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Artist’s Choice: Chris Wood on Charles Mingus

Today’s top jazz performers pick 10 favorite tracks by the players, singers and styles that helped define them.

Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus is my favorite bass player and one of my all-time favorite musicians. I love his playing, his compositions and his attitude. He’s sophisticated but raw. His playing is both primal and beautiful. He’s fearless. What more could you ask for?

Blues & Roots (Atlantic, 1960)

Most of these tunes are examples of how Mingus takes the blues and twists it into endless, beautiful variations. This is basically a minor blues and features him (as on most of the tunes) taking a virtuosic solo.

“Cryin’ Blues”
Blues & Roots (Atlantic, 1960)

This is a great example of a pretty straightforward slow blues tune. Mingus is a very sophisticated musician but never comes across as “slick.” He maintains the raw and direct power of a bluesman.

“Original Faubus Fables”
Presents Charles Mingus (Candid, 1960)

This is the definitive version of this tune because he was allowed on this recording to include the lyrics. This is an example of Mingus the activist. Check out how incredibly Mingus and drummer Danny Richmond play together!

“Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me!”
Oh Yeah (Atlantic, 1962)

This again is Mingus the activist, but this time he is both singing and playing the piano. It’s no surprise that he’s actually a great blues singer.

“What Love”
Presents Charles Mingus (Candid, 1960)

I picked this for the “conversation” that Mingus and Eric Dolphy have about 2/3 of the way into the tune. I think this was recorded about the time that Dolphy was thinking of leaving the band, and the musical dialogue they had was Mingus pleading with him not to leave. The ensemble playing is incredible throughout the whole track.

“Dizzy Moods”
Mingus Three (Blue Note, 1957)

This is a tune from a trio record with pianist Hampton Hawes and Danny Richmond. Nice to hear Mingus in this simple trio format.

“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”
Mingus Ah Um (Columbia, 1959)

I had to include this classic, which is a haunting, twisted 12-bar blues.

“Money Jungle”

Duke Ellington Money Jungle (Blue Note, 1962)

The last three tracks here are from the incredible Duke Ellington record called Money Jungle. It’s Duke and Mingus with Max Roach on drums. The story I heard is that Mingus was mad because Duke wouldn’t allow any of his compositions on the record. Mingus is on fire and playing way outside the box at times-maybe because he’s pissed. It almost sounds like he’s trying to disrupt the music, but Duke and Max are so strong that it holds together and makes for some of the most original trio playing I’ve ever heard.

“Fleurette Africaine”

Duke Ellington Money Jungle (Blue Note, 1962)

This tune is so beautiful and original sounding, in large part because of the way Mingus plays. It’s much more than accompaniment; he makes himself an important part of the piece.

“Switch Blade”

Duke Ellington Money Jungle (Blue Note, 1962)

Another great example of a slow blues that showcases Mingus’ virtuosity with a looseness that puts feeling before precision. Check out how he intersperses his basslines with countermelodies and answers to what Duke plays.

Originally Published