festivals quite early in their existence.

As you would imagine, Cal Tjader the San Francisco-based vibraphonist and percussionist made numerous appearances at the Monterey Jazz Festival where he received a kind of “local-boy-makes-good” welcome from the fans.

I particularly enjoyed Cal’s appearance at the 1959 MJF because he added flutist and reedman Paul Horn to his standard quartet and also brought along conguero Mongo Santamaria. Like Cal and pianist Lonnie Hewitt, Paul was a great straight-ahead player and his flute lent an added “voice” [dimension] to the Latin Jazz numbers.

Here’s a more detailed look at Cal Tjader’s Monterey Concert [Prestige PR 24026], one of the earliest recordings associated with the Monterey Jazz Festival which as Phil Elwood explains was not actually recorded at the MJF, but which had a lot to do with ensuring the success of later festivals.

By way of background, “Phil Elwood blazed a trail with his jazz shows on FM radio, primarily KPFA in Berkeley, from 1952 to 1996 and was a respected critic for the San Francisco Examiner from 1965 to 2002. He died of heart failure on January 10, 2006, just two months shy of his 80th birthday.” [S. Duncan Reid, Cal Tjader: The Life and Recordings of The Man Who Revolutionized Latin Jazz, p.43].

© -  Concord Music Group; used with permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The Monterey Festivals have been a basic annual part of the jazz scene for so many years that it isn't easy to recall that way back in 1958 they got off to a rocky, money-losing start. Then came this [April 20, 1959] "preview" concert by Tjader prior to the '59 Festival; it was hugely successful, and another permanent jazz institution was launched! This package presents the concert in its entirety.

Standing still as an artist in a readily defined field is a lot easier than to shift, drift, and change one's image. Look around pop music and jazz—there are plenty of petrified performers still going through the same old thing for their same stagnant audience.

In popular music of all kinds categorization and definition have long been tools of dedicated enthusiasts as well as casual fans and the musicians themselves. Terms like the "swing era", "traditional jazz", and "cool", and the artists identified with such classifications, are assumed in jazz studies.

But when a boat-rocking jazzman like Cal Tjader comes along, all kinds of established attitudes are jumbled. Cal's music has never remained stationary long enough to be permanently defined—or to have petrified.

It's best termed just Tjader jazz.

Back in the 1948-1951 period when Callen Tjader, Jr., was teamed with pianist David Brubeck he might have been identifiable as a jazz drummer. But even then, Cal was doubling on vibraharp and coming up with some highly individualistic rhythmic material, both in the Brubeck trio and in the experimental Octet in which Brubeck, Tjader, Bill Smith, Paul Desmond and others participated.

Tjader recorded in 1949 with a full drum set, plus bongos, and conga. Yet in 1953 he was quoted as saying, "I am not an innovator, I am not a pathfinder—I am a participator."

That, of course, was a ridiculously (though typically) modest comment. What
Tjader really should have admitted was that he has remarkably good ears, and instrumental talent to make use of what he hears. When he is a "participator" it means that he is playing, and Tjader's playing for 25 years has been opening up his listeners' ears to all kinds of new musical worlds.

When Tjader made that remark, in '53, he was exactly at the point in his career that Latin music was becoming his dominant expression. He had joined George Shearing's quintet, where he stayed for 18 months, and was discovering all kinds of Latin music cul de sacs around the nation (which Shearing toured regularly), especially in the East Coast cities.

Interestingly enough it was during the same period that Shearing, too, made a noticeable shift into Latin material, and, like Tjader, explored the possibilities for harmonic and melodic adventure that Latin music could provide.

The prime source for both Shearing's and Tjader's Latin-kicks was the giant string bassist, Al McKibbon, who was playing with Shearing at the time and is with Tjader on the two 1959 concert LPs in this set.

