September 1, 2017

Gavotte 1

Slight refingering, as shown.


13,14.8.2017. Gavotte, BWV 996

August 20, 2017

20.8.2017 Gavotte from Bach Lute Suite 3, BWV 996.

August 20, 2017

First four bars.


August 10, 2017

Bach Lute Suite movements:and

12 March 1957: Mingus arrives- at himself

March 7, 2017

The Clown front lowBy the mid-fifties, Mingus had a fearsome reputation as a bassist, but I wonder what people thought of him as a composer?  We know he’d been writing since he was young, and his early output is ‘interesting’, but that’s perhaps all it is.  He tried to emulate the swing sound of the forties, and didn’t seem to achieve the lightness of touch of the greats of that era; he wrote pop music, but there were others who far better at that than him.  My guess is that his contemporaries had huge admiration for his bass playing, but were less impressed by his compositions-  bemused, perhaps.

But the music had been gestating within him for two or three decades (or possibly more, if you believe Mingus’s hyperbole) and, in ’57, it came out, came to fruition, exploded, in an intense eight-year period of creativity almost unrivalled within jazz, after which Mingus was so exhausted, he didn’t perform or record for several years.

Think of it: in 1957, Mingus recorded several fantastic-  classic-  albums: The Clown, Tijuana Moods, East Coasting and the lesser, but worthy “A Modern Jazz Symposium of Music and Poetry” along with true gem Mingus Three.  In one year!

Yes, he took a year off in 1958 but then: 1959!  Many say “Ah Um” was Mingus’s greatest album, but it wasn’t even his best album that year!  That, of course, was Blues and Roots, with Mingus Dynasty also shining.  These albums, for a lesser musician, would have crowned an entire career.

Inventiveness and beauty poured from Mingus in the years that followed: Mingus Revisited, At Antibes, Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, Oh Year, Tonight at Noon, The ’62 Town Hall Concert, The Birdland Broadcasts, The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady, Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, then, in ’64, many wonderful, truly wonderful, large-scale live recordings, reaching a peak-  in jazz, not just for Mingus, in the early hours of 19 April 1964 in Paris, followed not long after by the triumph of Monterey….

…but preceded by Eric Dolphy’s tragic and untimely death.

A while ago, I read Robin D G Kelley’s biography of Thelonious Monk. In it, Kelley tells how the critics became frustrated with Monk re-using the same tunes, again and again. I can understand this contemporary view but, for me, this was Monk’s great strength: in some period before he made records, he forged his own sound, and never deviated from that path.  In the 70s he sounded way ahead of his time and completely original-  but he sounded that way in ’47 when he recorded “‘Round Midnight.”

Look at Mingus’s output from ’57  to ’64.  Every album is different! Not just different tunes, but a whole different outlook, and yet distinctly Mingus!  We have the privilege, looking back, to view this period in context and, with this consideration, it surprises me not at all that he burned out sometime in 1965 or 1966.The Clown Back detail

So, why 12 March 1957? Because, on that date, Mingus, along with newly-acquired drummer Dannie Richmond, Wade Legge, Shafi Hadi and that aristocrat of the trombone Jimmy Knepper, recorded “Haitian Fight Song”: to me, the first authentically Mingusian recording.  Nothing before, for me, had quite fulfilled Mingus’s desires, and there was no period that followed in which Mingus, despite the odd mis-step, ever really let me down.

Mingus came back from his depression of the late sixties and produced music the equal of anything he’d done previously, but that’s a story for another day.  However, if you read this, think back sixty years ago to the very day when thousands of hours of practice, hundreds of gigs and handfuls of callouses gave birth to one of jazz’s, America’s, the world’s greatest musicians4022802866_3d582f956a_b

24.7.2016: Domenico Scarlatti, Sonata in A Major, K322, L483

July 24, 2016

Starting to learn section B: bar 45 onwards.


4 June 2016: Tango, op. 165 no. 2

June 4, 2016




Bars 8-10.

“East Coasting” by Charles Mingus, 6 Aug 1957

August 6, 2015

"East Coasting" front cover

I reckon I discovered Charles Mingus when I was about 16, just a few years after he died.  The first album of his I bought was the 1970 “Pithycanthropus Erectus”; not a classic but I loved it.  I then found an album called “The Wild Bass”, which turned out to be “Mingus Three”.  The third Mingus album I got was “East Coasting”, which my brother bought me.

It’s interesting to listen to pre-1957 Mingus.  It’s clear he’s trying to find his own voice; there’s some great stuff, together with attempts at styles which others did far better.  Nineteen fifty-seven, however, really was a watershed.  I don’t know what happened or why, but all the work-  the thousands of gigs and countless hours of practice-  flowered, and remained in bloom until his hiatus of 1965 – 1969.

