Friday, August 31, 2007

Mingus Takes A Full Minute To Shuffle To Center-Stage

published in Sounds

I suppose you could use Charles Mingus' very apparent declining health as some sort of grand metaphor for, oh, I don't know — the general condition of "pure" jazz, or something, but at the time, as I was watching Mingus shuffle slowly . . . slowly . . . ever . . . so . . . slowly . . . across the stage, I wasn't thinking metaphorically.

I wasn't aware that Mingus had been in ill health. In fact, the idea of Charles Mingus hobbling feebly across a stage, entirely dependent upon a cane in order to stay upright, would have seemed ludicrous if I hadn't been witnessing it. It was hard to think of a man whose music exhibits such a dynamic humanity — is dynamic humanity — as being in ill health. Aging, yes, sure — I could easily imagine an elderly Mingus, a patriarchal figure, old and weathered and full of vinegar and piss — but not as a near invalid. So while it took Mingus nearly a minute to cross from the wings to Gammage's center-stage, it took a lot longer to reconcile to the idea that the Mingus we would hear tonight might not be a Mingus in full command of his powers.

And it may not have been a Mingus in full command of his powers, but then, I can't say for sure — how can you gauge the strength of someone like that? I saw a Mingus who, as ever, had a mastery of his unwieldy instrument that was complete and idiosyncratically individual at the same instant. I heard a Mingus whose compositions, born in full bloom, have miraculously become brighter and broader and bigger as time has held them in its hand and turned them over and around, a man as deserving of the title "Composer" as any jazzman who has preceded or followed him. I saw a man whose vitality was as full and strong and available as his weakness. Full command of his powers? Who am I to say?

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