Charles Mingus seems to be slipping out of the American consciousness — not among hardcore jazz fans, of course, but with the more casual listeners and the intellectual music fans. With the college kids and funksters and world-beat freaks, Mingus no longer resonates. They might know the name, and how Joni Mitchell cashed in, but they won’t know the extraordinary power of Mingus’ music. His was tough stuff, a testosterone-soaked Ellington, often complex and dense and almost violent and propelled by whirlwind tempos. His powerful fingers shaped the bass lines in big, fat strokes like a postwar painter (pick up his volume from the amazing Jazz Icon DVD series for some splendid examples). His romantic side could gush like Johnny Hodges — or simmer sadly, as in “Goodbye Porkpie Hat,” laying out a recently laid-out Lester Young. And his blues was rawboned and raucous, joyous, hurting and angry. Sometimes very angry.
Mingus (who began here in L.A.) was a product of the mid-20th-century, and 20th-century ideas were often vast and violent and revolutionary and utterly dangerous. Empires fell and societies were destroyed and whole generations gutted as others were born. Mingus came from that world. He wasn’t speaking to our times. And listening to Mingus now is such a jolt. Try Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, or better yet, Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Turn up the volume, stare into a dark room and let it pour into you. Feel the rage. The beauty. How they are one. And then go see the Charles Mingus Big Band. Its ranks are filled with impassioned NYC jazzmen (such as uncompromising altoist Jaleel Shaw), and devoted widow Sue Mingus keeps it honest and pure. If the players are not especially angry, the music is. Last time through town they tore the roof off stodgy old Royce Hall. This Friday they’re at Canoga Park’s Madrid Theatre (21622 Sherman Way, Canoga Park; 818-347-9938), and on Saturday at the Warner Grand Theatre (478 W. Sixth St., San Pedro; 310-548-7672 or warnergrand.org). Those folks better hold on tight to their rafters. And you, hold onto your deepest self. It just might come out. And then what?
In a lighter vein, James Moody and Bud Shank are among the honorees at the L.A. Jazz Society’s annual tribute at the Sheraton Universal this Sunday, 4:30 p.m.; their duets will be priceless (along with Patrice Rushen and others). Call (818) 994-4661 or see lajazz.org. And the L.A. Jazz Institute kicks off a four-day Big Band Fiesta this Thursday. It’s way down at the Hyatt Regency in Newport Beach, but there’s such a cornucopia of big band jazz (with this year’s Afro-Cuban theme) that the drive is well worth it. More details next week; see lajazzinstitute.org or call (562) 985-7065 for Thursday’s lineup.
(Brick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)