Smorgasbord Music Column with William Price King – Charles Mingus 1922 – 1979 #Jazz

This week William Price King shares a selection of music from Charles Mingus and here is an extract from his official website where you can find out more about this versatile musician.

One of the most important figures in twentieth century American music, Charles Mingus was a virtuoso bass player, accomplished pianist, bandleader and composer. Born on a military base in Nogales, Arizona in 1922 and raised in Watts, California, his earliest musical influences came from the church– choir and group singing– and from “hearing Duke Ellington over the radio when [he] was eight years old.” He studied double bass and composition in a formal way (five years with H. Rheinshagen, principal bassist of the New York Philharmonic, and compositional techniques with the legendary Lloyd Reese) while absorbing vernacular music from the great jazz masters, first-hand. His early professional experience, in the 40’s, found him touring with bands like Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory and Lionel Hampton.

Eventually he settled in New York where he played and recorded with the leading musicians of the 1950’s– Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Art Tatum and Duke Ellington himself. One of the few bassists to do so, Mingus quickly developed as a leader of musicians. He was also an accomplished pianist who could have made a career playing that instrument. By the mid-50’s he had formed his own publishing and recording companies to protect and document his growing repertoire of original music. He also founded the “Jazz Workshop,” a group which enabled young composers to have their new works performed in concert and on recordings.

Mingus soon found himself at the forefront of the avant-garde. His recordings bear witness to the extraordinarily creative body of work that followed. They include: Pithecanthropus Erectus, The Clown, Tijuana Moods, Mingus Dynasty, Mingus Ah Um, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, Cumbia and Jazz Fusion, Let My Children Hear Music. He recorded over a hundred albums and wrote over three hundred scores.

Although he wrote his first concert piece, “Half-Mast Inhibition,” when he was seventeen years old, it was not recorded until twenty years later by a 22-piece orchestra with Gunther Schuller conducting. It was the presentation of “Revelations” which combined jazz and classical idioms, at the 1955 Brandeis Festival of the Creative Arts, that established him as one of the foremost jazz composers of his day.

You can read more about Charles Mingus and find out more about the Mingus Bands preserving his legacy for a new legion of fans: Official site Charles Mingus

“Pithecanthropus Erectus” is a four-movement tone poem* written by Charles Mingus portraying the first upright human being who, being proud of standing up, saw himself as the ruler of the world, going from pride and accomplishment to hubris and slavery, all of which finally led to his extinction. This composition is haunting, with a repeated theme, sound effects, and interludes that grow darker as man’s spirit sinks lower.

This avant- garde piece (unlike any other in jazz at the time) was a turning point for Mingus’ career. It presaged free jazz and even liberated jazz quite a bit. The symmetrical chord progressions that once dominated jazz were replaced by what Mingus referred to as the ‘extended form’- a long sequence of pedal points, scales and be-bop harmonies which he taught by ear, tailoring the arrangements to the personalities of his musicians. “ Pitchecanthropus Erectus” is a composition full of sumptuous tone colors, and rich in sonic details.

• Tone poem – A piece of orchestral music, usually in a single continuous movement, which illustrates or evokes the content of a poem, short story, novel, painting, landscape, or other source.

“Fables of Faubus” is from the album “Mingus Ah Um”, the first album Mingus recorded on the Columbia Records label and was released in 1959 featuring a painting by S. Neil Fujita, an American graphic designer known for his innovative book cover and record album designs. Mingus is joined on the album by heavyweights John Handy, Shafi Hadi, and Booker Ervin on saxophone; Jimmy Knepper and Willie Dennis on trombone; Horace Parlan on piano; and Dannie Richmond on drums. “Mingus Ah Um” is a tribute to Mingus’ musical forbears, most noteworthy are ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ which references saxophonist Lester Young who died shortly before the recording; ‘Open Letter to Duke’ a homage to Duke Ellington which draws on three of Mingus’s earlier pieces (‘Nouroog’, ‘Duke’s Choice’, and ‘Slippers’); pianist Jelly Roll Morton;’ and Sonny Rollins.

Another important piece on the album is the controversial ‘Fables of Faubus,’ a mockery of segregationist Orval Faubus (the Governor of Arkansas infamous for his 1957 stand against integration of Little Rock, Arkansas schools) portrayed musically as a bumbling vaudeville clown. “Mingus Ah Um” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2013.