There was little in the stiff and self-conscious rhythms of most 1950 "bop" that had the swing and freedom that Latin rhythms offered. And whereas the jazz of the '50s moved increasingly away from the dance scene (and thus, that "participation" that Tjader finds so important), the Latin music world assumes dance-participation.
Tjader and McKibbon toured the Spanish Harlem music scene whenever the Shearing band got near New York, and the more he heard, the more Tjader liked.
The work of Machito and Tito Puente especially intrigued him. And, typically, he plunged into this "new" musical world with energy, persistence . . . and participation.

Tjader, McKibbon and guitarist Toots Thielemans (who doubled on harmonica) developed some fantastic rhythmic patterns within the Shearing group and contributed immeasurably toward Shearing's own emergence as an "Afro-Cuban" jazz interpreter.

While around New York in 1954 Tjader recorded his first Latin-jazz sides, for Fantasy, including conga performer Armando Peraza in the personnel;  in that same March week, in '54, Tjader also recorded a number of jazz and pop standards, using Peraza and/or Roy Haynes or Kenny Clarke as percussionist. He was already making his musical category rather difficult to identify.

When Tjader left Shearing and returned to his San Francisco Bay Area home (a house boat at that point), Tjader's future musical direction was discernible. Before the end of 1954 he had hired pianist Manuel Durand and his brother Carlos, on string bass, as well as conga performer Benny Velarde and bongoist Edgar Resales (all from the S.F. Latin music community) and was appearing as "Cal Tjader and his Modern Mambo Quintet."

Within a year or two Tjader's name was well known in California and his earliest Fantasy "Mambo-jazz" records were spreading the word, and sounds, nationally.
Some people were even beginning to pronounce his name correctly.

An eastern tour in 1956 was something less than spectacular but it did get Tjader into Manhattan, where his mambo jazz was booked opposite Dizzy Gillespie's big band for a couple of weeks at Birdland. And Tjader also laid the groundwork for future New York engagements for his combo in various Spanish Harlem dance halls.

"None of the country was ready for Latin-jazz", Tjader commented, recalling that tour, "except parts of California and the big eastern cities."

Returning to the San Francisco area late in 1956, Tjader established some kind of a record by producing nearly two dozen Fantasy LPs in a four year period, and identifying himself nationally as the leader in Latin-jazz expression.

In the midst of that awesome four year output the Monterey Jazz Festival's managing director, Jimmy Lyons, brought Tjader's group to Carmel's Sunset school auditorium on April 20, 1959, to give what was called a "Jazz Festival Preview." Actually the performance was designed to get some local interest going for the big September event (the first Monterey Jazz Festival, the fall before, had suffered financially) and also to work out some concert-production difficulties with the same crew that would handle the Festival.

The complete concert from that April night in '59 comprises the music of this pair of Prestige discs.

That period at the end of the 1950s was a particularly important one for the larger jazz scene—from which Cal Tjader can also not be separated. Jazz festivals were burgeoning jazz clubs were in greater abundance than at any other time (before or since) and, although none of us was quite sure of it, the end of the most significant of all jazz eras was not far off. Basic blues-rock rhythms in pop music were arriving fast, ready to capture the public's fancy and swamp the free-blown sounds of the 1960's avant garde "jazz".

Cal Tjader has always been frank in his observations and thoroughly professional in his attitudes toward music and in structuring his presentations. Looking over the selections from the 1959 Monterey peninsula performance one is struck by their variety.

A handful of ballads—mellow, standard, material. Tjader loves pretty music—over the years I cannot think of a musician friend who gets more turned-on by the beauty of some popular ballads.

On the concert he also included three bop-oriented themes ("Doxie", "Midnight", "Tunisia"), a couple of swinging originals and some Latin-inspired specialties.
This is the Tjader approach and it is the reason for his continuing popularity, regardless of the current rages in pop or jazz or "free music". Tjader plays his mallets off, and tries to provide some kind of musical stimulation for everyone in any audience.

