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Final Chorus: Mingus in the Classroom

During “Before & After” in the April JazzTimes, Ben Allison was played a 1957 Charles Mingus recording of “I Can’t Get Started.” Instantly he said, “That’s Mingus…Probably the greatest bass player-composer-band leader. For me…he’s the most influential.” That instant recognition reminded me of picking up the phone early one morning and hearing music. After a couple of bars, I knew whose it was. Then the composer, Charles Mingus, came on: “What do you think of that? I just recorded it.” Like Ellington’s, Mingus’ music used to be considered too difficult for other groups to play becauseof its complex originality. But, with regard to Duke, high school bands-provided with the scores and Winton Marsalis astute notes-are proving the music’s accessibility to students in the annual Jazz at Lincoln Center’s “Essentially Ellington” competition.

As for Mingus’ huge body of compositions, Sue Mingus reports: “I have heard ‘Fables of Faubus’ and ‘Boogie Stop Shuffle’ performed with passion by students in Sophia, Bulgaria, who have never been in an American jazz club in their life.” Sue, who keeps Mingus’ music alive throughout the world, adds: “I recently heard two different ensembles at the Julliard School of music perform two hours of Mingus- astonishing arrangements the students not only played but arranged themselves. The 1000- seat hall was packed and overflowing with energy on both sides of the stage.

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Originally Published
Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

Over more than 60 years, Nat Hentoff (1925-2017) wrote about music, politics, and many other subjects for a variety of publications, including DownBeat (which he edited from 1953 to 1957), the Village Voice (where he was a weekly columnist from 1958 to 2009), the Wall Street Journal, and JazzTimes, to which he regularly contributed the Final Chorus column from 1998 to 2012. Of the 32 books that he wrote, co-wrote, or edited, 10 focus on jazz. In 2004, Hentoff became the first recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Jazz Masters award for jazz advocacy.