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Pithecanthropus Erectus
Charles Mingus
Pithecanthropus Erectus

Atlantic Records

1. Pithecanthropus Erectus (10:33)
(Charles Mingus)
Jazz Workshop, Inc., BMI

2. A Foggy Day (7:47)
(George Gershwin & Ira Gershwin)
Gershwin Publishing Corp.,  ASCAP

3. Profile Of Jackie (3:07)
(Charles Mingus)
Jazz Workshop, Inc., BMI

4. Love Chant (14:56)
(Charles Mingus)
Jazz Workshop, Inc., BMI


The Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop

Charles Mingus – Bass
Jackie McLean – Alto Sax
J.R. Monterose – Tenor Sax
Mal Waldron – Piano
Willie Jones – Drums

Produced by Nesuhi Ertegun

Recorded on January 30, 1956, at Audio-Video Studios, New York, N.Y.
Recording Engineers: Tom Dowd and Hal Lustig
Original Monaural Recordings

Cover photo: David Spitzer
Hand Coloring: Curtice Taylor
Art Direction and Design: Bob Defrin
CD Mastering: Stephen Innocenzi, Atlantic Studios

Jackie McLean appeared by arrangement with Prestige Records.

I remember the stisfaction in Mingus's voice when he read me, on the phone back then, that section of his notes below dealing with this album's title composition. He had taken a rather huge theme, on which he had been brooding extramusically for a long time, and had not only transformed it into music but had also brought his colleagues into a sharing of his bold, grim vision. As Mingus explains in his notes, he could not have done that by simply setting score paper in front of his musicians. They had to "learn" it by hearing it from Mingus and then finding their own routes, within his design, to understanding the rise and fall of Pitheconthropus Erectus.

On the other tracks here, and in all of Mingus's collective discoveries that were to come, his musicians were similarly compelled to dig into themselves. As one Mingus alumnus told me recently, "He would yell at you in the middle of a solo: 'Stop playing licks and get into yourself!' Christ, he had more confidence in what we were capable of than we did."

Here, for instance, you can hear the stretching of Jackie McLean, J. R. Monterose, Mal Waldron, and Willie Jones. And of Mingus himself, of course. In its joy and rage and remembrance of loves post, in its celebration of the life force – Mingus's was serious music. To paraphrase the English writer on jazz, Valerie Wilmer, it was as serious as his life. As Mingus himself said: "In my music, I'm trying to play the truth of what I am. The reason it's difficult is because I'm changing all the time."

Yet, certain themes, certain preoccupations, concerned – and sometimes consumed – Mingus all his life. He often spoke, for instance, of Pithecanthropus Erectus because he often thought of the future of the species. At times he felt, and his music reflected this, that we might yet learn – before it's too late to learn any thing how shatteringly destructive the false security of the enslaver can be.

On the other hand, there was an afternoon toward the end of his life, when we were speaking about the racism he had fought all his years. "It's not only a question of color anymore," Mingus said. “It's getting deeper than that. I mean it's getting more and more difficult for a man and a woman to just love. People are getting fragmented, and part of that is that fewer and fewer people are making a real effort anymore to find out exactly who they are and to build on that knowledge. Most people are forced to do things they don’t want to most of the time, and so they get to the point where they feel they no longer have any choice about anything important including who they are. We create our own slavery."

The continuing powerful presence of Mingus's music is valuable in many ways, but perhaps no more vitally than in its illumination, as in this album, of this one man's unbendingly free spirit.



Below are the program notes from the first (1956) LP release of this album on Atlantic 1237.

The Jazz Workshop recorded in this album is actually an outgrowth of an idea conceived some 14 years ago while I was attending Los Angeles City College. At that time the workshop was a classical one – musicians getting together to trade ideas, try new works, inspire each other. When I came to New York in 1951 it seemed to me that this closeness of working, playing and progressing together, especially spontaneously, was lacking in jazz. In the summer of 1953 I had the privilege of running a series of “Jazz Workshop" concerts at the Putnam Central Club in Brooklyn which enabled various jazz musicians to get together to play new compositions written by themselves and other young composers. One such concert featured four trombonists and was the beginning of the outstanding “Jay & Kai" combination.

Because of the musical success of this Workshop, another idea was conceived and made a reality, in collaboration with Bill Coss of Metronome, Teddy Charles, John LaPorta and Teo Macero, and was known as the "Composer's Workshop." Although musically successful in many ways, it was my own opinion in retrospect that the idea, like the name, was not ideal because both left out “jazz." A lot of good music was written and performed, but was much more planned than improvised instrumentally. I recall to mind an incident at a rehearsal where Teddy had left several bars open for blowing and we were all on him with "Man, are you lazy? Write it Out."

