Saturday, January 21, 2006

IAJE 2006 - 3

5 pm Friday January 13 at the Sheraton saw another important event that was to some extent strings-related. This was the “Keeping the Mingus Legacy Alive” discussion, with Gunther Schuller, Sue Mingus, Boris Kozlov and Andrew Homzy as panelists. Nat Hentoff, who was also to have taken part, was unfortunately indisposed. Sy Johnson, whose scoring of the formidable "Let My Children Hear Music" (a scoring commissioned by the composer) is one of the best-known of all Mingus arrangements, was present in the audience but did not take part in the panel, except to offer a few comments in conversation with Boris Kozlov.

The centrepiece of the discussion was an extended tribute to Mingus by Gunther Schuller, who talked about his friendship with the composer and virtuoso bassist. Schuller stressed that Charles Mingus was a real composer, an American composer of the same calibre and quality as contemporaries like Aaron Copland, Roy Harris and Milton Babbitt. Professor Schuller devoted particular time and attention to a consideration of Mingus’s extended orchestral compositions, in particular “Revelations” and “Epitaph” – the latter a work some 4000 measures long, requiring two hours to perform. It was given its first performance in 1989, with Gunther Schuller conducting, ten years after Mingus’s death. Schuller noted that this composition contains atonal works where multiple voices improvise together, and he suggested that it holds important pointers and signposts for the future. Remarking that the convention of jazz soloing has now become so widespread that the textures, subtleties, and historical content of jazz ensemble playing are being neglected, he asserted that multiple-voice improvisation of the kind that Mingus developed in his orchestral scores – Schuller called it “instant composing” – is the direction in which jazz needs to go now, if it is not to lose touch with its roots.

Andrew Homzy talked with Sue Mingus about the preparation and publication of his new “Simply Mingus” series for jazz ensemble, which is being published by the Hal Leonard company. Initially three Mingus charts – "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," "Boogie Stop Shuffle," and "Fables of Faubus” – are being made available in these new arrangements, which to some extent simplify and modify the considerable technical demands of the original scores, thus rendering them accessible to a wider range of ensemble groups. Andrew Homzy has also broken with the “static” big band scoring of the “5,4,4,4” type that’s become routine in contemporary arranging and music publishing, and has varied the disposition of the instruments to make the scores more flexible, so that everyone has a chance to join in. Though Andrew said he had received some criticism for these and other modifications, Sue Mingus was supportive of the new arrangements, and implied that they have her full approval. She characterized the new series as a worthy addition to the already-published “Charles Mingus: More Than a Play-Along” and “Charles Mingus: More Than A Fake Book”. It seems that there will also eventually be an edition of the "Simply Mingus" series arranged for jazz quintet.

See also in this blog:

IAJE 2006 - 1
IAJE 2006 - 2
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