At the Monterey Jazz Festival, for instance, no artist has played more often nor been so successful. And there are plenty of San Francisco area nightclub owners who are quick to acknowledge that Tjader draws larger and more enthusiastic audiences year in and year out than do most of the "big name guys that we import from the east", as one put it to me recently.

Tjader's life has always been in musical performance, a fact that no doubt accounts for his consuming interest in all aspects of his art— and in his awareness of the broad variety of taste likely to be represented in any audience.

When you start in as a four year old vaudeville tap dancer (as Cal did) and four decades later you're still out there performing before a crowd, a certain dedication is obvious.

And this absorption in his musical craft has meant, naturally, that all manner of instrumentalists have been Tjader colleagues over the years.

Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo, with Cal on these LPs from Monterey, had underground Latin-popularity prior to their associations with Tjader. But their widespread fame came with Tjader, who was usually cast in the role of a dual catalyst.

He introduced Santamaria and Bobo (and many other Latin musicians) to a jazz-oriented audience and the Latin musicians, in turn, brought many of their followers into jazz surroundings and introduced that phase of American music to their ears.

What has been happening in "Latin-rock" with such groups as Santana or Malo (not surprisingly, both San Francisco bands )is a continuation of what Cal Tjader has been doing since the early 1950s.

And note that on these concert recordings the flute and alto sax of Paul Horn are featured —an extra, added attraction for the performance. Horn's flute brings some of the melodic beauty that Tjader so loves into the presentation, and his alto helps to shift the sound, occasionally, closer to the Brubeck-style combo jazz that Tjader also presents with integrity.

There are few instrumentalists whose careers have been broader in scope than Horn —the last time I saw him he was soloing behind Donovan, and he is abundantly evident on rock, pop and soul recordings.
Horn is, of course, only a single example of the astonishing breadth and depth typified by the Tjader colleagues over the years.

By never being static, even in the size of the groups, Tjader has given himself as well as his audiences the opportunity to absorb the whole spectrum of musical sound. I guess that's what he means when he says he's just a "participant".

I'm glad I've been a participant in his participation all these years. When Cal's playing there is always something worth hearing.”
—Philip E wood, S.F. Examiner

The following video montage features Cal and Paul Horn along with Lonnie Hewitt on piano, Al McKibbon on bass, Willie Bobo on timbales and Mongo Santa Maria on conga drums performing A Night In Tunisia.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mingus, Balliett and Dinosaurs In The Morning

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Mingus has never had a substantial following, and it is easy to see why: he courts only himself and his own genius. A one-man clique, he invents his own fashions and discards them when they are discovered by others. The content of his compositions is often repellent; it can be ornery, sarcastic, and bad-tempered. His own overbearing, high-tension playing pinions its listeners, often demanding more than they can give.”
- Whitney Balliett, Jazz essayist, author and critic

Whitney Balliett, the dean of Jazz writers, at least as far as I’m concerned, never explains the title of the anthology of his essays collected from The New Yorker magazine and published in 1962 by the J.B. Lippincott Company of Philadelphia and New York as Dinosaurs In The Morning.

The meaning needs to be inferred from this excerpt from the piece of the same name that gives the book its title - Dinosaurs In The Morning.

“The best thing that ever happened to Jazz - the most evanescent of all arts - is the recording machine. Without this means of preservation, the music might simply have bumbled on a while as a minor facet of American life and then vanished.”

Vanished like the dinosaurs?

No recording machine - no Jazz?

The answer is most assuredly “Yes” for without the recording machine, Jazz, “... the most evanescent of arts,” could have vanished like the dinosaurs.

Instead, we can listen to Jazz recordings in the morning while sipping our favorite beverage which, I would imagine is far better than discovering dinosaurs in the morning through our breakfast nook window!

Copies of Dinosaurs In The Morning can still be had through online booksellers in various editions for reasonable sums of money and its 41 essays make for unsurpassed reading on the subject of Jazz.

