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Meditations on Mingus’ 90th

Tom Reney blogs about the legendary bassist and his legacy

Charles Mingus

The closest I ever came to meeting Charles Mingus was when I followed him up the stairs of the Jazz Workshop in Boston on a wintry Sunday afternoon. He’d just finished his matinee set, and as he headed out to Boylston Street in a belted, butterscotch-brown leather coat, he slipped on the icy sidewalk. My friend Nic and I made a quick grab for his arms to keep him from going down, and once the startled Mingus righted himself, he offered us a nervous thank you. The ensuing moment did not seem right for an adoring line of introduction from either of us, so we moved on. I would see Mingus several times more in concert, but that was the closest I got to the great musician in person.

There was something unforgettable about all of the performances I saw by Mingus right from the start, and that took place at the Workshop in 1972. On that occasion, the pianist was apparently late, so the show began with Mingus at the keyboard. Dannie Richmond was on drums, Lonnie Hillyer on trumpet, Charles McPherson on alto, and Bobby Jones played tenor and clarinet. Once the pianist arrived looking harried in a jacket that resembled a Boston bus driver’s, Mingus played bass from a stool at the front of the bandstand, though he stopped the music and returned to the keyboard a couple of times to illustrate something he wanted the pianist to play. I was underage at the time, and my sole cover was a 6’2″ frame and a pair of sunglasses that I’d wear after dark. Whether or not that fooled anyone into thinking I was over 21 I’ll never know, but I got in the door, I got served, and I gloried in the experience of seeing this musical giant only an arm’s length away.

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