Great Encounters #44 — Charles Mingus, Jackie McLean and their “nearly murderous confrontation”

March 29th, 2016

 

“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons.  This edition tells the story of the violent, physical confrontation that took place between Charles Mingus and Jackie McLean while touring in Cleveland, 1956

Excerpted from Better Git it in Your Soul: An Interpretive Biography of Charles Mingus, by Krin Gabbard

 

  jackie-mclean[1]Jackie McLean

 mingus1Charles Mingus

 

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Any mature jazz artist with the ability and the desire to succeed will have shared the stage with a long list of musicians.  But Charles Mingus seems to have played with everyone from Kid Ory to George Adams and at every stop along the paths of jazz history.  Once he became a leader, he hired and fired a long list of sidepeople.  Some stayed longer than others.  Many were quickly discarded because Mingus did not always like what he heard.  And there were plenty who left on their own, unwilling to engage with Mingus’s music or with Mingus himself.  The genial tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath, for example, says in his autobiography that he “never wanted to work with Mingus because he often hollered at his musicians on the bandstand and wouldn’t hesitate to stop a performance.  I loved his music, but I didn’t want to play with him because I was intimidated by him.”

At least one musician continued working with Mingus even after a nearly murderous confrontation.  Jackie McLean had already recorded several times with Miles Davis when he joined the Jazz Workshop in 1956.  Within a few days he was in the studio with Mingus to record Pithecanthropus Erectus, the first of the many great LPs that Charles would make with Atlantic Records.  At this early stage in their relationship, Mingus was sufficiently impressed by McLean to record a tune called “Profile of Jackie.”  On the bandstand, however, Mingus regularly berated McLean for sounding too much like Charlie Parker.

When the band was in Cleveland on tour, Mingus was so aggressive in his public criticisms of McLean that, at the end of the set, Jackie announced that he was giving two weeks’ notice.  According to Derek Ansell, Mingus then punched McLean in the mouth, knocking out two of his teeth.  McLean pulled out a knife and would have severely injured Mingus had someone not accidentally bumped his arm.  The knife struck Mingus in the stomach, but the cut was not deep.  Mingus fired McLean on the spot, leaving him penniless in Cleveland.  He had to pawn his saxophone to get back home.

A year later, Mingus invited McLean to join him for a gig at Birdland, and McLean showed up.  Mingus hugged him and laughingly showed him the small scar from their altercation in Cleveland.  He then invited McLean to rejoin the band, which he did, though only for four months.  In spite of the constant stress that Mingus imposed on his musicians, McLean stayed on because the band leader “helped me to discover myself and to become more concerned with being original” and not another Bird imitator.

 

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better

Excerpted from Better Git it in Your Soul: An Interpretive Biography of Charles Mingus, by Krin Gabbard

 

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“Profile of Jackie” 

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In This Issue

This issue features a roundtable discussion about how the world of religion may have impacted the creative lives of Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison. Also, previous winners of the Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest reflect on their winning story; three new podcasts from Bob Hecht; new collection of poetry; recommendations of recently released jazz recordings, and lots more.

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"The Wailing Wall" -- a short story by Justin Short

Interviews

Three prominent religious scholars -- Wallace Best, Tracy Fessenden and M. Cooper Harriss -- join us in a conversation about how the world of religion during the life and times of Langston Hughes (pictured), Billie Holiday and Ralph Ellison helps us better comprehend the meaning of their work.

Poetry

Nine poets contribute ten poems celebrating jazz in poems as unique as the music itself

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In celebration of our upcoming 50th Short Fiction Contest, previous contest winners (dating to 2002) reflect on their own winning story, and how their lives have since unfolded.

The Joys of Jazz

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25 recently released jazz tunes that are worth listening to…including Bobo Stenson; Medeski, Martin and Wood; Muriel Grossman and Rudy Royston

Features

Chick Corea, Rickie Lee Jones, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Randy Brecker and Tom Piazza are among those responding to our question, "What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940's?"

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This issue features an interview with Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins; a collection of poetry devoted to the World War II era; and a new edition of “Reminiscing in Tempo,” in which the question “What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940’s” is posed to Rickie Lee Jones, Chick Corea, Tom Piazza and others.

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