The Clown – The Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop – Atlantic 1260 (1957)/ Warner Bros./ Speakers Corner

This is a lovely remastering of one of Mingus’ best albums – his 1957 mono release.

The Clown – The Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop – Atlantic 1260 (1957)/ Warner Bros./ Speakers Corner – mono vinyl [11/4/6] *****:

(Charles Mingus, doublebass/ Curtis Porter, alto & tenor sax/ Jimmy Kneeper, trombone/ Wade Legge, piano/Donnie Richmond, drums)

These four tracks were all composed and performed by the amazing bassist Mingus, and have been reissued on various poor discs (some with terrible cover art), so it is wonderful to finally have this Mingus masterpiece in a really good version that preserves everything that happened in that studio in March of 1957.  The original packaging includes detailed notes on the back by Nat Hentoff. He spends a lot time on the volatile personality of Mingus.  Mingus said, “Just because I’m playing jazz, I don’t forget about me…My music is alive and it’s about the living and the dead, about good and evil. It’s angry, yet it’s real because it knows it’s angry.”

The folk spirit of “Haitian Fight Song” open the first side. It also has a bit of the old black church in it. “Blue Cee” is a standard blues which Mingus feels has some Basie and church-like feelings in it.  “Reincarnation of a Lovebird” on the second side recalls Mingus’ relationship with Charlie Parker, which was also volatile. It has a mournful sort of mood.

The last track, “The Clown,”  (at 12 1/2 minutes) features the narration of the great monologist Jean Shepard. Mingus says he was playing a little tune on the piano that sounded happy. Then he hit a dissonance, and decided the piece had to have two parts. He told the story of the clown to Jean Shepard, about a character who tried to please people like most jazz musicians, but nobody liked him until he was dead. Every time the group performed it live, Shepard improvised and changed the story, just like a jazz improvisor.  He even created an ending which leaves it up to the listener rather than explaining that the clown killed himself.

This was recorded by Tom Dowd and Larry Hiller and supervised by Nesuhi Ertegun.  It is undoubtedly one of the great Mingus sessions, with excellent fidelity of all five instruments, and probably a must-have for all jazz collectors.

—John Henry

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