Monday, May 17, 2010

Mingus - Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

17 May 2010

Life is short. Or maybe not. It depends in fact on your perspective and personal take on the question. But life does not continue forever.

What must we do?

Certainly every day we must do something we love.

What did Charles Mingus love? Well, I'm not aware of the entire scope of his passions, but the man certainly loved making music.

Throughout my life, I've often heard Mingus' music mentioned by others, most notably, perhaps, because Joni Mitchell referred to him as "mellow, fantastic," and recorded an album with him. As it happens, I didn't listen to that particular album by Joni Mitchell. Nor did I listen to Mingus' music until recently.

What have I learned?

We have to stretch and try new things to discover the the further reaches of our individual and collective souls.

After all these years, I have just discovered Mingus' Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting, recorded on his Warner Jazz (Atlantic) album, Blues and Roots. (As I listen more, I am inclined to recommend the "alternate take," into which Mingus and his companions invested just a little more swing....)


Now I understand why Mingus' music has interested people over all these years. Using the complex and multi-perspectived tools of tone, timing and rhythm, Mingus calls to mind an old-time prayer meeting while at the same time exploring the boundaries of what it is possible to do with improvisation and experimentation in music. It works - dramatically well.

At this moment in time, I cannot listen to Mingus' Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting without being entranced - captured by Mingus' musical erudition and bravado. What a masterwork! What pleasure for those who are open to Mingus' tonal experimentation!

Mingus has opened a new world to me - one that is just a little bit broader and more majestic than the world I previously inhabited. That is entirely satisfactory - for now.

In order to stay open, of course, I must continue to explore and experiment, as did Mr. Mingus himself.

But for this week, I can only counsel the reader. Listen to Mingus. Open your ears. Widen your mind. Expand your world.

You will not be disappointed.

Aaron Cohen's critical review follows:

"Bassist Charles Mingus was always ready for a good fight. In the liner notes to this disc, Mingus says he wanted to respond to critics who said he didn't swing enough. And reply he did. Mingus gave whoever these absurd quibblers were some of the most ecstatic blues ("Moanin'" and "Cryin Blues"), gospel ("Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting") and Dixieland ("My Jelly Roll Soul") the jazz world has ever heard. Along with his striking original compositions, the instrumental combination in Mingus's nonet remains unconventional: the frontline included four saxophonists and two trombonists without the counterweight of a trumpeter. The leader's sliding octave bass lines and percussive slaps are totally rollicking, and the wild abandon in the group's playing is irrepressible."


  1. Welcome to the fan club. Better late than never.

  2. Give me the CD and I'll load it on my Ipod and listen.

  3. The mind-boggling consideration is, how much more is there that I haven't discovered yet? The world of possibilities is so big, and we are so small!

  4. I'll go to youtube and see if I can find him on there and give him a listen. Anyone who makes music with a bow has my vote!

  5. Mr. Mingus definitely rocks, though he has passed on. However, somebody must have done some videos somewhere. Find Wednesday night prayer meeting if you can, or if you like, this album is particularly good! I'm sure you can get samples online also....

  6. Hi Laurence,

    I had a couple of friends who went through a big jazz phase when I was about 17, so I got exposed to some of Mingus' music. I remember listening to (and liking) 'Ah Um' and 'Cumbia and Jazz Fusion'.

    There was also a Mingus box set, "Complete Atlantic Recordings", which you might be able to find at Amazon or a nearby library with a good audio dept.

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