Vermont Jazz Center Presents: The Mingus Dynasty Band
The Vermont Jazz Center will present the Mingus Dynasty Band on January 21st at 7:30 PM (note the time change). The Mingus Dynasty Band is a revolving group of all-star New York-based musicians. It was formed by Charles Mingus' widow, Sue Mingus, in 1979 to immortalize Charles' tremendous repertoire and to affirm his place in jazz history as a bassist, composer, arranger, and band-leader. Charles Mingus is considered to be the second-most important jazz composer/arranger in history after Duke Ellington. To demonstrate the scope of Mingus' impact on the jazz legacy, the Library of Congress considers its collection of Mingus' papers, scores, sound recordings, correspondence and photos as "the most important acquisition of a manuscript collection relating to jazz in the library's history. Jazz historian and the founder of New England Conservatory's Third Stream music program Gunther Schuller has suggested that Mingus should be ranked among the most important American composers, jazz or otherwise
The quintet performing Mingus' music on Saturday, January 21st at the Jazz Center includes Craig Handy (saxophone), Conrad Herwig (trombone), Jim Ridl (piano), Boris Koslov (bass and music director), and Donald Edwards (drums). All have been involved for over a decade with the three touring ensembles organized by Sue Mingus: the Mingus Orchestra, the Mingus Big Band and the Mingus Dynasty Band. They are all also actively involved with the non-profit educational institution Let My Children Hear Music, which Sue Mingus created to present clinics that engage younger audiences in Charles Mingus' enduring legacy. Sue Mingus passed away in September of 2022 at the age of 92. In July 2022, she received the honor of becoming a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, the nation's most prestigious jazz award.
Mingus' music is compelling because his compositions are strong – they groove and engage the audience and the musicians physically and emotionally. The music is often blues-based, it speaks to listeners' impulsive and intuitive natures, the joy and energy it exudes needs no intellectual analysis. Nonetheless, Mingus' music is far from superficial: it contains brilliant conceptual ideas that engage our minds by referring to historic events and activist ideas. Mingus was a master at building arrangements; his compositions were often presented using extended forms that engrossed the audience at each turn. His live recordings demonstrate his capacity to write background figures and counterpoint lines that accompanied the exquisite soloists in his bands, aiding them in building their improvised solos to a feverish climax. These arrangements have been tailored by the current Mingus Dynasty Band to replicate the power of the original versions while conforming to the unique styles of the exciting musicians who now perform them.
A glance at a few of the titles of Mingus' compositions helps us understand the breadth of his immense creativity and codify our understanding of his intentions. In general, Mingus' compositions can be divided into three major categories: 1) blues/gospel-based, 2) tributes, and 3) compositions motivated by activism. "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting, " "Moanin, '" "Boogie Stop Shuffle, " "Jelly Roll" (composed for Jelly Roll Morton) and many others. A stellar example of how Mingus used form and texture to mold a blues piece's intensity is the twenty-five-minute-long composition that he created for one of his favorite sidemen, Eric Dolphy, called "Hope so Eric." In 2017, author Ashon Crawley indicated that Mingus' participation in Black Pentecostal gatherings with his mother while still a boy strongly influenced his compositional style, particularly his use of repetition.
Mingus had a penchant for writing compositions that were inspired by people he revered. Examples include: "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" which was a tribute to Lester Young, "Ellington's Sound of Love" for Duke Ellington, "Parkeriana" for Charlie Parker, "Sue's Changes" and "The I of Hurricane Sue" for Sue Mingus, a baritone saxophone feature "For Harry Carney" and many others.
Examples of compositions that draw attention to the racism that Mingus personally experienced as well as the social and political turmoil that gave strength to his activism include "Fables of Faubus, " "Meditations on Integration, " "Remember Rockefeller at Attica" and "Oh Lord Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me." "Fables of Faubus" was Mingus' 1959 protest against governor of Arkansas Orval Faubus, who conscripted the National Guard to prevent the integration of Little Rock Central High School. According to Sue Mingus, "Meditation" was actually a love song." She said that Charles told her "I felt like I was playing for God. Well, it's time that people get together and try to fight their way through to love with something that warms them and brings them together."
