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

 

_____

 

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.

 

_____

 

better

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

 

*

 

“Profile of Jackie” 

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

In this issue, 25 noted critics, writers, musicians and artists answer the question, “What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”…Also, an interview with Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell; ”And so we left for Paris” a short story by Sophie Jonas-Hill; two new podcasts by Bob Hecht (one on Paul Desmond, the other on Art Farmer); 18 poets contribute 20 poems to our March poetry collection; new jazz listening recommendations; and lots more…

“What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”

Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Neil Tesser, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who write about their favorite album cover art

Short Fiction

"And so we went to Paris," a short story by Sophie Jonas-Hill

Poetry

Eighteen poets contribute 20 poems in the March collection

Interviews

Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell discusses the life of the important 20th century American artist

The Joys of Jazz

Two new podcasts from Bob Hecht -- on Paul Desmond, and Art Farmer

Poetry

“King Louis en le toilette” — a poem (and collage) by Steven Dalachinsky

On the Turntable

Recommended listening…Check out these 18 recently released jazz recordings by Branford Marsalis, Anna Maria Jopek, Ralph Alessi, Larry Grenadier, Jon Cowherd, Stephane Galland, Mathias Eick and the Jimbo Tribe

Art

“Thinking about Robert Johnson” — a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Great Encounters #54

In this edition, Joe Hagan, author of STICKY FINGERS: .The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, writes about how co-founders Wenner and legendary San Francisco music critic Ralph Gleason came upon the name for their revolutionary publication, Rolling Stone magazine.

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Coming Soon

An interview with Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon

In the previous issue

The February, 2019 issue features an interview with Thomas Brothers, author of Help! The Beatles, Duke Ellington, and the Magic of Collaboration…Also, previous winners of the Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest reflect on their winning story; two new podcasts from Bob Hecht; a new collection of poetry; recommendations of recently release jazz recordings, and lots more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive