Charles Mingus at Carnegie Hall: 90th Birthday Salute
In honor of the 90th birthday earlier this year of bassist, composer, and bandleader Charles Mingus (1922–1979)—and on the 35th anniversary of his final appearance at the Hall on June 28, 1977—we're taking the opportunity to look back at this legendary musician's Carnegie Hall performances.
Charles Mingus made the first of his 11 Carnegie Hall appearances on April 2, 1955, as part of a memorial concert for saxophonist Charlie Parker, who had died three weeks earlier at age 34. Besides Mingus, some 40 musicians, ranging from trumpeter Henry "Red" Allen to saxophonist Lester Young, turned out to pay homage to Parker, one of the most important and influential figures in the history of jazz.
Program pages from the "Memorial Concert for Charlie "Bird" Parker" on April 2, 1955, during which Charles Mingus made his Carnegie Hall debut. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
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Mingus's next several Carnegie Hall performances were similar all-star events: a salute to Sammy Davis Jr. in 1956; a memorial tribute to Billie Holiday in 1962; and a benefit for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1963. Jet magazine called that event "a smashing success." His first headline appearance didn't take place until 1973, when his quintet was augmented by trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, his collaborator from the famous Massey Hall concert in Toronto 20 years earlier (which had also featured Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach).
Program insert from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee benefit on February 1, 1963, which featured Charles Mingus. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
Although he had appeared at Carnegie Hall very infrequently since 1955, Mingus made up for lost time with a string of performances between 1973 and 1977. One notable appearance, with his Jazz Workshop ensemble on January 19, 1974, was recorded by Atlantic Records, but only two tracks—"C Jam Blues" and "Perdido"—were released, and most of the concert remains unissued.
Some of the reviewers of the early- to mid-1970s concerts felt that those performances lacked the sustained burning intensity displayed by his landmark Jazz Workshop bands of the late 1950s and '60s. But his Newport Jazz Festival appearance with his sextet and the Azucena y Edo Flamenco Dance Group at the Hall on June 26, 1976, prompted Robert Palmer of The New York Times to remark that having "worked the audience into a near frenzy ... the night belonged to Mr. Mingus, and it was one of the outstanding triumphs of his career."