Mingus was a hard worker, producing 30 albums as a leader during his 10 most productive years; over the course of his career he released over 100 albums. To create such a large body of work, Mingus was inspired by unexpected sources. For example, during a trip to Colombia, he led a group of local percussionists and double-reeded instrumentalists in a jam session with his own ensemble that led to the danceable "Cumbia and Jazz Fusion." Mingus was also known for transforming his intellectual pursuits into musical compositions. He converted his fascination with psychology and psychotherapy into the album Pithecanthropus Erectus, which depicts the rise of man from prehistoric times to his eventual downfall. Mingus was an early progenitor of fusing jazz music with spoken word. He used spoken word to great effect in "The Clown" with Jean Sheppard, and in "The Chill of Death" he himself narrated a macabre version of an imaginary death experience while being accompanied by a full symphony orchestra.
Many jazz aficionados have been introduced to Mingus as a sideman rather than a leader – the live concert he recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Max Roach released as Jazz at Massey Hall, was noted by Wikipedia to be "regarded as among the finest live jazz recordings" (of all time). Another important recording where Mingus was on par with his fellow musicians rather than a leader is Money Jungle which finds Mingus on bass with his hero Duke Ellington on piano and Max Roach on drums.
The Mingus Dynasty Band performing Mingus' music at the Vermont Jazz Center includes saxophonist Craig Handy. Originally from Oakland, Ca., Handy was one of the performers on the posthumous release of Mingus' last work, Epitaph, which, according to Wikipedia, "is considered one of his masterpieces. The composition is 4, 235 measures long, requires two hours to perform, and is one of the longest jazz pieces ever written…the piece itself was premiered by a 30-piece orchestra. This concert was produced by Mingus' widow, Sue Graham Mingus, at Alice Tully Hall on June 3, 1989, 10 years after Mingus' death." Handy is also known for his role playing Coleman Hawkins in the 1996 film Kansas City. He has worked with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Wynton Marsalis and Roy Haynes, released five recordings as a leader, and has appeared as a sideman in records with Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, The Cookers, Ray Drummond, Joe Henderson, Abdullah Ibrahim, John Scofield, Jack Walrath, Cecil Brooks III, George Cables and many others.
The trombonist in the quintet is Conrad Herwig, who joined the Mingus Big Band in 1992. Herwig has played on hundreds of recordings and has released numerous records as a leader including a series of seven albums with Latinized arrangements of compositions by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Horace Silver and Charles Mingus. Herwig began his professional career with Clark Terry’s big band and played in the big bands of Buddy Rich, Mel Lewis and Toshiko Akiyoshi (appearing on her album Ten Gallon Shuffle). Herwig played and recorded with George Gruntz’s big band accompanying Miles Davis—in Davis’ last live appearance—in Montreux with Quincy Jones. Herwig has performed and recorded as a sideman in dozens of Latin bands including those of Paquito D’Rivera, Tito Puente, Mario Bauza, Eddie Palmieri, Michel Camilo, Dave Valentin, Danilo Perez, Orishas El Kilo, and Rueben Blades. He holds bachelor’s degrees from North Texas State University (in theory and jazz composition) and Goddard College, in Plainfield, Vt. (in Afro-Caribbean ethnomusicology). He earned a master's in jazz studies from Queens College, CUNY.
