Sometimes the oldest friends are the best.
I’ve always used music to boost my spirits. But recently my mood had been so low that it seemed nothing in my music collection – or library as software insists on calling it – could lift the gathering gloom. Then as I was scanning the list of artists in iTunes it hit me: Mingus. He’d been one of my original obsessions, along with Miles and Coltrane. In my twenties, when I was starting my jazz collection in earnest, I listened to Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus over and over. I bought a used vinyl copy of Mingus at Antibes at a shop on St. Marks back in ’91 or ’92, and I played it obsessively, pops and cracks and all (today some would call it a “pre-existing condition”). I acquired a lot more Mingus over the years, though certainly not everything – you have to have something left to discover later in life.
But for the last several years, I’d mostly been ignoring Charles Mingus as I expanded my musical vocabulary. Partly by necessity – for the past 10 years I’ve been reviewing records for a jazz magazine – but also simply to broaden my horizons.
But when the darkness becomes visible, as William Styron would put it, you need to find light wherever you can. Last night I found it in Mingus at Antibes (a sparkling digital version – the old vinyl copy was great, but things change). Beginning with the exuberance of “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting,” the fog slowly but surely began to lift. It helped that I was reading Jim Harrison’s The Raw and the Cooked along with the music (ostensibly about food, it’s really about navigating the minefield of existence, but that’s another story).
By the time I got to “I’ll Remember April,” almost everything seemed brighter. I’d played that one over and over back in the turntable days. It’s the one with Bud Powell sitting in on piano. Of course, I’ve heard many other versions of that song, and while some are probably better, this one is still my favorite.
That record, like all of Mingus’ music, seemed so wild to me back then. But, like all of Mingus’ music, it got under my skin and stayed there.
A reminder for myself: Even when you get low, dig down deeper. Find what’s been stuck under your skin. Use it to crawl out of the abyss.