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Charles Mingus - Discographical Issues and Mingus' Recorded Oeuvre

Mingus' improvisational style and workshop-based process of developing his compositions and recorded performances brings up interesting issues for discography and the history of jazz recording. Jennifer Griffith, a pianist and composer who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Mingus, has kindly agreed to introduce and discuss these issues using the comment and annotation functions of J-DISC.

Some of Jennifer's comments have been directed toward the musical content (especially the political and personal messages that are so central to Mingus' approach and outlook). However, when we entered into a discussion as to exactly where these should go, it intersected with discographic questions, or more specifically how comments and the structure of an annotated database might interact. See the next comment in this thread for more detail on the dialogue and the decisions we made around it. (See also Jennifer Griffith and David Wild's comments on folksonomic tagging in the pertinent discussion thread.)

To begin, see Jennifer's very informative comment on a recording with an important Mingus political and artistic statement, The Clown.


Discussion Topic: 



T. Shull wrote:

 . . . why are there so many incomplete takes [on NTM]--it's a lot even for discographers, when other artists may not have had so many [NOTE: this is due to my naivete about Mingus and this album; but I’m including it for the issues it raised] ? Does it say something about CM’s creative process? And, indeed, about the value of every last fragment to Mingus fans—leading to labels to release them all?

And, second, note that there are different master numbers assigned by each. I realize Lord may be wrong in this case.


J. Griffith replied:

Finally I've got my copy here with me. The RCA cd, released in 1986, 1962, has 9 tracks listed on the back.

[full session informationhere; to be added to J-DISC in future]

Let me know if you want me to enter any (or all) of this info on J-Disc. At the very least it responds to your question several emails ago. There's a VERY interesting, extended note from Ed Michel about how the original takes were built.


T. Shull replied:

OK, I got a hold of a version of New Tijuana Moods. I think it's different because it references the 1986 release by Ed Michel but doesn't have notes by him.
The numerous alternate takes are there for two reasons. As I suspected, they wanted to show what Mingus' painstaking and highly improvisational process was--and feature his attention to process itself. What I didn't realize was that the final released takes were intricate composites of these takes, which Mingus himself painstakingly edited with available technology of 1957. So, as with Bitches Brew, the breakdowns and the composite bits, plus all the alternatives, become interesting.
I loved this record for many reasons. It still says to me that Mingus didn't want you to forget that it was a performance--something living and changing rather than an rarefied, abstract "thing." There are so many things that remind you that this music is embedded in practice, in society. The spoken word. The hollers. The programmatic aspects (a borderline town, a church meeting, musicians struggling to make do on their feet). Plus he wanted to challenge and engage the audience, as in The Clown.
It's ironic, then, that he also used the long-playing record to "perfect" what got improvised. Or is his trickery (both of the listener, and, apparently, the ever-suffering recording studio personnel) less than concealed? I can do this with technology, he's saying, and still sound spontaneous. Perhaps.
Our format in J-DISC can't handle all of these splices, by the way. We can say what got recorded (the session), and what got released (the issue), and that it's spliced. But there's no simple, straightforward way to show what snippets an individual track on the playback carrier is composed of. I think; I need to look into this.

J. Griffith replied:

I'm glad you're seeing what I'm seeing now. Not sure how they're presenting it on the newer version you have, but the comment you just made tells me that the info in Ed Michel's note is pretty much what his note says on my version.

Remember, Mingus uses improv as a compositional device, and he's aware of his 'composing' in editing these splices, as he's aware of how he's manipulating listeners by using ersatz audience effect for The Clown. I have an article about this that's under review, and hope gets published sometime soon.

J. Griffith wrote:


Tad, I'm trying to improve the "Better Git it in Your Soul" title entry. I've explained the genesis of the title in a comment as it's been incorrectly represented in so many discographies, including jazzdisco. Just to give you a heads up on this. I may have again put the comment in the wrong place, but I think it should go with the Song, not just the track, and I put the later title as alt song title.  


(Please note that she has since included valuable information about the history of the song’s title.)

See also her comment about Handy's contribution to composition: http://jdisc.columbia.edu/track/better-git-it-your-soul 



T. Shull replied:


That sounds right to me. The problem with the song title you identify is an attribute of the song, as defined in J-DISC. No matter who plays it--say you record it and that gets logged into J-DISC--the song (or composition itself) has this history and the title matters to whoever uses it.
 In the case of The Clown, it's different. (Or I saw it that way). The background sound of people laughing, or of Jean Shepherd reading it, are attributes of the performance of the song. Duke Ellington's version probably has neither.
In a way, it's a judgment call. The meaning of the song and its lyrics could also apply to anyone that performs it (not sure if the Duke version had words). I said to put it with Mingus' performance because study of it will usually be associated with Mingus' realization of it. Does that make sense?


J. Griffith replied:

I agree with your points. I think the original title, then, "Better git it in your soul" ought to be the one used as song title (which I changed it to reflect), and I think you didn't not agree. I think the comment on the title might go there too as not sure why one would start with another title in a discography such as this, except as a mistake. Since the title you had "Better Get Hit in Your Soul" is used in none of Mingus's recordings, it seems misplaced to use it here, but I'll add something in the comment to reflect it's been used by other musicians.

I think your point with The Clown, and the reasoning behind use of titles makes sense.