Chazz’ Mingus Story: A Composition for Jazz Orchestra and Two Speaking Voices

I write music for the 20-piece big band run by Boston’s Jazz Composers’ Alliance. The JCA Orchestra does several concerts a year (recently we’ve had some Sunday club dates at Johnny D’s, in Somerville, MA, which is really a blast), always featuring writing by all the composers in the collective. I am one among many, the seniormost being the Alliance’s founder, Darrell Katz. You can find out more about the Jazz Composers Alliance here.

In 2007 we decided to present a “tribute concert,” where we’d undertake to give our impressions of the music of three important jazz composers: Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and Charles Mingus. After some dithering, I decided to develop a piece on Mingus. Notice the preposition. I did not want to do an arrangement of a Mingus tune; while I enjoy arranging other people’s music, I had an idea in mind.

One of my oldest friends is a sarod player, an American whom I met in the early years of my study of Indian music. His given name was Charles Rook, but he was known to one and all as “Chazz.” When I asked him how he’d gotten the name, he told me a long and amazing story about his relationship with the great bassist and composer. Since that time (in the mid-70s) I’d heard him tell it over and over, and I’d had it told to me by other mutual friends (“You know Chazz’ story about Charlie Mingus? No? Well…”). So I knew the outline pretty well.

Chazz Rook, visiting Pune in 1987

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Jazz Photoblogging

I love photographing musicians — probably because I’m a musician myself, and it’s a wonderful challenge to capture some of the immediacy of live performance on film.

There have been two times in my life when I was really active in music photography.  Once in the mid-1980s when I was living in India, and had the chance to get pictures of many of the Subcontinent’s greatest artists in concert, in rehearsal, and in private.  And once in the mid-1970s when I was still in high school and had access to the school darkroom…and I took the Miranda SLR my father had given me to dozens of jazz concerts.

I had made a firm decision that I would not use flash; I did not wish to disturb the musicians by popping flashbulbs while they played. So I used high-speed film, underexposed and overdeveloped (a procedure known as “pushing” – I used Tri-X, pushed to ASA 1600, for all you b&w old-timers out there).

I got some good results, too. Here are a few images I’m particularly happy with:

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