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Great Encounters #53: Backstage with Bud Powell and Charles Mingus

“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons.  In this edition, the writer Francis Paudras — a young patron of jazz music in Paris during the 1960’s, and whose devotion, friendship and compassion toward the pianist Bud Powell helped Powell late in his life —  tells a short story about a backstage encounter between Powell and Charles Mingus following a 1964 performance at Salle Wagram in Paris.

 

Charles Mingus, 1964

 

Bud Powell, 1964

 

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Excerpted from Dance of the Infidels:  A Portrait of Bud Powell

by 

Francis Paudras

 

 

     If Bud was disturbed by the coming of rock, he was also unhappy about the anarchic experiments in free jazz that were starting to develop at that time [the late 1950’s/early 1960’s], in Paris and elsewhere.  We had gone to Salle Wagram to hear Charlie Mingus’s band, with Eric Dolphy.  Charlie had asked me to design a poster for the concert, and made me promise to come and to bring Bud.  From Dolphy’s first chorus, I saw Bud wasn’t taking it well.  He got increasingly nervous and started fidgeting frantically in his seat.  Pulling his cap down on his head, he took my arm and tried to get me to leave.  Our neighbors were giving us dirty looks.  I was very embarrassed and had a lot of trouble convincing him that we should stay at least until intermission.

     Over his protests, I dragged him backstage, telling him I’d promised Mingus.  “No, Francis.  I don’t wanna go.  Why is Mingus playing with Dolphy?  That’s not music, that’s noise!”

     I had never seen him so furious.  He jumped at each squeeze in the harmonies and the rhythms, and the delirium of the rhythm section didn’t help matters any.  The novel formula advanced by Dolphy that “there are no wrong notes” never convinced Bud, particularly in this musical context, where the bop form was still quite apparent and where Dolphy’s break-out attempts still sounded evasive, accidental, and uncalled for.

     I understood better now why, during the Antibes concert in 1960, with Mingus, Booker Ervin, Ted Curson, and Dolphy, Bud had stopped playing completely as Booker and Eric traded fours, deliriously battling one another.

     Going backstage was a delicate matter.  Bud refused to talk to the musicians and just glared furiously at Mingus, who was obviously baffled by his attitude.  I refrained from any comment and the tension between Bud and Mingus became unbearable.  Fortunately, our friend Lili Rovere showed up and Bud’s mood changed.  She got him smiling again, but he still had only one idea in mind – to get away.

     Taking Lili by the hand, he told Mingus we were in a hurry and dragged us off to the nearest bar.  Once again, his reputation was to suffer from this behavior.  People took him to be deranged, for no one could suspect the real reasons for his behavior.   As for the concert that night, nearly everyone else found it brilliant!

     I believe that Bud’s attitude toward people was never unfounded.  Those around him, in their casual way, were never aware of his extreme sensitivity.  Bud, with his refined language, never accepted coarseness or vulgarity.  At the first sign of rudeness, his behavior changed and he took his distance.  Such people were immediately categorized as unacceptable, and he refused all contact with them again.

 

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Excerpted from Dance of the Infidels:  A Portrait of Bud Powell

by 

Francis Paudras

 

 

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