Judge for yourself; here Whitney’s narrative on bassist Charles Mingus.

© -  Whitney Balliett, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“UNTIL 1939, when Jimmy Blanton appeared, the bass fiddle had occupied the position in jazz of a reliable tackle. It had, a decade before, replaced the tuba in the rhythm section, and its best practitioners—Pops Foster, Al Morgan, Wellman Braud, Milt Hinton, Walter Page, and John Kirby—had become adept at rigid timekeeping and at itemizing the chords of each tune. These bassists also boasted tones that could be felt and even heard in the biggest groups. But they rarely soloed, and, when they did, restricted themselves to on-the-beat statements that were mostly extensions of their ensemble playing. Blanton, who died in 1942, at the age of twenty-one, abruptly changed all this by converting the bass into a hornlike instrument that could be used both rhythmically and melodically. Since then, the bass has taken over the rhythmic burdens once carried by the pianist's left hand and by the bass drum, and it has added a new melodic voice to the ensemble. At the same time, a group of Blanton-inspired bassists have sprung up to meet these new duties, and have included such remarkable performers as Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Red Mitchell, Wilbur Ware, Paul Chambers, Scott LaFaro, and Charlie Mingus.

All are first-rate accompanists and soloists, and all possess exceptional techniques. The youngest have even begun to wander toward the fenceless meadows of atonality. Chief among these bassists is Mingus, the greatest pizzicato player the instrument has had. He is also the first modern jazz musician who has successfully combined virtuosity, the revolutions brought about by Charlie Parker, and the lyricism of such pre-bebop performers as Ben Webster, the boogie-woogie pianists, and Billie Holiday.

Like many contemporary jazz musicians, Mingus is far more than an instrumentalist. He is a formidable composer-arranger and a beneficent martinet who invariably finds, hires, and trains talented but unknown men. A big, loosely packed man of thirty-eight, with a handsome face and wary, intelligent eyes, Mingus is an indefatigable iconoclast. He is a member of no movement and vociferously abhors musical cant. He denounces rude audiences to their faces. (A recent scolding, administered in a New York night club, was tape-recorded on the spot, and has been printed in an anthology of jazz pieces. It is a heartening piece of hortatory Americana.) He unabashedly points out his colleagues' shams and weaknesses in his album-liner notes or in crackling letters to magazines like Down Beat. When tongue and pen fail him, he uses his fists. Mingus compresses all this dedication into his playing, which is daring, furious, and precise. Despite the blurred tonal properties of the bass, Mingus forces a kaleidoscope of sounds from it. However, much of the time he uses a penetrating tone that recalls such men as Foster and Braud, and that is especially effective in his accompanying, where it shines through the loudest collective passages. (It sometimes shines so brightly that Mingus, in the manner of Sidney Bechet, unintentionally becomes the lead instrument.)

Mingus's supporting work is an indissoluble mixture of the rhythmic and the melodic. By seemingly playing hob with the beat— restlessly pulling it forward with double-time inserts, rapid tremolos, or staccato patterns, reining it in with whoa-babe legato figures, or jumping stoutly up and down on it—he achieves the rhythmic locomotion of drummers like Sid Catlett and Jo Jones. Yet he carefully fits these devices to each soloist, lying low when a musician is carrying his own weight, and coming forward brusquely and cheerfully to aid the lame and the halt. It is almost impossible to absorb all of Mingus at a single hearing. In addition to carrying out his rhythmic tasks, he simultaneously constructs attractive and frequently beautiful melodic lines. These may shadow a soloist, or they may be fashioned into counter-lines that either plump the soloist up or accidentally upstage him. Mingus is a dangerous man to play with.

