Classiques: The Records That Turned Me On To Jazz #3

TONE Audio asked me for a list of albums that initially hooked me on jazz. During the next few weeks, I’m going to share 10 yesteryear titles that I always recommend, and frequently return to.

Charles Mingus Mingus Ah Um Columbia

It bowls you over, and you grin as you tumble because the melodies are earworms that tout joy (and sorrow) with an unmistakable eloquence. The bassist-composer was at the top of his game during these 1959 sessions recorded in a Times Square studio. His mid-sized ensemble had the clout of a big band and the agility of a trio; the music turns on a dime and delivers deep emotional shifts that were always central to Mingus’ passion-first approach. The music is intricate, and tough to render with the proper impact. The leader would sit at the piano and show his players particulars of the tunes while strongly forbidding anyone to overly formalize their part for fear of it sounding stiff. “He wanted you to play like you just thought of it yourself,” trombonist Jimmy Knepper has said, “even if it wasn’t exactly what he wrote.” That dedication to immediacy was a Mingus cornerstone, and the key reason these performances leap from the speakers. Saxophonists John Handy and Booker Ervin, pianist Horace Parlan, and drummer Dannie Richmond are on their boss’s wavelength. “Fables of Faubus” messes with rhythmic norms. “Bird Calls” organizes high-speed chirping. “Better Get It In Your Soul” radiates the gospel fervor of Mingus’ childhood churches. “Goodbye Porkpie Hat,” is a farewell to Lester Young, and among jazz’s most expressive ballads. The band makes it so because Mingus’ music demands that vehemence go hand in hand with beauty.

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