Ah Um JAzz

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

IWAS ZERO when Min­gus Ah Um, Charles Min­gus’s land­mark al­bum, was recorded. Min­gus recorded that al­bum in New York over two days in May 1959, on the 5th and 12th (I hit the world four days later; just say­ing!). I was in­tro­duced to jazz late in the day. At home when we were lit­tle, my fa­ther would play western clas­si­cal mu­sic records and very oc­ca­sion­ally a lit­tle bit of jazz. I re­mem­ber the cover of an al­bum he had and liked to play some­times – Ella and Louis that is a dif­fi­cult choice to make. Min­gus’s ca­reer spanned more than 30 years till he died in 1979. And the num­ber of records he made as band­leader, side­man or col­lab­o­ra­tor is huge. I’ve not had the chance to lis­ten to all of them and prob­a­bly will not be able to, but I’m yet to hear a Min­gus al­bum that is not ex­cel­lent. On Min­gus Ah Um, you can hear all of the unique roots that Min­gus put into his pot to stir up and brew his brand of jazz – gospel, blues, clas­si­cal mu­sic and more. When­ever I put on the al­bum and the first tune, Bet­ter Git It In Your Soul be­gins with his bass notes I sit up straight and get trans­fixed. That hap­pened again when I picked out Min­gus Ah Um once again last week. For the al­bum, Min­gus, who was a dif­fi­cult and tem­per­a­men­tal man to work with, had gath­ered a star cast: Ho­race Par­lan on pi­ano, Wil­lie Den­nis trom­bone, Shafi Hadi, Booker Evan and John Handy on sax­o­phones, Dan­nie Rich­mond on drums, and Jimmy Knep­per on trom­bone.

It wasn’t very much after the re­lease of Min­gus Ah Um that Knep­per, an ac­com­plished trom­bon­ist and a friend of Min­gus with whom he’d also co-ar­ranged mu­sic, got a taste of Min­gus’s leg­endary vi­o­lent mood swings. The two were prac­tic­ing in the bassist’s house when Min­gus, in an an­gry out­burst of vi­o­lence, punched Knep­per in the face. This was the sec­ond time Knep­per got punched by Min­gus. The first was once dur­ing a per­for­mance on­stage. This time it was worse.

is the French word used to de­scribe the way the fa­cial mus­cles, lips and the mouth are used by mu­si­cians to play wind in­stru­ments, such as the trom­bone Knep­per played. That blow from Min­gus, a big man, dam­aged his em­bouchure and af­fected the way he could play for a cou­ple of years. Sev­eral mu­si­cians were vic­tims of Min­gus’s rage, some­times be­ing sum­mar­ily sacked or pub­licly re­buked. Yet the man’s sheer ge­nius and cre­ativ­ity prob­a­bly atones for all of that. On Min­gus Ah Um, I par­tic­u­larly like Good­bye Pork Pie Hat, a trib­ute to Lester Young, a great sax­o­phon­ist who’d died just be­fore the record­ing of the al­bum. And also Jelly Roll, which namechecks Jelly Roll Morton, an early jazz pi­anist.

When I said I picked out Min­gus Ah Um again last week I was cheat­ing. In fact, I got a cue from an un­likely quar­ter: to be pre­cise, from Jehny Beth (whose orig­i­nal French name is Camille Berthomier). Beth is lead singer of Lon­don-based noise-rock band Sav­ages (if you haven’t heard them, you must!) and does a show on Beats1 Ra­dio called Mak­ing Sense with Jehny Beth. On a re­cent episode, she sur­prised me by play­ing three jazz tunes in suc­ces­sion: Th­elo­nius Monk’s I Sur­ren­der, Dear, Min­gus’s Ti­juana Gift Shop, and a Chet Baker song. That’s how I turned to re-lis­ten, for the umpteenth time, to Min­gus Ah Um. Ah, um. How pleas­ing that can be!

Just a lit­tle co­in­ci­dence about be­fore I wind down: Chet Baker, jazz trum­peter and singer with a soft and gen­tle voice (I’m lis­ten­ing to Chet Baker Live in Italy while I write this), had a ca­reer-long strug­gle with drugs and once got beaten up in Cal­i­for­nia after a gig when he was try­ing to buy drugs. That de­stroyed his

so badly that he had to get fixed with den­tures to get back to play­ing. Baker died at 58 in 1988 in Am­s­ter­dam where his body was found below his ho­tel room win­dow. Ap­par­ently, it was drug-re­lated. Sad.

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Re­vis­it­ing a ge­nius and a very dif­fi­cult man

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