The pianist of the group is Jim Ridl, who has established a legacy in NYC including a seven year residency at the renowned NYC jazz club The 55 Bar and The Soapbox Gallery in Brooklyn. He was called a “respected musician’s musician” by Steve Futterman in the New Yorker. Ridl has released nine recordings as a leader and appeared on dozens of records as a sideman. His tenure with jazz guitar legend Pat Martino included performances around the world in quartet and duet settings and produced four recordings. He has performed and/or recorded with Steve Wilson, Randy Brecker, Marc Johnson, Bill Stewart, Denis DiBlasio, Kenny Davis, Wayne Krantz, JD Walter, Donald Edwards, Rudy Royston, Zach Brock, Tim Horner, Ralph Bowen, Dean Johnson, John Benitez, Donny McCaslin, Mark Walker, Terrell Stafford, Vic Juris and Francois Moutin. Ridl has toured with the US State Department American Music Abroad program, performing and offering workshops in the Asia-Pacific region, Russia, South Korea, China, the Philippines, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Slovania and Malta. Ridl is on the faculty at New York Jazz Workshop and The City College of New York, and has maintained a private studio for over 30 years. He has conducted master classes in numerous universities, was the Art Tatum Memorial Scholarship Artist at the University of Toledo, and served as Visiting Jazz Artist at Princeton University.
Bassist Boris Kozlov holds the bass chair and serves as Music Director of this ensemble. Called one of the anchors of modern jazz by empresario Todd Barkan, Koslov has earned three Grammy Awards. Originally from Moscow, Koslov has been on the New York scene for the past 35 years.
He has been serving as a bassist, arranger and Musical Director for Mingus Big Band, Mingus Dynasty and the Mingus Orchestra for 22 years. Koslov has performed or recorded with Michael Brecker, Johnathan Blake, Ray Barretto & New World Spirit, Lew Tabackin, David Kikoski, Alex Sipiagin, Jean-Michel Pilc, Brian Lynch, Jaleel Shaw, John DiMartino, The Manhattan Transfer, Take 6, New Cuban Express and many others.
Drummer Donald Edwards is a 2018 recipient of the Chamber Music America's New Jazz Works Grant. After winning the Louisiana Arts Ambassador’s Award for Music Composition in 1994, Edwards became one of the most sought after drummers on the Baton Rouge/New Orleans music scene. He has four recordings as a leader and numerous recordings as a sideman. His website says: “With skills steeped in and out of the rich and varied traditions of Louisiana, drummer and composer Donald Edwards is dedicated in his pursuit of creative improvisation, compositional development, and experimentation with rhythms through conversing in dialects of a universal language we call music.” He has appeared as a sideman on recordings by Stacy Dillard, Kat Edmonson, Ximo Tebar, JD Walter, Gierge Colligan, Somi, Dayna Stephens, Conrad Herwig, Jesse Davis, Marcus Printup, Mark Whitfield, Alvin Batiste, Thomas Marriott, Orrin Evans, Walt Weiskopf and many others.
The VJC and Brattleboro are fortunate to receive the gifts of Charles Mingus’ genius which continues to thrive in the forty-four years since his passing. His music continues to be presented as a vibrant, authentic and emotionally stirring repertoire thanks to the love and support of Sue Mingus and the dedicated members of the Mingus ensembles.
Charles Mingus titled his Grammy Nominated, 1972 album, Let My Children Hear Music. In 1979, according to Allmusic.com, Mingus wrote a letter from his deathbed to Sy Johnson, one of the arrangers of this massive work, saying that “it was the record he liked most from his career.” Let My Children Hear Music became the name of Sue Mingus’ non-profit; educating young people is one of the organization’s foremost missions. The Vermont Jazz Center shares this goal and, to honor Charles Mingus’ wish to “let my children hear music, ” the VJC will let all students under the age of 18 attend this concert for free, in-person or on-line. The Mingus Dynasty organization has gone out of their way to make this concert possible and agreed to the live streaming and we hope that many will benefit from it.
The VJC is grateful for the sponsorship of this concert by a dear friend of the VJC who has been involved with its educational programs and performance groups for many years. We feel grateful beyond measure for this person’s demonstration of love and support for the music and their trust in the Jazz Center to move the music forward. Publicity is underwritten by The Commons and The Brattleboro Reformer. The VJC is also grateful to the Vermont Arts Council, the Vermont Humanities Council and New England Foundation of the Arts for their support and increased efforts to stabilize the existence of arts organizations during the pandemic.
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