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Don’t Be Afraid: The Music of Charles Mingus

Don’t Be Afraid…The Music of Charles Mingus features six compositions by the legendary bassist and composer. LCJO trombonist Ron Westray arranged the music for the recording, which was produced by Delfeayo Marsalis. As Stanley Crouch comments in the album’s liner notes, “The band has the uncanny ability and the scope to live up to its credo: all jazz is modern. This means that all great jazz music, like all great drama, is as contemporary as the vitality of its performance… That is exactly what this recording represents because it is one of the finest gatherings of music by Charles Mingus and achieves what some once thought was impossible—truly powerful performances without Mingus himself playing bass and exhorting the musicians.”

Don’t Be Afraid: The Music of Charles Mingus

Album Info

Ensemble JLCO with Wynton Marsalis
Release Date October 18th, 2005
Recording Date August 26-28, 2003
Record Label Palmetto Records
Catalogue Number PM 2114
Formats CD, Digital Download
Genre Jazz at Lincoln Center Recordings

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Track Listing

Track Length Preview
Dizzy Moods 7:07 Play
Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (Parts 1 & 2) 13:37 Play
Meditation On Integration 12:25 Play
Tijuana Gift Shop 4:02 Play
Los Mariachis 10:23 Play
Don’t Be Afraid, The Clown’s Afraid Too 9:58 Play

Liner Notes

“To me, there is no past or future in art.
If a work of art cannot always live in the present
It must not be considered at all.”
Pablo Picasso

This is the most recent masterpiece produced by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, a masterpiece in part because the band has the uncanny ability and the scope to live up to its credo: all jazz is modern. This means that all great jazz music, like all great drama, is as contemporary as the vitality of its performance. There is no new, there is no old. That is exactly what this recording represents because it is one of the finest gatherings of music by Charles Mingus and achieves what some once thought was impossible – truly powerful performances without Mingus himself playing bass and exhorting the musicians.

Any music that has the benefit of an impassioned virtuoso performer and composer will be uniquely thrilling, but if the music is great, it will exist beyond its creator and become part of the aesthetic legacy of the art for which it was produced. However entangled Mingus’s music was in the myth and the methods of the man, it is one of the most luminously substantial bodies of American music. It could only have been produced by Charles Mingus and it could only have come from an American as talented, complex and contradictory as the great innovator was. The depths of contrasting feeling, the heights of majesty, and the purity of melody made indelible by its lyricism and harmonic originality are plentiful in the art of Charles Mingus.

Mingus foresaw much of what has happened in jazz over the last forty or so years because he was, like all of the greatest artists, in a profound dialogue with his predecessor. As Duke Ellington said, “Remembrance of things past is important for a jazz musician.” Mingus knew this well and, due to his ambitions, he chose to avoid developing a style that was predictable in its approach. He did not want something less comprehensive than what he had made of his experience as a working musician. When what had been provided by the conventions of his time was insufficient to meet the demands of the composer’s goals, he went right ahead and invented whatever he needed. Mingus was an inventor in every direction and he was also an experimenter, which made his output uneven because he, like all true adventurers seemed to bet everything on the work at hand and seemed prepared to face whatever resulted. This was not always true because he could go crazy if things were too much for him to take, which sometimes caused the anarchy brought on by his frustration to overshadow his artistry. This created a desire in his audience to see Mingus “go off.” No matter, that aesthetic conception remained grand enough to be called epic.

Much of the vision of epic artistry resulted from his having played with Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Red Norvo, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell. It is also true that he was a great admirer of Art Tatum and had been impressed by certain of Lennie Tristano’s ideas. Beyond the art of those men, Mingus was deeply touched by high quality popular songs, flamenco, and European concert music and film scores. From a down home perspective, he was, like Ellington, a lover of blues across all the lines, which meant that he wrote material, psychologically complex material, that stretched from the basics of the gutbucket to the high-minded, the ambivalent, and the complicated mazes of the human heart. The vastness of his taste determined the steeps of his ambition, which, as Marsalis says, “outstripped the ambition of all other jazz musicians of his generation. By far.”

To realize what seem the ambitions of the Mingus pieces selected for this recording, arranger Ron Westray says, “I had to hear through what was there and see if I could get a clear image in music of what Mingus was after. His music has true greatness. It is strong, romantic, imperial, majestic, and full of the sounds of the modern world. When he was alive, Mingus always had something going against him. Expenses, lack of rehearsal time, musicians not advanced enough in their thinking to understand the deep truth of what he was really going for. But he was a hero; he stood his ground and gave up nothing. His failures are as noble as his successes. That’s the way it was with him. Mingus is an inspiration to all of us. So I was expressing myself in these arrangements, of course, but most of all I was trying to be a humble servant to a very, very great musician. I think you can hear that in this record.”

So do I. Lovers of Charles Mingus, lovers of jazz, and lovers of truly superior musicianship will find this an instant classic that lives up to that name. Here is further proof of the fact that great music always remains great, whether or not its composer is alive. This is a timeless statement and we are lucky to have another opportunity to experience the individuality of one of the grandest minds and spirits to develop in American art. Charles Mingus, we salute you.

Stanley Crouch

Credits

1. Dizzy Moods (7:07)
2. Black Saint & the Sinner Lady (parts 1 & 2) (13:39)
3. Meditation on Integration (12:25)
4. Tijuana Gift Shop (4:02)
5. Los Mariachis (10:24)
6. Don’t Be Afraid, the Clown’s Afraid Too (9:58)

Wess “Warmdaddy” Anderson Alto/Sopranino Sax
Ted Nash Alto/Soprano Sax, Flute
Walter Blanding Tenor Sax
Victor Goines Tenor Sax, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet
Joe Temperley Baritone Sax, Bass Clarinet
Lew Soloff Trumpet
Ryan Kisor Trumpet
Marcus Printup Trumpet
Wynton Marsalis Trumpet
Ron Westray Trombone
Vincent Gardner Trombone
Andre Hayward Trombone, Tuba
Eric “Top Professor” Lewis Piano
Carlos Henriquez Bass
Herlin “Homey” Riley Drums

All compositions by Charles Mingus published by Jazz Workshop, BMI
All arrangements by Ron Westray

Produced by Delfeayo Marsalis
Executive Producers: Wynton Marsalis and André Kimo Stone Guess for Jazz at Lincoln Center
Production Coordinator: Derek Kwan
Engineer: Patrick Smith
Assistant Engineers: Daryl Dickerson, Jason Stasium, Jay Goin, David Fricks
Music Copyists: Geoff Burke and Jonathan Kelly

Recorded at Right Track Studio A, NY August 26-28, 2003
Mixed at Glenwood Place Studios, CA
Photography by Frank Stewart for Jazz at Lincoln Center
Illustrations and design by Bobby C. Martin Jr. for Jazz at Lincoln Center

Special Thanks to:
Lisa Schiff, Chairman
Wynton Marsalis, Artistic Director
Derek E. Gordon, President & CEO
Katherine E. Brown, Executive Director
Hughlyn F. Fierce, Immediate Past President & CEO and the board and staff of Jazz at Lincoln Center

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