Mingus on DVD

I haven’t watched all seven of Naxos’ Jazz Icons discs—a DVD box-set of televised European concerts by great jazz musicians in the 1960s—but one of them, Charles Mingus: Live in ’64, is a must-have: two hours of music, videotaped in Belgium, Norway, and Sweden in April 1964, featuring one of Mingus’ most electrifying sextets, including Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan, Johnny Coles, Dannie Richmond, and Jaki Byard.

This is the same band that played a month earlier at Cornell University (captured on a CD released just this year on Blue Note), and they play much of the same music—“So Long, Eric,” “Meditations on Integration,” “Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk”—though, by the time of the European concert, they had the tunes down a lot tighter.

But the uniquely appealing thing about the DVD is that these guys look so irresistibly cool. The disc begins with the band’s bus pulling up outside a TV studio in Brussels. They get off, one at a time, decked out in dark shades, black shirts, some of them berets and goatees, and, man, if you didn’t live through the era when a jazz musician was the hippest creature imaginable, this clip gives you a delectable taste.

The coolness continues with the concert footage. Mingus is clearly having a great time, smiling at his band member’s solos—quite the contrast to the scowling and shouting on many of his sets. (He also seemed to be having a lot of fun on the Cornell CD, but it’s good to see the aural evidence confirmed.) The band members are cooking, and they know it. The interplay is seamless but free, all at once. The solos crackle, especially Dolphy (who would die just two months later, of undiagnosed diabetes), though he’s nearly matched by Clifford Jordan, who never sounded so adventurous before or since.

A lot of videotaped jazz concerts are, frankly, boring. The musicians just stand there; the sound isn’t as good as it is on record albums. Once you get over the thrill of seeing the legends you’ve only been hearing all these years, you feel like turning off the TV and going back to the stereo. But this one’s worth the watching. It’s what a video of this sort should be: it doesn’t just supplement, it also enhances, the music.

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COMMENTS
Barry Diament's picture

Thank you for the recommendation Fred.After reading your blog entry, I ordered the Mingus, Coltrane and Wes Mongomery discs. I'm enjoying all of them but the Mingus DVD is special indeed.What a great band! And everyone is in great form. Sometimes I think that "smoke" coming from Dannie Richmond in one of the scenes isn't his cigarette - his playing is so hot.Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Best regards,Barrywww.soundkeeperrecordings.comwww.barrydiamentaudio.com

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