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Charles Mingus Pithecanthropus Erectus

2. Charles Mingus: “Pithecanthropus Erectus” (Pithecanthropus Erectus; Atlantic, 1956)

Mingus was hardly dormant in the nine years between “Mingus Fingers” and “Pithecanthropus Erectus”; he was one of the major figures in the Third Stream movement, led a quasi-collective called the Jazz Workshop, cofounded (with Max Roach) the Debut Records label, and played at the legendary Jazz at Massey Hallconcert in 1953. But this four-part, ten-and-a-half-minute tone poem was his real artistic breakthrough. A musical setting of humankind’s evolutionary rise and fall, it showed the world just how vast Mingus’ ambition was; it offered hints of the freedom and political passions that would define jazz in the 1960s; and it elicited extraordinary work from saxophonists Jackie McLean and J.R. Monterose, and drummer Willie Jones. Mingus knew how important this work was too: He revisited and reincorporated its themes right up until his death.