“Passion of a Man” is the from the 1962 album “Oh Yeah”, on the Atlantic label. Mingus was replaced on bass by Doug Watkins as he accompanies the band on piano while at the same time adding bluesy vocals. Mingus chants, scats, shouts, and wails, pushing the band toward an ecstatic fervor while taking them into the depth of the blues. Mingus doesn’t really sing but makes exuberant bluesy punctuations that serve as a non-stop commentary on the music as well as delivering lyrical content. This is just another element for Mingus to play with, and against the rest of the band. There is an infectious enthusiasm that weaves itself throughout where the blues meets jazz, resulting in a steamy concoction that Charles Mingus created with expertise. The Penguin Guide to Jazz awarded “Passion of a Man” a ‘Crown’ token, the publication’s highest accolade, as well as a four-star rating. Q Magazine said the album was ‘a mixture of haunting bluesiness, dancing vivacity, and moments of Andalusian heat…’ and also awarded it four stars. “Passion of a Man” was included in Robert Dimery’s 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

“The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” is a six-part suite, partially written as a ballet by Charles Mingus and recorded with an 11 piece band in 1963. Mingus referred to its orchestral style (which he perfected using studio overdubbing techniques, a first for a jazz album) as ‘ethnic folk-dance music.’ He also gave each song a subtitle. This suite is a masterpiece of rich, multi-layered texture and swirling tonal colors and spotlights many virtuoso performances.

The Penguin Guide to Jazz awarded “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” a ‘Crown’ token, the publication’s highest accolade, as well as a four-star rating. Steve Huey of ‘AllMusic’ gave it five stars out of five and said the album was ‘one of the greatest achievements in orchestration by any composer in jazz history.’ Q Magazine said the album was ‘a mixture of haunting bluesiness, dancing vivacity, and moments of Andalusian heat…’ and also awarded it four stars. And finally, “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” was included in Robert Dimery’s 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.  You can listen to the complete album: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady

Buy the music of Charles MingusAmazon US – and:  Amazon UK

William Price King is an American jazz singer, crooner, and composer.

His interest in music began at an early age when he studied piano and clarinet in high school. At Morehouse College in Atlanta where he grew up, he sang in the Glee Club and studied classical music. After graduation he went off to the Yale School of Music where he earned a Masters degree. From there he journeyed to New York where he created a jazz trio ‘Au Naturel’ which performed in some of the hottest venues in Manhattan including gigs on Broadway and the famous ‘Rainbow Room.’ These gigs opened doors for performances in Montreal and a European tour.

While touring Europe he met a lovely French lady, Jeanne Maïstre, who, a year later became his wife. King left the group ‘Au Naturel’ and settled in the south of France where he started a new life on the French Riviera, opening his own music school – the “Price King Ecole Internationale de Chant.” He has had the pleasure over the years of seeing many of his students excel as singers on a professional level, and some going on to become national celebrities. He continues to coach young singers today, in his spare time.

His debut jazz album was entitled “Home,” and was a collection of contemporary compositions he composed, with lyrics written by his wife Jeanne King. His second album was a Duo (Voice and Guitar) with Eric Sempé on the guitar. This album included original songs as well as well known standards from contemporary jazz and pop artists. The “King-Sempé” duo toured France and thrilled audiences for more than three years before going their separate ways. King has formed a new duo with French/Greek guitarist Manolis, and is now exploring new ideas, in a smooth jazz/soul/folk direction.

In addition to singing and composing, King has been collaborating with author Sally Cronin over the past few years on her blog “Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life,” with the series “A Man And His Music – Jazz, Contemporary, Classical, and Legends” and now, the “William Price King Music Column.” Working with author Sally Cronin has been an exhilarating experience in many ways and has brought a new dimension to King’s creative life. King has also created a micro blog, “Improvisation,” which features and introduces mostly jazz artists from across the jazz spectrum who have made considerable contributions in the world of jazz; and also artwork from painters who have made their mark in the world of art. This micro blog can be found on Tumblr.

His vocal mentors are two of the greatest giants in jazz, Nat King Cole and Mel Tormé. King has a distinctive wide-ranging voice which displays a remarkable technical facility and emotional depth.

William Price King on Tumblr – IMPROVISATION

Buy William’s music ITunes

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You can find all of the Music Column series in this directory:

My thanks to William for selecting this great example of the music of Charles Mingus and as always your feedback is much appreciated.. thanks Sally

22 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Music Column with William Price King – Charles Mingus 1922 – 1979 #Jazz

  1. This was fab! I enjoyed learning and listening about Mingus. I was particularly intrigued by Passion of Man and it’s politically urban theme, brilliant! 🙂 ❤

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  2. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine Weekly Round Up – January 19th – 25th 2020 – Music, Food, Guests and Humour – Enjoy the Party. | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  3. This is a fascinating story, and beautiful music. Combining classical with modern music is a wonderful challenge. I have always loved both. When I first heard Blood Swear and Tears, and their horns that were drawing in a classic element, I was thrilled. I know, that is a poor example, but it resonated with me way back then.

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