Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um

Reissue of the bassist's 1959 spirited study of the blues adds an admirable 20-page descriptive booklet and bonus tracks


A partial list of Charles Mingus’ finest late-50s albums would include Tijuana Moods and Blues & Roots, both from 1957, together with Ah Um from 1959. They each feature original material performed by sidemen totally sympathetic to the leader’s exuberant, freewheeling approach to ensemble playing.

On this set, featuring the blues in its many forms, he had performers well-versed in the music’s most basic harmony because John Handy, Booker Ervin, Dannie Richmond and Curtis Porter (aka Shafi Hadi) had all begun their professional careers on the R&B circuit. Hadi went on to become a successful painter and this was his final recording date.

The well-named Better Git It In Your Soul is a hard-driving gospel romp in 6/4 reminiscent of his Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting. Ervin has two choruses accompanied by rhythmic hand-clapping audibly encouraged by the leader’s soulful exhortations. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat has an emotional reading from John Handy in an elegy for Lester Young who had died two months before this recording.

The Boogie Stop Shuffle is an ambitious piece of writing with four basic themes and solos from Ervin and Horace Parlan cushioned by sympathetic ensemble riffs. Open Letter To Duke opens as a themeless uptempo blowing vehicle for Ervin and Handy before a dramatic tempo change leads to a Johnny Hodges-like ballad complete with glissandos from Handy.

Fables Of Faubus is Mingus’ sardonic dig at the notorious Orval Faubus, governor of Arkansas at the time. The Columbia executives would not allow Mingus to sing the lyric because they thought it was too political. It was finally heard on the 1960 Charles Mingus Presents album (Candid CJM005) and is included here as a bonus track along with Moanin’ from Blues & Roots (Candid CCD 79042).

Jimmy Knepper, who is prominent in the ensembles throughout, does not get too many solo opportunities but his contribution to Pussy Cat Dues is worthy of a Jack Teagarden – an absolute gem. His trombone bookends Jelly Roll over some old-style slapped bass from the leader. Handy maintains the satirical mood, sounding like a street-corner busker initially before launching forth into a chorus of glorious bebop.

This release is accompanied by a handsome 20-page booklet full of essential information. If only other record companies did the same.

(1) Better Git It In Your Soul; (2) Goodbye Pork Pie Hat; Boogie Stop Shuffle; Self-Portrait In Three Colours; Open Letter To Duke; (1) Bird Calls; Fables Of Faubus; Pussy Cat Dues; Jelly Roll; (3) Moanin’; (4) Original Faubus Fables (74.22)
Jimmy Knepper (tb); John Handy (as, ts, cl); Curtis Porter (as, ts); Booker Ervin (ts); Horace Parlan (p); Mingus (b); Dannie Richmond (d). NYC, 5 May 1959.
(2) as (1) Willie Dennis (tb) replaces Knepper. NYC, 12 May 1959.
(3) Knepper, Dennis (tb); Jackie McLean, Handy (as); Ervin (ts); Pepper Adams (bar); Parlan (p); Richmond (d). NYC, 4 February 1959.
(4) Ted Curson (t); Eric Dolphy (as, bcl, f); Mingus (b); Richmond (d). NYC, 20 October 1960.
20th Century Masterworks 170044