Mingus at The Bohemia - The Music

The Music

The songs from "Cafe Bohemia" contain the typical Mingus "Jazz Workshop" characteristics. A concert as work shop meant first of all a live experiment; this is mainly true for his “guest” musician Max Roach in “Percussion Discussion”. Mingus at the Bohemia fixed a moment in time where Mingus found his musical identity.

The first song, "Jump, Monk" is a tribute to Thelonious Monk, but has no connection to Monks music. Mingus rather tried to simulate with his bass play the dance like movements of the great musician. This composition is described by Mingus as "a profile of Monk", not a complete picture of the man but a side view or one aspect of a complex personality. Actually, it is a double profile because we can see an important aspect of the composer, Mingus. The eight-bar, many-voiced section that keeps alternating with the melody most certainly mirrors the emotional, earthy quality found in both subject and composer. If you listen carefully to the last chorus, you will hear Mingus shout during a couple of the sections, thus bearing out the identity.

Of importance, also, are the compositional techniques used in this piece. Along with given melodic figures, the composer created the form and mood by giving the musicians scales on which they could build their own figures. These figures then had to appear in certain places and also had to maintain the mood of the composition. Listen to the first and last choruses and notice that even though George and Eddie play different notes in comparable places, the mood and feeling are still the same.

The second song, "Serenade in Blue" The compositional devices used here are diminution and agumentation. The melody is first played slow then diminished and played twice as fast. The piano augments the melody in the bridge and it sounds slow again. Once again it is diminished, or played fast, and we go into the blowing choruses.

The above mentioned "Percussion Discussion" is a duet of Mingus and Roach, which was later also used in the Epitaph suite. Just two men playing two instruments that are very rarely found on the stand alone. Two men producing and assortment of rich and exciting sounds. Here is a chance to really enjoy the artistry of Max and Mingus. Notice the clean, true snare sound that Max gets on his highest pitched drum. As he moves from snare drum to tom-tom, there is no doubt that he's changed intentionally. No muddled indistinct sound here but a real fresh, swinging sound for Max. And he has his earthly qualities too: strong, vigorous, earthy qualities. Mingus is tremendous, matching Max mood for mood. His pizzicato becomes so strong at times that it sounds very close to Max's percussive effort. Also, for a new concept in jazz sounds, listen to the high, scraping sound Mingus gets on his bass immediately after Max's cymbal entrance.

The "Work Song" (not to be confused with the Nat Adderley composition) should reflect the history of the black workers in the US, with elements of the soul jazz. This is the only truly representative composition in the album. It is actually a jazz tone poem depicting the old slave gangs as they did their back-brakeing work of "swinging that hammer". Driving stakes or laying railroad ties with all the oppression and problems the Black race had at that time. Notice the cannon-like sound of the piano which really simulates the blow of a sledge-hammer. This called a "cluster" on the piano. Because of the low register clusters and other rhythm section accents, we get a strong feeling of depression throughout the piece. However, there is a note of hope in the composition which is found in the words of the original melody: "Swing that hammer over your shoulder: get bolder and – BOLDER!"

"Septemberly" is a fusion of two songs: "September in the Rain" goes over into a romantic "Tenderly". Sub-titled "The Song Of The Thief", this is, of course, a conscious accusal of musical plagiarism. As Mingus said, "Two composers collect royalties for the same tune". Eddie has the first melody ("September in the Rain") and George has the other ("Tenderly"). After treating both melodies simultaneously, the arrangement then moves from one section of the first tune to another section of the second tune. The solos are built on the exact chord changes of "September", but they could just as well have been built on "Tenderly". On the end of the arrangement you will hear another of Mingus' new developments on old ideas. In the early days of jazz, the musicians had no planned endings. They would all solo together into some kind of consonant, harmonious ending "a la New Orleans". For this arrangement we have no ending. We just move together, each in his own way, toward a resolution of the composition. Now, however, with the new jazz idea, we can end with an atonal feeling. Note the beautiful sonority achieved at the end of this composition.

The last song is the standard "All the Things You Are" blended with "Prelude in C sharp minor". "All The Things You C Sharp" Mingus was very aware of similarities in tunes, and, as in one other case in this album, Septemberly, he combines two or three in a composition. Whether intentional or not, this often implies to the listener that one tune was derived or stolen from the other(s). In this case, the combined tunes are "All Things + Prelude" and if you listen carefully to the piano line, "Clair de Lune" The similarity, of course, is the three-note motif that is found (1) in the beginning of "Prelude", (2) in the introduction on "Things", and (3) although the melody is different, in the rhythmic idea of "Clair". The motif is found throughout the composition and gives the piece a well-knit feeling.

Read more about this topic:  Mingus At The Bohemia

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