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What’s Old is New: Welcoming four scores by Charles Mingus

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The following is a guest post by Music Division Archivist Dr. Stephanie Akau. Continuing the celebration of Black History Month, the Music Division is pleased to announce additions to the Charles Mingus Collection.

Portrait of Charles Mingus with double bass.
Unidentified photographer. Charles Mingus, circa early 1950s. Box 72, folder 12. Charles Mingus Collection, Music Division.

Last summer Music Division staff members were excited to welcome four additional holograph manuscript scores of jazz double bassist, pianist, composer, and bandleader Charles Mingus. They came as a gift from Sue Mingus, the widow of Charles Mingus, for addition to the Library’s Charles Mingus Collection, which I recently reprocessed with processing technician Pam Murrell. The scores that comprise this gift are “Alive and Living in Dukeland,” “Three or Four Shades of Blues,” “Cumbia and Jazz Fusion,” and “Todo Modo.”

“Alive and Living in Dukeland” is one of many of Mingus’s tributes to Duke Ellington, who had an enormous influence on Mingus and countless other musicians. Mingus performed briefly with Ellington’s band before a physical altercation with trombonist Juan Tizol lead to his dismissal in 1953.

Mingus composed and recorded the other three charts, “Three or Four Shades of Blues,” “Cumbia and Jazz Fusion,” and “Todo Modo” in the mid-1970s, shortly before he died from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). “Three or Four Shades of Blue” was the title track of an album assembled from March 1977 recording sessions under a contract from Atlantic Records. The other pieces on the LP are “Noddin’ Ya Head Blues” and “Nobody Knows,” along with Paul Jeffrey’s new arrangements of Mingus standards “Better Git Hit in Your Soul,” and “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” Mingus responded negatively to the Three or Four Shades of Blues LP but listeners loved it; the album sold 50,000 copies in just two months.[1] It was a Cadence magazine Editor’s Choice for top albums of 1977, a list that included Cecil Taylor’s “Dark to Themselves,” Gerry Mulligan’s “Idol Gossip,” Dexter Gordon’s “Swiss Nights,” and the reissue of the Red Norvo Trio with [Tal] Farlow and [Charles] Mingus.[2]

The 1977 Atlantic Records contract allowed Mingus to expand his ensemble for “Cumbia and Jazz Fusion,” which is nearly a half-hour long and takes up the entire side of an LP.[3] The recording features congas and South American percussion, and the ensemble even includes a bassoonist, Gene Scholtes. The score is comprehensive and a listener can follow along with the recording. “Todo Modo” is on the flipside of the “Cumbia” LP. Mingus had written the music for director Elio Petri’s 1976 film Todo Modo, also known as One Way or Another in the United States (not to be confused with the Blondie song released a couple years later). However, Petri did not use Mingus’s music or his arrangements for the film and, instead, asked Ennio Morricone to compose a new soundtrack. Critics enjoyed the Cumbia/Todo Modo album, one writing that Mingus was “a national treasure” and that “ ‘Todo Modo’…swing[s], struts, sings and sighs.”[4]

Manuscript score for "Todo Modo"
Charles Mingus. “Todo Modo,” holograph score, undated. Box 28, folder 10. Charles Mingus Collection, Music Division

The condensed scores are heavily annotated with instrumentation notes, as shown in the photo of “Todo Modo,” and performance directions explaining who is supposed to solo and when, seen in “Cumbia and Fusion.”

Seclection of holograph score from "Cumbia and Jazz Fusion"
Charles Mingus. “Cumbia and Jazz Fusion,” holograph score, undated. Box 5, folder 13, Charles Mingus Collection, Music Division.

The annotations provide a glimpse into Mingus’s compositional process. The collective improvisation, in which more than one person improvised at a time, that characterized his music may sound chaotic at times, but these scores demonstrate how clearly Mingus conceived of a piece’s structure. They are a welcome addition to the collection!

When the Library of Congress is once again open to the public, the Charles Mingus Collection is available for research in the Performing Arts Reading Room. For more In the Muse blog posts about Charles Mingus, visit Pat Padua’s “Meditations on Mingus” (April 2010) and Pam Murrell’s “The Thingus About Mingus”  (April 2020).

[1] Krin Gabbard, Better Get it in Your Soul: An Interpretive Biography of Charles Mingus (Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2016), 97.

[2] “1977 Cadence Readers’ Records Poll: Editor’s Choice,” Cadence 3, no. 9 (January 1978), 28.

[3] Gabbard, Better Get it in Your Soul: An Interpretive Biography of Charles Mingus, 97.

[4] Carl Brauer, “Charles Mingus, Cumbia & Jazz Fusion, Atlantic SD 8801,” Cadence 4, no. 8 (September 1978), 37-38.

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