VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Goodbye Porkpie Hat Mixtape”
I’ve loved “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” for a long time. I remember listening to it many, many times back in the early sixties. I was still in high school and Mingus’ great 1959 Columbia album, Mingus Ah Um, was then and remains to this day critical to my appreciation of music. The small band arrangements and compositions were incredibly inspirational to me as a budding writer. Mingus demonstrated what huge accomplishments one could achieve using a small group. I wanted to write with that elegance. One day recently the melody came to the forefront of my consciousness and I decided to gather up a handful of interpretations to share on BoL. Once I began looking I was shocked to find that, outside of Ellington, “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” has been covered more times by a wider variety of musicians than nearly any other hardcore jazz composition. As I began putting the mixtape together I ended up with many, many, way too many good versions. Forced to cut, I started cussing ‘cause there were some strong versions left out. I wasn’t stretching to get to a dozen; the exact opposite was actually the case: I was cutting to get down to twelve. Charles Mingus has well over 200 completed compositions—not riffs, or fragments, or a chorus and hook. No, I mean fully developed compositions. (Note to self: brer, you can’t keep putting off sharing classic Charlie Mingus, e.g. The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady; Tiajuana Moods; The Great Jazz Concert—with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach and Mingus; Meditations For A Pair Of Wire Cutters; Mingus Plays Piano. Dig, I’ve got to get on the case.) Consider this both an apology for my triflingness in putting off sharing Mingus as well as a down payment on my musical debt. Here is a full concert of a wide range of artists interpreting the signature composition that Charles Mingus wrote in memory of Lester Young. The vocal versions mostly use the Annie Ross lyrics although a couple take up the more politically forward Joni Mitchell lyrics. Joni’s version talks about interracial relationships. The formats range from solo and duo to big band, from straight ballad to a post-Trane vamp. This mixtape really could have fit into any one of our three categories: classic, contemporary, cover. While I know everyone is not into jazz as deeply as I am, I humbly request that even if the only jazz record you’ve ever heard is snippets of Kind Of Blue in a Clint Eastwood movie, please don’t skip over this beautiful music. Please take a moment. Sit down. And listen. As I used to say when signing off my radio programs in the two decades preceding Katrina: The music. The music is medicinal. Good for you. Will help you keep your spirits together and in these days and times we sure enough needs that. Peace. —Kalamu ya Salaam Goodbye Porkpie Hat Mixtape Playlist 01 Jeanne Lee & Mal Waldron - After Hours I’m embarrassingly in awe of Jeanne Lee’s vocal work; the purity of her voice, the inventiveness of her improvisations, the courage she had to confront conformity and wave the flag of self-determination. Pianist Mal Waldron, who was Billie Holiday’s last regular accompanist, is an absolute genius of what I call heavy minimalism. 02 Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um Mingus wrote the hell out of this composition. Mingus was mainly a bass player, sometimes a pianist, but this tribute to one of the giants of the saxophone works on whatever instrument you use. Really, really works. John Handy is the featured saxophonist. 03 Silvia Droste - Audiophile Voicings This version is from German vocalist Silvia Droste’s debut recording Audiophile Voicings (1987). She studied English and Romance languages and literature in college and is a self taught musician who plays the saxophone in addition to singing. 04 Mingus Big Band - Blues & Politics This is a legacy band dedicated to performing the compositions of Charles Mingus. The featured saxophonist is Seamus Blake. 05 Rahsaan Roland Kirk - Return Of The 5000Lb Man This one man woodwind section was a member of the Mingus band. 06 John Etheridge - I Didn't Know London born, British guitarist John Etheridge is both a musical genius and a musical maverick, not only comfortable playing in any style but also excelling whether he’s playing forties swing, fifties bop, sixties hard bop, seventies fusion and so forth. There is no other musician on this selection, he’s playing all the sounds with his two hands. 07 Jerry Gonzalez - Music For Big Band Trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez is a one-man musical translation service: give him some notes and he’ll turn them into a wild and wonderful Latin-styled performance. 08 Joni Mitchell - Shadows and Light Ms. Mitchell’s lyrics are killing—and I mean that as a high, high compliment. We’ve praised Joni Mitchell before and undoubtedly will do so again in the future. 09 Mark Murphy - Bop For Miles One of the best jazz vocalists on the planet. Period. End of discussion. 10 City Light Orchestra - Raised Spirits 25th This is a Kansas City outfit led by vocalist and drummer David Basse and featuring the deep tenor saxophone of veteran musician Alaadeen. 11 Ian Shaw - Ghostsongs If I had to pick one interpretation as a favorite, right now it would be this one by Wales-born Ian Shaw, who has catapulted into the top ranks of jazz vocalists not only in Britain, but worldwide. BTW, the whole album is strong, strong, strong. 12 D.D. Jackson - ...So Far We round it out with Canadian pianist D.D. Jackson who is admired in jazz circles for his commitment to hard core improvising, by which I mean more than novelty or avant garde gimmickry. D.D. Jackson is a serious musician keeping alive the flame of jazz piano as this solo reading of “Goodbye Poekpie Hat” sensitively demonstrates.
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