He is also an exhilarating soloist. Because he is the sort of virtuoso who has long since transcended his instrument, his finest solos are an eloquent, seemingly disembodied music. The pizzicato bass was not designed for the timbres Mingus extracts from it. He may hit a note as if it were a piece of wood, getting a clipped thup. He may make a note reverberate or, rubbing his left hand quickly down the fingerboard, turn it into an abrasive glissando. Sometimes he fingers with the nails of his left hand, achieving a rattling sound. Or he may uncoop a string of whispered notes that barely stir the air. He will start a solo in a medium-tempo blues with a staccato, deck-clearing phrase, cut his volume in half, play an appealing blues melody that suggests the 1928 Louis Armstrong, step up his volume, line out a complex, whirring phrase that may climb and fall with a cicadalike insistency for a couple of measures, develop another plaintive a-b-c figure, improvise on it rhythmically, insert a couple of sweeping smears, and go into an arpeggio that may cover several octaves and that, along the way, will be decorated with unexpected accents.

Mingus's solos in ballad numbers are equally majestic. He often plays the first chorus almost straight, hovering behind, over, and in front of the melody—italicizing a note here, adding a few notes there, falling silent now and then to let a figure expand—and finishing up with an embossed now-listen-to-this air. There are only half a dozen jazz soloists skilled enough for such complacency.

Mingus the bassist is indivisible from Mingus the leader. He conducts with his bass, setting the tempos and emotional level of each tune with his introductory phrases, toning the ensemble up or down with his volume or simply with sharp stares, and injecting his soloists with countless c.c.s of his own energy. His methods of composition are equally dictatorial and are a fascinating variation of Duke Ellington's. Mingus has explained them in a liner note:

My present working methods use very little written material. I "write" compositions on mental score paper, then I lay out the composition part by part to the musicians. I play them the "framework" on piano so that they are all familiar with my interpretation and feeling and with the scale and chord progressions. . . . Each man's particular style is taken into consideration. They are given different rows of notes to use against each chord but they choose their own notes and play them in their own style, from scales as well as chords, except where a particular mood is indicated. In this way I can keep my own compositional flavor ... and yet allow the musicians more individual freedom in the creation of their group lines and solos.

Most of his recent work can be divided into three parts—the eccentric, the lyrical, and the hot. His eccentric efforts have included experiments with poetry and prose readings and attempts to fold non-musical sounds (whistles, ferryboats docking, foghorns, and the like) into his instrumental timbres. The results have been amusing but uneasy; one tends to automatically weed out the extracurricular effects in order to get at the underlying music. The lyrical Mingus is a different matter. His best ballad-type melodies are constructed in wide, curving lines that form small, complete etudes rather than mere tunes. Their content dictates their form, which resembles the ragtime structures of Jelly Roll Morton or the miniature concertos of Duke Ellington, both of whom Mingus has learned from. But Mingus has been most successful with the blues and with gospel or church-type music. The pretensions that becloud some of his other efforts lift, leaving intense, single-minded pieces. More important than the use of different tempos and rhythms in these compositions, which repeatedly pick the music up and put it down, are their contrapuntal, semi-improvised ensembles, in which each instrument loosely follows a melodic line previously sketched out by Mingus. The results are raucous and unplanned, and they raise a brave flag for a new and genuine collective improvisation.

Mingus’s most recent records—"Mingus Ah Urn" (Columbia), "Blues & Roots" (Atlantic), and "Mingus Dynasty" (Columbia)—offer some spectacular things. Most of the compositions are by Mingus and are played by nine- or ten-piece groups (a size beyond the budgets of most of the offbeat night clubs in which Mingus generally performs), which employ his collective techniques with considerable aplomb, thus pointing a way out of the box that the big band built itself into before its decline. Mingus delivers a fireside chat on the problem in the notes to the second Columbia record:

The same big bands with four or five trumpets, four or five trombones, five or six saxophones, and a rhythm section . . . still [play] arrangements as though there were only three instruments in the band: a trumpet, a trombone, and a saxophone, with the other . . . trumpets . . . trombones . . . and saxophones there just to make the arrangement sound louder by playing harmonic support. . . . What would you call this? A big band? A loud band? A jazz band? A creative band?

