Jazz Immersions: Mingus & Dolphy Ensemble
Eric Hofbauer, Director
Roy Lewis, trumpet | Zishi Liu, soprano and tenor sax | Eric Schindler, alto sax | Temidayo Balogun, tenor sax | Eric Klaxton, alto clarinet and tenor sax | Keenan Ruffin, guitar and electronics | Sam Smith, bass | Gen Yoshimura, drums and cymbals
Bassist and composer Charles Mingus and multi-reed virtuoso Eric Dolphy both grew up in the Los Angeles area. Although they knew each other while developing musicians on the L.A scene, is wasn’t until later (1960-1964 in particular) that their friendship was forged in the fires of Mingus’ most radical compositions. Case in point, the 1960 Debut Records version of “the Original Fables of Faubus”, a damningly satirical musical response to Governor Orval Faubus’ overtly racist response to the Little Rock Nine’s efforts to challenge segregation in Little Rock public schools. The nature of the song’s “lyrics” and shifting dissonances and tempos got it banned by American jazz radio stations! Jazz activism aside, it was the foundations of Mingus’ compositions that both tied his music to the deep tradition of jazz but also jettisoned his ensemble, including Dolphy, to the outer edges of the avant guarde. That foundation was the Blues. Both Mingus and Dolphy (together and apart) use the blues form, blues articulation, and blues swagger as launch pads for some of the most outgoing “free” music of the era. This included metric modulations, tempo and meter shifts, collective improv, form deconstruction, non-tonal playing, gestural and extended techniques.
The Jazz Immersions: Mingus and Dolphy ensemble have spent the semester exploring this 1960-1964 period of works by both artists, that are interconnected in various ways by the common denominator of the blue spirit. Red Planet (a Dolphy 12-tone row) segues into G.W. providing our first arrival in the concert of the blues form (albeit dramatically reharmonized). I X Love (Mingus’ nod to one of his major influences, Duke Ellington) and Orange was the Color of Her Dress both use blue imagery and outline, even as the forms and shifting tempos subvert any blues clichés. Out to Lunch and Hat and Beard (both originals by Dolphy from his now iconic 1964 Out to Lunch release) seem to dispense with harmonic structure altogether and lean on blues attitude (phrasing, energy, sonic textures, call and response) to shape direction in performance. Finally the concert concludes with the very rarely performed Meditations by Charlies Mingus. Perhaps the most complicated of his oeuvre, it was often entitled Meditations on Integration, and the music certainly examines that closely. Unexpected instrument pairings, dramatically unsettling tempo shifts, jagged dissonances, driving poly-time figures all create a narrative of navigating inequality in American society. At the underlying root of this exploration is blues harmony, blues solo forms and strong back beat swing…a fitting musical space for a narrative on the successes and failures of the American experiment. These pieces still have life in them to reflect our current times; the messages and spirit strongly speak through the reimagined arrangements created by the ensemble director, Eric Hofbauer and the ensemble members. Just seven days shy of Mingus’ centennial, this concert is part celebration, part honoring of the past and part wake up call for the now!