×

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

  • Elsie Fisher and Bo Burnham2019 Writers

    Writers Guild Announces 2020 Awards Show Date

    The 72nd Annual Writers Guild Awards will take place in coinciding ceremonies in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton and the Edison Ballroom in New York on Feb. 1, the Writers Guild of America announced. The WGA will begin voting in November and will reveal this year’s TV nominees Dec. 5 and film Jan. 6. [...]

  • LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With

    Outfest Opens With Documentary About Gay Porn Shops Circus of Books

    Granted, the red carpet at the opening night of Outfest in DTLA may not have been the most star-studded but it was without a doubt the most diverse, inclusive and, yes, fabulous. “I’ve never been here before,” admitted “RuPaul’s Drag Race” vet Trixie Mattel, who stars in the documentary “Moving Parts.” “It’s supposed to be [...]

  • Alamo Drafthouse Opens New Downtown Los

    Alamo Drafthouse Storms into L.A. with New Location

    “Cinema is alive and well tonight!” Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League declared at the theatrical venue’s ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday night, where a gathering of 160 employees cheered and sliced into a strip of 35mm film in keeping with the company’s tradition. Despite dire predictions heralding the end of the theater-going experience, League was upbeat [...]

  • America Ferrera'Superstore' TV show photocall, Comic

    America Ferrera Blasts 'Send Her Back' Chant: 'Embarrassing and Shameful'

    America Ferrera has been a longtime political activist who has focused a large part of her work on immigrant rights. She’s now speaking out about the chant of “send her back” targeting Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar that was shouted at a President Donald Trump rally earlier this week. “It’s devastating and shocking and embarrassing and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content