Monday, May 11, 2009

Reflecting on My Roots: Mingus in 1975

Exploring the seemingly infinite variations of American roots music can lead to self reflection about early involvement and exposure to our musical traditions. Some of my most vivid memories are of my university years when some friends and I secured control of the University of Missouri's Blues, Jazz and Folk Committee in 1974. We had been researching roots music assiduously by doing radio shows at KOPN in Columbia, which at the time was (and still is) an incredibly progressive community station with an amazing record collection with almost unlimited roots material to explore. When we assumed leadership of the committee we had very distinct ideas about the kind of jazz we wanted to bring to the university, and we were not inclined to be swayed by the fusion jazz rave sweeping the U.S. at the time. Our interests ran toward bop jazz and post bop players, some of whom were still touring the college circuits in 1974. Miraculously, one of the committee members locked in the Charles Mingus Quartet for a ridiculously low price, and the legendary bass player would appear at Jesse Auditorium in early 1975. So while the campus was beginning to groove to Disco, we awaited a veritable jazz legend whose roots stretched back to early association with Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton.

Being in charge of the committee had its advantages; we were able to dine and converse with the musicians before the show. Meeting Dannie Richmond, Don Pullen and George Adams and buying Mingus his pre-concert ice cream are priceless memories. But the show itself was beyond belief; I don't think the University of Missouri had ever seen this kind of jazz performed on its premises before this. A very good representation of what we saw that night is this performance in Montreal in 1975 by essentially the same group. (add Gerry Mulligan on baritone) Also, a performance at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Todi, Italy here (add Hamiet Bluiett on Baritone) in 1974 captures the same feel, where tenor master Adams is out front early and is searing in his solo. Both Don Pullen and George Adams passed away way too soon, in their early fifties. But both were just unbelievable players and continued playing together after Mingus passed away in 1979. A great example is this live video of Pullen and Adams together in a quartet in 1979, featuring Adam's great R&B vocals and his unique blues based outside style on tenor, which blew us out of Jesse Auditorium in 1975. If anyone remembers attending the show in Missouri in 1975, please weigh in with your memories.


  1. Wow, phenomenal story!

    I relate to this, I am a big fan of Don Pullen & Charles Mingus.
    Great performance clip, thanks!

    I was a radio host in college, a few years after you, and I played a lot of material like this.

    Never did get to see Don or George live,though.

    'Must have been amazing!

  2. Both Pullen and Adams were unbelievable. It was really a privilege not only to hear them perform live, but also to have them over for dinner, wine and.... conversation. Danny Richmond was also an incredible guest. All three really got a huge kick out of our diverse record collection, and they absolutely loved listening to Muddy Waters and Son House and all the jazz records we had at the time. It's really sad that both Don and George passed away far too soon, in the early nineties. Mingus was much more reserved, but they say that was always his disposition.

    As I look back on the experience, we really pulled off a coup of sorts, we got the Quintet(don't remember who played trumpet)for an absurdly low price but any price would have been worth it. And while some on the committee cried that we didn't decide on Weather Report, in retrospect I think they would have to agree we all saw a legend that was only to be with us a four more years.

    Many thanks for stopping by, I have more of these stories coming from those wonderful college years. My best,