Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 20, 2002

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Mingus' namesake band grooves on the jazzman's musical legacy

Gene Stout

The Mingus Big Band features 14 musicians, but the pool of available players has grown to more than 100 talented and notable performers of all ages.

"It's an ever expanding group," said Sue Graham Mingus, wife of jazz bassist, composer and bandleader Charles Mingus, who died in 1979.

"It attracts wonderful musicians. People really enjoy playing the music because it's just a lot of fun. It's full of energy, it's very demanding, you have to be on your toes and you have to have your own voice."

Sue Graham knew little about jazz when she met Charles Mingus in New York in 1964.

"I was looking for a job and Charles was looking for someone to run a mail-order record company," she said this week in a phone interview from her New York City apartment. "He had decided for the second time in his life to thumb his nose at the record industry, which he thought was cheating him."

The new label became a launching pad for some of Mingus' best albums.

Four months after Mingus died, Sue Mingus organized a tribute concert for her husband. The concert spawned a tribute band, Mingus Dynasty, made up of musicians who had played with the bandleader. The seven-piece group later expanded into a larger group encompassing younger players.

For the past 11 years, the Mingus Big Band has played the lounge at the Time Cafe in New York's Greenwich Village. While the band plays its regular weekly gig in New York, a touring version of the group arrives in Seattle for a concert tonight at 8 at the Paramount Theatre.

The concert features pieces from the Mingus Big Band's current album, Tonight at Noon: Three or Four Shades, as well as a ballad, an up-tempo number and an extended work.

"What I try to do is show this vast spectrum of Charles' music, the variety of the music he wrote. There should be a bit of everything," Sue Mingus said.

Selections from the current album may include "Love Is a Dangerous Necessity," "Passions of a Woman Loved" and "Invisible Lady," for which rock icon Elvis Costello wrote lyrics and sang vocals.

By coincidence, Costello, a longtime admirer of Mingus' music, also performs at the Paramount this weekend — on Sunday — but apparently he won't be in Seattle in time to join the Mingus Big Band.

Before tonight's concert, Sue Mingus, the band's producer, artistic director and "chief bottle washer," plans to speak at a Q&A; at 7:15 p.m. in the Paramount lobby. She also appears earlier in the day, from noon to 2 p.m., at the downtown Borders Music & Books to talk about her new book about her marriage to Charles Mingus, Tonight at Noon: A Love Story (Pantheon Books, $24).

The book evolved from notes she took when she and Charles traveled to Mexico in the 1970s to seek alternative treatment for her husband's amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. Charles Mingus was paralyzed and used a wheelchair.

"Charles was so courageous and so full of grace," she said. "All the sides of Charles the world doesn't know about came to the fore. I would have lasted (only) 24 hours in those circumstances, where a buzzing fly or a ray of sunlight is a source of fear. You have to call for help for everything. But he never cursed the gods, and he had a sense of humor. He kept us all full of vitality."

Despite Mingus' musical legacy, he wasn't regarded as a major jazz composer until after his death.

"The perception of Charles was always what got headlines: the flashy, colorful character on stage who broke basses, who punched people out, who yelled at audiences for inattention," Sue Mingus said.

"All this stuff was perfectly true, but it was one side of Charles. The other side was the man who composed at the piano for eight or 10 hours a day. The tender Charles, the spiritual Charles. The great irony is that Charles isn't here to compose with this great palette of voices, a 14-piece big band that he was never able to have week in and week out while he was alive."

Mingus Big Band
What: Jazz concert
When: Tonight at 8
Where: Paramount Theatre
Tickets: $26.50-$39.50

Tags: Mingus Big BandSue MingusCharles MingusTonight At Noon... Three Or Four Shades Of LoveInvisible Lady


Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 20, 2002

Gene Stout's preview of a Mingus Big Band concert mentions Elvis Costello.


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