I’d write for a big sound (and with fewer musicians) by thinking out the form that each instrument as an individual is going to play in relation to all the others in the composition. This would replace the old-hat system of passing the melody from section to section . . . while the trombones run through their routine of French horn chordal sounds. ... I think it's time to discard these tired arrangements and save only the big Hollywood production introduction and ending which uses a ten or more note chord. If these ten notes were used as a starting point for several melodies and finished as a linear composition—with parallel or simultaneous juxtaposed melodic thoughts—we might come up with some creative big-band jazz.

The Atlantic record provides several first-rate demonstrations of this approach. On hand with Mingus are Jackie McLean and John Handy, alto saxophones; Booker Ervin, tenor saxophone; Pepper Adams, baritone saxophone; Jimmy Knepper and Willie Dennis, trombones; Horace Parlan or Mal Waldron, piano; and Dannie Richmond, drums. There are six numbers, all blues by Mingus. One of the best is the fast "E's Flat Ah's Flat Too." The baritone saxophone opens by itself with a choppy ostinato figure, and is joined, in madrigal fashion, by the trombones, which deliver a graceful, slightly out-of-harmony riff. The drums, bass, and piano slide into view. The trombones pursue a new melody, the baritone continues its subterranean figure, and the tenor saxophone enters, carrying still another line. Several choruses have elapsed. Then one of the alto saxophones slowly climbs into a solo above the entire ensemble, which, with all its voices spinning, becomes even more intense when Mingus starts shouting at the top of his voice, like a growl trumpet. Solos follow, giving way to the closing ensemble, which pumps off into twelve straight choruses of rough, continually evolving improvisations on the shorter opening ensemble. Near the end, Mingus starts bellowing again, and then everything abruptly grows sotto-voce. The trombones dip into a brief melodic aside, and the piece closes in a maelstrom, with each instrument heading in a different direction. New tissues of sound emerge in this number and all the others at each hearing—a shift in tempo, a subtle theme being carried far in the background by a saxophone, a riff by the trombones that is a minor variation on one used in the preceding chorus.

The Columbia records, which include eighteen numbers (all but two by Mingus) and pretty much the same personnel, are not as headlong. "Mingus Ah Um" has a couple of ballads, more blues, and, most important, generous amounts of the satire that is present in almost everything Mingus writes. This quality is most noticeable in "Fables of Faubus," which concentrates on two themes—an appealing and rather melancholy lament, and a sarcastic, smeared figure, played by the trombones in a pompous, puppet like rhythm. At one point, the two melodies—one bent-backed, the other swaggering—are played side by side; the effect is singular. Mingus's needling is more subdued in pieces on Lester Young ("Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"), Ellington ("Open Letter to Duke"), and Charlie Parker ("Bird Calls"). But it emerges again in a delightful twitting of Jelly Roll Morton, called "Jelly Roll," which manages to suggest both the lumbering aspects of Morton's piano and his gift for handsome melodies. "Mingus Dynasty" has pleasant, reverent reworkings of a couple of Ellington numbers; a somewhat attenuated selection called "Far Wells, Mill Valley,' written in three sections for piano, vibraphone, flute, four saxophones, trumpet, trombone, bass, and drums; and a fresh version of one of Mingus's gospel numbers, "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting,' this one called "Slop."

Mingus has never had a substantial following, and it is easy to see why: he courts only himself and his own genius. A one-man clique, he invents his own fashions and discards them when they are discovered by others. The content of his compositions is often repellent; it can be ornery, sarcastic, and bad-tempered. His own overbearing, high-tension playing pinions its listeners, often demanding more than they can give. In happier days, Mingus's music might have caused riots.”

Here’s one that you don’t hear everyday: a video on which The Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra performs Charles Mingus’ Bird Feathers.”