Nineteen fifty-nine is the famous jazz year, but 1957 was Mingus’s year  in which he produced several great albums (several! in one year!): “The Clown”, “Tijuana Moods”, “A Modern Jazz Symposium of Music and Poetry”,…..

East Coasting back

….and “East Coasting”.  What a gem!  Dannie Richmond, whom Mingus met shortly before, is on drums, and the front line is typical Mingus: the great Jimmy Knepper on trombone (Mingus loved low horns) and two relative unknowns: Shafi Hadi on saxophone and Clarence (“Woody”) Shaw on trumpet.  Three interesting musicians:  Jimmy was truly a trombone great, and Woody was perfect for Mingus’s 1957 work, but Shafi Hadi isn’t amongst the top sax players around at the time.  However, with Mingus standing behind them, these musicians all play out of their skins, producing short, melodic and memorable solos which fit with their respective pieces, including the explosive trade-offs in “Conversation”.

I suppose East Coasting is typical of its time: a big name leading a small group, three or four tracks per side; play a chorus, give everyone a solo, then out.  Why is East Coasting a gem? For one thing, because of the quality of the playing and, for another, because mature Mingus music always goes somewhere and always means something.

East Coasting Jay Higginbotham detail

A few years ago, I decided I had to have an early pressing.  They’re expensive on ebay and don’t come up often, but I managed to buy a very battered copy, unplayable really, with a cover falling to bits.  I love it though, and take it out to look at a couple of times a year.  I was tickled to find my copy has “Jay Higginbotham” stamped on the back: I was even more excited when I saw Jay Higginbotham standing next to Mingus in the iconic (and I think I use that word correctly) “A Great Day In Harlem” photograph from 12 August 1958!  I’ll never know whether my copy once belonged to JC, but I like to believe it did.

Fifty-eight years have passed since this album was recorded, and about thirty since I first heard it, and this gem just keeps getting shinier.

“Instant Gaelic” by Robert C Owen

June 9, 2015

Firstly, if anyone can teach me Gaelic instantly, I’ll write them into my will!  I have another book entitled, “Scottish Gaelic in Twelve Weeks”: a touch optimistic, that.

I’m a Gaelic novice.  I’m English and live in England so never encounter Gaelic speakers, and rely on things like “An Litir Bheag” for my practice.  I’m a great lover of languages, and quite determined: I speak reasonable Spanish, which I more or less taught myself, and have brought myself up to a level where I can happily converse.  Spanish speakers are not as hard to come by down here as the Gaelic ones!

“Instant Gaelic” is, for me, a really useful book.  Firstly, it contains four short stories, a play, a poem and song.  Each one has both Gaelic and English text.  This is brilliant.  You can get the meanings by just flipping a couple of pages: much quicker than looking up every other word in a dictionary.  The stories are not aimed at any particular level of expertise in Gaelic; they’re challenging without being impossible.

The other, really useful, element of this book is its sections on grammar.  Short sections focus on things like: male genitive nouns; female genitive nouns; adjectives in the cases of male and female genitive nouns; all tenses and forms of regular verbs; and more besides.  These grammar sections are presented as drills: you practice them by repetition, so you’re learning by rote.

For me, a very useful book that I think will really help me to make progress.  Good luck finding a copy! Suas leis a’Ghaidhlig!

20150609_082539 20150609_082557

Charles Mingus’s 1964 European tour

March 31, 2014

Fifty years ago, the Charles Mingus Sextet toured Europe.

This tour represented a peak in Mingus’s career. It was a culmination of what he’d been striving for musically, with one of his strongest bands who could be trusted to accompany him in twenty-five minute pieces full of improvisation. Charles Mingus had Dannie Richmond by his side, his most trusted drummer, and the great Jaki Byard on piano. Jaki was a true virtuoso but exercised great restraint and produced incomparable blues.

For Mingus aficionados, it’s great that most of this tour was recorded, but the show on 19 April (the doors actually opened on the 18th but the band took to the stage after midnight) is the strongest recording. It’s like a jazz ninth symphony, or perhaps a B-minor mass- minus a trumpeter, as Johnny Coles had collapsed the previous night. The tunes last at least a quarter of an hour each but maintain their momentum throughout, with stunning solos.

Clifford Jordan plays melodies, not riffs, though was sometimes ridiculed by Mingus for not being loud enough.

Mingus’s beloved Eric Dolphy was never on the receiving end of criticism. At the end of the tour, in late April and after Mingus’s 42nd birthday, the band went home, whilst Eric stayed in Germany, where he was to die in June.

In September, in Monterey, Mingus performed a triumphant version of “Meditations on Integration” and I’m sure he was looking at the Californian sky and thinking of Eric.4022802866_3d582f956a_b