I found out two important things from this series of concerts. First, that a jazz composition as I hear it in my mind's ear, although set down in so many notes on score paper and precisely notated, cannot be played by a group of either jazz or classical musicians. Secondly, jazz, by its very definition, cannot be held down to written parts to be played with a feeling that goes only with blowing free. A classical musician might read all the notes correctly but play them without the correct feeling or interpretation, and a jazz musician, although he might read all the notes and play them with jazz feeling, inevitably introduces his own individual expression rather than what the composer intended. It is amazing how many ways a four-bar phrase of four beats per measure can be interpreted!

My whole conception with my present Jazz Workshop group deals with nothing written. I “write" compositions – but only on mental score paper – then I lay out the composition part by part to the musicians. I play them the "framework" on piano so that they are all familiar with my interpretation and feeling and with the scale and chord progressions to be used. Each man's own particular style is taken into consideration, both in ensemble and in solos. For instance, they are given different rows of notes to use against each chord but they choose their own notes and play them in their own style, from scales as well as chords, except where a particular mood is indicated. In this way, I find it possible to keep my own compositional flavor in the pieces and yet to allow the musicians more individual freedom in the creation of their group lines and solos.

I have often been accused of being “way out''' compositionally. True or false, my ideas have not changed – only my method of producing them. In this particular group it is something of an asset to have musicians like J. R. and Jackie whose styles of playing (J. R. from the Rollins school, and Jackie from the Bird school) are already familiar to listeners. I could tell you, by why of explanation, that I have superimposed scales within chords and replaced bars with “cues," but their familiar lines played on my perhaps heretofore unfamiliar framework should serve to “explain" my ideas in extended form better than I can.

PITHECANTHROPUS ERECTUS. This composition is actually a jazz tone poem because it depicts musically my conception of the modern counterpart of the first man to stand erect – how proud he was, considering himself the “first" to ascend from all fours, pounding his chest and preaching his superiority over the animals still in a prone position. Overcome with self-esteem, he goes out to rule the world, if not the universe, but both his own failure to realize the inevitable emanicipation of those he sought to enslave, and his greed in attempting to stand on a false security, deny him not only the right of ever being a man, but finally destroy him completely. Basically the composition can be divided into four movements: (1) evolution, (2) superiority-complex, (3) decline, and (4) destruction.

The first three movements are played in an ABAC form by the group, the alto and tenor together describing the second movement; then each soloist repeats this form, telling the story in his own way. After the alto solo, the group again plays the original form, except that the third movement now develops into what I have called the fourth movement. The last movement is based on the third, but increases in tempo and intensity and reaches a definite climax, indicating the final destruction in the manner that a dying organism has one last frantic burst of motion before gasping its last breath. This piece was chosen as the title of the album because of the width of musical visibility and imagination contained in the thematic material.

A FOGGY DAY. This is actually subtitled “A Foggy Day in San Francisco" because I've never been to London and have collected these sounds from the Bay Area. You might be tempted to laugh on first hearing – and a good, healthy laugh never hurt anyone – but on second hearing, try to imagine the tenor playing the melody as John Doe walking down Market Street to the Ferry Building, hearing the sounds of a big city on a foggy day the rumble of truck, clang of cable car, scuffle of crowd, jumble of traffic, moan of foghorn, cop's whistle, car horn, the drunk left over from the night before who just dropped his last quarter, and that damned twelve o'clock whistle that used to wake me up! All these sounds make much music. I have tried to reproduce some of them musically, and if you can see these pictures as you listen to the track even to the ferry boat, amid the guiding foghorns, creaking to a stop at the docks (as reproduced by the bass) – then I have succeeded.

PROFILE OF JACKIE. This needs little explanation as it is a ballad from a series of musical paintings I have done of various people.

LOVE CHANT. This is an extended form version on a more or less standard set of chord changes. This form challenges the musician to create a line of longheld notes for the first chorus, to develop it on one or two chords (or rhythm patterns, scales, etc.) and then redevelop the line on the out chorus. This is done using only one or two chords at a time so the lines must be developed for a much longer period of time than is usually taken before the chord change. Eighth notes and quarter notes become half notes and whole notes tied to whole notes, etc. The whole success of extended form depends on the ability of the musicians to do this in soloing and also in playing counter or accompanying lines. For instance, against the chords of C minor 9th and F 7th, J. R. uses only one note for his opening six bars and, with only two momentary half-step variations, uses this one note for his entire first sixteen bars.

As previously explained, this form allows for unlimited freedom in blowing except for maintaining the mood indicated. I say "indicated" because extended form versions are never played the same twice – the mood as well as the length of line on each chord depends on the musician playing. The mood is set by him, and the chord, in this particular composition, is changed only on piano cue by Mal when he feels the development requires it. The solo sections are based on a set of near-familiar chords, except for the bridge which modulates to the leading tone of the tonic in a minor key – then back to the original chord structure for the last eight “extended bars."


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