Charles Mingus Messes With His Audience


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June 11, 1964, Vol. IX, No. 34

More Show Than Jazz

By J. R. Goddard

Watching Charlie Mingus at the Five Spot last weekend, it was a little hard to decide if I was being offered jazz, satiric vaudeville, or a weird combination of both. And Mingus’s insistence on consuming cheese and wine throughout didn’t clear up matters any.

Things started calmly enough with the “new Mingus” (he’s lost 80 pounds and now suits up in cowboy clothes) bowing a nice bass intro to “Laura.” But from then on he went to the visual arts. Wandering around stage, switching basses, running over to commandeer the piano from his pretty but timid young lady pianist, yelling at his drummer, fixing himself snacks, he was a show unto himself. And that was the trouble. “Minstrel show,” one table yelled, “fake!” To which he heckled back “My contract says all I have to do is appear — not play.”

“Fables of Faubus,” however, did make a point, theatrically if not musically. An expressionist blast of the most literal order containing strains of tunes like “Dixie” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” it evoked groans, angry yells, belches for all I know, from the group as they played. Mingus did cut loose with some bass on this and a few other numbers, and from time to time interesting sax work and drumming from his side men picked things up. But generally, more show than jazz by a long shot.

With Ron Carter and his group, spelling Mingus, the situation was just the reverse. Backed up by fine piano and drums Carter showed himself a bassist of real note.

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