Album Review: Blues & Roots

Mingus Blues and Roots

“[Blues and Roots is] vital and important music…[Mingus] is outstanding in his solo work…this is something worth careful and thorough listening…” DownBeat, 1960

“If someone has been escaping reality, I don’t expect him to dig my music.”
~ Charles Mingus

“In my music, I’m trying to play the truth of what I am. The reason it’s difficult is because I’m changing all the time.” ~ Charles Mingus

In the Jazz world, Mingus (like Monk) is a name held in high esteem. Yet, until more recently, he is someone I had not gone out of my way to listen to very much.

Part of it I suppose is related to the instrument he plays. While I know the bass is an important instrument in a combo, it is not one that I have ever found my ear naturally gravitating toward. By nature, my ear seems to seek the sounds of the saxophone and the piano. And I tend to pick my albums that way: lots of saxophone giants with a sprinkling of pianists.

Reading Stanley Crouch though has led me to start broadening my listening range. Mingus is an artist Crouch seems to particularly admire both as a soloist, and maybe more importantly, as a band leader.

For the new feature of Album Reviews here at ClimbingSky I have set up a listening process for myself. When possible I listen to the album on vinyl. There is just something I like about music played on a needle.

Beginning on Thursdays, I try to listen to the album everyday. I listen while I am at work, in the car, and at home.  I also spend time reading about the artist(s) involved and the album itself.  The goal is to get as “deep” into the album as I am able.

The first two albums reviewed here were old favorites that I knew well and had listened to often anyway. It was a pleasure though to spend intentional time with them. Picking familiar or easy albums is not my goal though in reviewing albums here.

Today’s album, “Blues & Roots,” was not a familiar one to me. It was also not an easy album to listen to. Mingus is challenging. Yet it is in challenge that we grow.

Mingus explains the idea behind the album Blues & Roots in the liner notes this way:

This record is unusual—it presents only one part of my musical world, the blues. A year ago, Nesuhi Ertegün suggested that I record an entire blues album in the style of Haitian Fight Song (in Atlantic LP 1260), because some people, particularly critics, were saying I didn’t swing enough. He wanted to give them a barrage of soul music: churchy, blues, swinging, earthy. I thought it over. I was born swinging and clapped my hands in church as a little boy, but I’ve grown up and I like to do things other than just swing. But blues can do more than just swing. So I agreed.

Those familiar with Mingus songs like “Better Get Him in Your Soul” are familiar with his connection to the gospel music he grew up with. The first track on this album, “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting,” is in that vein. It is a wonderful tune.

On “Cryin’ Blues,” Mingus’ bluesy solo is irresistible. But for me it is the piano solo that particularly shines.

“My Jelly Roll Soul” is probably my favorite track. It has an irresistible “swing” to it that is infectious. I have a soft spot for “big band” sound, for the lack of better term, and this track is closest to that sound on this album. My favorite Mingus solo is on this tune, so are my favorite piano and saxophone solos.

Blues & Roots is admittedly a “challenging” album to listen to. But it is certainly worth any  work! I especially recommend listening to his with a pair of good headphones. I had an opportunity to listen to it once during the week with a pair of top-grade Beats headphones. In a word: transcendent.


A1 Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting 5:39
A2 Cryin’ Blues 4:58
A3 Moanin’ 7:57
B1 Tensions 6:27
B2 My Jelly Roll Soul 6:47
B3 E’s Flat Ah’s Flat Too 6:37


  • Bass – Charles Mingus
  • Drums – Dannie Richmond
  • Piano – Horace Parlan, Mal Waldron
  • Saxophone [Alto] – Jackie McLean, John Handy
  • Saxophone [Baritone] – Pepper Adams
  • Saxophone [Tenor] – Booker Ervin
  • Trombone – Jimmy Knepper, Willie Dennis
  • Engineer [Recording] – Tom Dowd


Recorded Feb. 4, 1959
Reissued 1998 Under The Same Catalogue Number


Music Monday: “I Got it Bad” with Duke Ellington and Ben Webster

Ben Webster began his career with the Young Family and while you can hear a lot of Prez in what he plays, in the end, he is a saxophone giant in his own right. As Stanley Crouch says in Considering Genius:

Webster not only reminded one of a wispy singer or a growling trombone or a cup-muted or plunger-muted trumpet, but his control of color also had the same melodic implications of timbre found in Lester Young, whose alternate fingerings could make a repeated single note successively sound like a different entity, given the lightness or the weight of it on the ear. Yet Webster took that control of texture beyond what Young, or anyone else, had done with it. More than any other saxophonist in jazz, Rooster Ben rivaled the flexibility of the human voice and brought together a synthesis of phrasing rooted in Armstrong, Young, Holiday, Carter, Hodges, and Parker. His was a sense of rhythm as acute as that of Thelonious Monk; it disavowed prolixity in favor of the essences of delay, anticipation, and superbly placed accent, giving the individual phrase a feeling of suspense and victory.

[Crouch, Stanley (2009-04-27). Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz (Kindle Locations 2256-2262). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.]

On the first Monday in December, the teaming of Ellington and Webster seems like just the thing.


On Seasons of Doubt

Considering-Genius1November arrived in the North Country cool and wet. Overcast morning skies this time of year mean leaving the home in deep darkness. Something that gets more difficult to do with each passing year.

I continue reading about Jazz. I am still working my way through Ted Gioia’s History of Jazz. But have also started reading Stanley Crouch’s excellent book Considering Genius.

Crouch is a fine writer. Next to Ralph Ellison, the best “jazz” writer I have read yet. Crouch, of course, is famous for his political views which he sprinkles liberally throughout his essays.

I have read a fair bit of Crouch over the years, and have always admired his thoughtfulness, even when I have disagreed with what he is saying. Good writers and good thinkers are rare, the combination of both even rarer.

My listening life is still largely Lester Young, though I have recently added a little bit of Hod O’Brien.

The more time I spend with Young the more enthralled I am. It is the way I have felt in my life at times about Yeats and Whitman and Thoreau. It is the aesthetic equivalent of standing at the edge of the sea.

Everyone who writes goes through seasons where they doubt the power of language. It seems like I have been in one of those periods for awhile now.

I suspect that it is precisely because Lester Young’s vulnerable immediacy feels like the most “human” art I have yet encountered – in painting, in literature, in music – that I think I have been spending so much time with him of late.  His art has come to “feel” like a possible way out of this “season of doubt.”Only time, of course, will tell.

So for now I listen to Lester Young, read about jazz, and push words around on pages. Winter is coming… but that only means spring is sure to come.