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Let My Children Play Mingus

3rd Annual Charles Mingus High School Competition and Festival held at Manhattan School of Music

Adam O'Farrill, who was given an outstanding soloist award at last year's MIngus High School competition
Boris Kozlov and Donald Edwards, members of the Mingus Dynasty, performing at last year's Charles Mingus High School Competition.

For the Manhattan School of Music, February means Mingus, Mingus, Mingus! In partnership with Let My Children Hear Music/The Charles Mingus Institute, the school is hosting its 3rd annual Charles Mingus High School Competition and Festival, February 18-21.

Twelve finalist bands from California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York, selected by a committee of musicians and music educators, will converge at the Upper West Side conservatory to perform Mingus compositions before adjudicators and the general public. They will be treated to masters classes and clinics in instrumentation and arranging, as well as films and lectures on Mingus’s work.

“Mingus left a major legacy of jazz composition and the competition is an opportunity for kids to jump inside the music and get a taste of this vast world that Charles left behind,” says Sue Mingus, wife of the late bassist and composer, “It’s got so much variety and challenge and freedom, and you know, band directors say it’s an exciting, even a profound experience to tackle the music.

Along with celebrated jazz educator, Justin DiCioccio, Mingus produces the competition and festival. This year, it will include performances by The Mingus Dynasty Big Band and the Mingus Orchestra, both of which she founded. The 7-piece Big Band will play nightly 7:30, 9:30 and 11:30 sets throughout the weekend at the Jazz Standard, where the Mingus Orchestra enjoys a Monday night residency. Tickets are $30 for the general public and $15 for students.

The Orchestra, conducted by Gunther Schuller, who will also teach a clinic and serve as a contest judge, will play St. Bartholomew’s church on Saturday night at 7:00 pm. Apropos of the venue, the performance will spotlight Mingus’s gospel roots. Tickets are $20 for the general public, $15 for students and free for contest participants and their families.

The heart of the weekend event, the high school competition takes place from 10 am-4 pm on Sunday. It will be followed with performances by the Manhattan School of Music Mingus Combo with Steve Slagle at 5:30 pm, the Mingus Dynasty at 6 pm and an award ceremony with Sue Mingus and DiCioccio at 6:30 pm. These events are free to the public.

The festival closes on Monday with 7:30 and 9:30 sets at The Jazz Standard, during which the Mingus Orchestra will feature outstanding soloists from the competition. Tickets are $25 for the general public and $15 for students.

For her part, Mingus is as excited to hear the selected high school bands perform on Sunday as she is to expose them to the playing of professionals.

“The enthusiasm of the kids is quite wonderful,” she says. “Mingus’s music was considered quite unapproachable for some time, and if you hear it in the hands of these kids who just play the life out of it, it’s thrilling.”

Originally Published