Charles Mingus

Meditations on Integration

Song Review by

"Meditations on Integration," which is properly titled "Praying with Eric" (or "Meditations (For a Pair of Wirecutters)", is an extended work by Charles Mingus premiered at a Town Hall concert on April 4, 1964. It is his musical interpretation of the history of the American Negro, from the terror and despair of traveling on board the cramped, filthy and life threatening slave ships, to the degrading conditions of slavery itself, the joy of emancipation, and the struggle for civil rights through the turbulent early 1960s. Because Mingus was recorded in concert on numerous occasions during his European tour later that same month, many different versions exist. The piece begins ominously with dark blasts from trumpeter Johnny Coles and tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, accompanying Eric Dolphy's forlorn sounding flute and Mingus' mournful arco bass, driven by Dannie Richmond's drums. The suite is an emotional roller coaster and demanding composition which prompted the entire sextet into playing at its very best. Even after Coles collapsed on stage during one concert, Mingus rescored the work and continued to play it during the rest of the European tour to enthusiastic receptions. Neither Mingus' later quartet recording from June, 1964 or his big band interpretation performed at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival reach the heights of any of his sextet and quintet recordings from April, 1964, due in part to the contributions of Eric Dolphy and the cohesiveness of that particular group. Mingus didn't play his brilliant creation again on stage after 1964. Because of the demands of this extended suite, few musicians have been daring enough to tackle it. One who took on the challenge with some success was pianist Jon Jang, though he never comes close to the emotional impact of the composer's April, 1964 recordings.