×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Epitaph by Charles Mingus

"Epitaph" is one of jazz's greatest indulgences, a wildly diverse, multi-part, partly-open-ended suite for double big band that its creator Charles Mingus once called a symphony. It's rarely done -- and even Mingus never heard it done in its entirety, whatever that may be.

With:
Band: Sam Burtis, Ku-umba Frank Lacy, Andre Hayward, Conrad Herwig, Earl McIntyre, Dave Taylor, Ryan Kisor, Walter White, Jack Walrath, Dave Ballou, Alex Sipiagin, Kenny Rampton, Craig Handy, Steve Slagle, Abraham Burton, Kathy Halvorson, Wayne Escoffery, Ronnie Cuber, Lauren Sevian,  Michael Rabinowitz, Douglas Yates, Howard Johnson, Kenny Drew, Jr., George Colligan, Boris Kozlov, Christian McBride, Johnathan Blake, Joe Locke, Jack Wilkins, Mark Belair, David Nyberg. Conducted by Gunther Schuller.

“Epitaph” is one of jazz’s greatest indulgences, a wildly diverse, multi-part, partly-open-ended suite for double big band that its creator Charles Mingus once called a symphony. It’s rarely done — and even Mingus never heard it done in its entirety, whatever that may be. “Epitaph’s” reconstructor and champion Gunther Schuller brought it to the Walt Disney Concert Hall Wednesday night, promising to roll out some additional movements that had been unearthed since its belated 1989 premiere. Alas, for some reason — most likely time constraints — very little of the “new” material actually got played. So what remained was “Epitaph” as it pretty much stood in 1989, and that was enough to get a handle on this huge, at-times visionary work.

Mingus had been assembling this sprawling organism since his teens, spinning off some of its components now and then as separate pieces for his various bands. After a 1962 fiasco of a premiere of parts of “Epitaph” in New York’s Town Hall, Mingus washed his hands of the project, which wasn’t heard of again until Schuller performed it and recorded it for Columbia a decade after Mingus’s death.

The piece will always be a problem child, since by definition there is no definitive edition. The manuscript contained missing endings, indecipherable paste-overs, portions that Schuller had to use conjecture to complete. It’s hard to figure out where the “new” material would fit in – and in any case, all we heard was “Intuition,” which was “superimposed” on top of the existing “Moods In Mambo,” and a gorgeously effusive homage to Duke Ellington, “This Subdues My Passion.”

Yet “Epitaph” turns out to be a perfect title since it defines Mingus as an original synthesis of the past, present and future of music — reaching out to the radical avant-garde with wandering dissonances worthy of Charles Ives; looking back to gospel, Jelly Roll Morton, Vernon Duke, bebop, Mingus’s own greatest hits (“Better Get It In Your Soul”), and above all, Ellington. The screaming sonorities in the brass recall Stan Kenton and hardly anyone else in jazz, and Mingus took Ellington’s use of plunger-mutes to new vistas of wild expression. There are solo opportunities for strangers to jazz like the oboe and bassoon (the latter wielded brilliantly by Michael Rabinowitz in “Wolverine Blues”).

Ultimately “Epitaph” is not Mingus’s true long-form masterpiece — “The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady” is — and it could use some pruning, for some sections just ramble on morosely. But Schuller, now 81, tirelessly kept this hard-working, elephantine 31-piece big band rolling, while providing a running professorial commentary from the podium. Hopefully Schuller’s way will be just one of many solutions for Mingus’ massive tombstone of a work.

Epitaph by Charles Mingus

Walt Disney Concert Hall, 2,265 seats, $93 top

Production: Presented by Los Angeles Philharmonic, Let My Children Hear Music/The Charles Mingus Institute and Sue Mingus. Reviewed May 16, 2007.

Cast: Band: Sam Burtis, Ku-umba Frank Lacy, Andre Hayward, Conrad Herwig, Earl McIntyre, Dave Taylor, Ryan Kisor, Walter White, Jack Walrath, Dave Ballou, Alex Sipiagin, Kenny Rampton, Craig Handy, Steve Slagle, Abraham Burton, Kathy Halvorson, Wayne Escoffery, Ronnie Cuber, Lauren Sevian,  Michael Rabinowitz, Douglas Yates, Howard Johnson, Kenny Drew, Jr., George Colligan, Boris Kozlov, Christian McBride, Johnathan Blake, Joe Locke, Jack Wilkins, Mark Belair, David Nyberg. Conducted by Gunther Schuller.

More Scene

  • Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow'Hillary and Clinton'

    Why John Lithgow Worried About Starring in Broadway's 'Hillary and Clinton'

    When Lucas Hnath first conceived of “Hillary and Clinton” in 2008, he was writing for and about a very different America. Now, a total reimagining of the show has made its way to Broadway with Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the titular roles. At the opening on Thursday night, the cast and creatives talked [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Took 12 Years to Get to Broadway, but It's More Relevant Than Ever

    When “Hadestown” was first staged as a tiny, DIY theater project in Vermont, those involved could never have predicted that it was the start of a 12-year journey to Broadway — or how painfully relevant it would be when it arrived. At Wednesday night’s opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre, the cast and creatives discussed [...]

  • Mick Jagger

    Mick Jagger Makes First Post-Surgery Appearance at Rolling Stones Ballet Premiere

    Rock legend Mick Jagger made his first public appearance post-heart surgery on Thursday night to catch a glimpse of the world premiere of the Rolling Stones ballet “Porte Rouge.” “I hope you are going to enjoy this wonderful new ballet, and, of course, the music,” the frontman declared in a pre-recorded message to the audience [...]

  • Adam Driver appears at the curtain

    Adam Driver on Starring in 'Burn This' for a Second Time

    The Hudson Theatre’s new production of “Burn This” marks its first Broadway revival since it premiered on the Great White Way in 1987, but Adam Driver is no stranger to the work. He starred as Pale in a Juilliard production of the Lanford Wilson drama when he was still a student — and only now, [...]

  • PMC Event Rome

    Film, Fashion, Formula E Mix at Rome E-Prix Bash

    Film, fashion and Formula E auto-racing fused during a dinner and celebration of the Rome E-Prix on Thursday at the Palazzo Dama by the Piazza del Popolo in the heart of the Eternal City.  Guests mingled and sipped cocktails as hors d’oeuvres were passed around in a former home of the Italian nobility with conversation [...]

  • Katy Perry, Diane von Furstenberg, Arianna

    Katy Perry and Anita Hill Honored at the DVF Awards

    Katy Perry was among the honorees at the 10th Annual DVF Awards on Thursday night. The singer was recognized for her advocacy work with both UNICEF and the LGBTQ community. “Music has opened the doors for so many opportunities for me,” she said while accepting the inspiration award. “The ability to meet people and champion [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content