Song of the Day: Charles Mingus, “Oh Lord Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me”

Charles Mingus Oh Yeah
Charles Mingus, Oh Yeah, Atlantic (1961)

Charles Mingus was my first jazz obsession.  For a kid that grew up more focused on The Beatles, Jazz seemed aloof to me – at first.  My brother had taken up Miles Davis and John Coltrane rather quickly, and I therefore had to be opposed in my formative years, as siblings do.

There is something so exciting and human about Mingus, he’s a cataclysmic character–one of my favorite stories involved his interactions with the famous film director John Cassavetes:

“John Cassavetes, another raging iconoclast, despised “cuteness” from his performing actors. Though he pretended to know a lot more about jazz than he actually did, he had the good sense to approach Charles Mingus to score his first feature, Shadows. Mingus said he’d do the score on one condition: that Cassavetes and his cohorts came to his apartment and cleaned up all the cat shit that was littering his piled-up scores. He did so, then was notified by Mingus that it was too clean in there now, that he was unable to think, that he had to wait for some cat shit to accumulate again before any progress could be made. (The score ended up arriving about two years late.) From this anecdote we can derive one thing about Mingus’ psyche: it is perennially untidy.”

Larger than life in many respects, his personality burned brightest on record.  There’s very few Mingus records where you can’t hear Mingus exhorting his bandmates in the background, shouting and growling. Mingus had idolized Charlie Parker and how, “sometimes, he could make the whole room feel like he did”. If there could be any defining mission of Mingus– that is probably it.

He played bass, and played it exceptionally well, but his skill was most manifest as an arranger. Nobody charted horns like Mingus and it was no small thing that his bands included the likes of horn luminaries Eric Dolphy and Roland Kirk. His ability to make order out of disorder is the quality that makes him so exciting to listen to, and makes his works sound so human.

It’s particularly hard to note any record as out of the ordinary for Mingus, because there hardly seemed to be an ordinary,  but Oh Yeah stands apart from the ’59 triumvirate of Blues & Roots, Mingus Ah Um, and Mingus Dynasty as well as later works like Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.  Mingus plays piano instead of bass, something he would revisit with Mingus Plays Piano and even sings on a couple tracks, “Oh Lord Don’t Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me” included.

Predating both the Cuban Missile Crisis and Doctor Strangelove, “Oh Lord” manages to foreshadow the humanism and absurdity of both, a ballad with wonderful piano flourishes and Mingus’s direct emotional appeals.

Further Information:

Sadly, the article from which that Cassavetes quote is sourced is no longer available online, but exists as an excerpt in a comment on a blog here. It was written for Stylus Magazine by Chris Smith.

The whole album is fantastic, though I find myself torn between “Oh Lord”, “Ecclusiastics”, and “Eat That Chicken”.

“Eat That Chicken” is probably Mingus at his most fun, it’s a touching tribute to Fats Waller, another great jazz musician who is responsible for one of my favorite songs ever

An Argument With Instruments: On Charles Mingus found in the October 7, 2013 issue of The Nation by Adam Shatz, is a great overview of Mingus’s character and relation to his jazz contemporaries.

“S’posin I should fall in love with you

Do you think that you could love me too?”

An unheralded classic from one of the greatest early jazz musicians. While Fats didn’t possess the voice that made Louis Armstrong so identifiable, Fats is quite a character and every bit Armstrong’s equal as a musician. 

S’posin- Fats Waller 

Getting To Know Billy Brooks

It’s very uncommon to find someone who actually knows Billy Brooks, ask people around, even musical people and they’ll probably respond with “Who?” This is nothing new in music, there have been countless talented musicians littered along the path to fame. Yet his impact on music should not be put to waste.

Billy Brooks had mostly gained notoriety as a sideman among fellow musicians, having played for the likes of Ray Charles and Tina Turner and also pioneering his own patented double barreled trumpet giving him a wide range of sounds that he could produce from the horn.

His album, Windows of the Mind would come out in 1974, boasting a jazz-funk groove that many before and after had tried in failed. The genre had seemed doomed to fail, jazz purists would cast off the funk influence as too simple, and those who liked funk didn’t like the jazz fusion involvement.  Somehow Billy Brooks manages to meld the best of both worlds.

Take “C.P. Time”  a slow burning jazz burner for the purists out there with some great horn and lead guitar work along with Brook’s fantastic trumpet improv.

There’s also “The Speech Maker” who’s soaring horn lines and moving rhythm beg for it to be cast in a soundtrack for an old school caper, or a Bond film.

Then there is the rollicking funk of Rockin’ Julius, with its pounding bass and foot-tapping rhythm.

Then of course, there is “40 Days” a song which was by far Billy Brooks lasting influence, a perfect jazz-funk meld that would later be sampled to perfection in A Tribe Called Quest’s Luck of Lucien, it’s a shame that ATCQ only brought attention to the song’s great groove, because the solos on here are sublime. I also made a remaster of this track to give it a more live sound, it’s up to you whether you dig the gritty 7o’s production or one that gives the horns some air to breath:

Original:

Remaster:

 

Overall, Billy Brooks proves to be a great arranger and this is a must have album for anybody who likes jazz or funk. All the downloadable tracks above, plus some bonus ones, including a fantastic remix of “40 Days” are all here  after the jump.

Continue reading Getting To Know Billy Brooks