On the original LP issued by Columbia, Mingus thanked producer Teo Macero for "his untiring efforts in producing the best album I have ever made." From his deathbed in Mexico in 1979 he sent a message to Sy Johnson (who was responsible for many of the arrangements on the album), saying that Let My Children Hear Music was the record he liked most from his career. Although Mingus' small-group recordings are the ones most often cited as his premier works, this album does, in fact, rank at the top of his oeuvre and compares favorably with the finest large-ensemble jazz recordings by anyone, including Ellington. The pieces had been brewing over the years, one from as far back as 1939, and had been given more or less threadbare performances on occasion, but this was his first chance to record them with a sizable, well-rehearsed orchestra. Still, there were difficulties, both in the recording and afterward. The exact personnel is sketchy, largely due to contractual issues, several arrangers were imported to paste things together, making the true authorship of some passages questionable, and Macero (as he did with various Miles Davis projects) edited freely and sometimes noticeably. The listener will happily put aside all quibbles, however, when the music is heard. From the opening, irresistible swing of "The Shoes of the Fisherman's Wife Are Some Jiveass Slippers" to the swirling depths of "The I of Hurricane Sue," these songs are some of the most glorious, imaginative, and full of life ever recorded. Each piece has its own strengths, but special mention should be made of two. "Adagio Ma Non Troppo" is based entirely on a piano improvisation played by Mingus in 1964 and issued on Mingus Plays Piano. Its logical structure, playful nature, and crystalline moments of beauty would be astounding in a polished composition; the fact that it was originally improvised is almost unbelievable. "Hobo Ho," a holy-roller powerhouse featuring the impassioned tenor of James Moody, reaches an incredible fever pitch, the backing horns volleying riff after riff at the soloists, the entire composition teetering right on the edge of total chaos. Let My Children Hear Music is a towering achievement and a must for any serious jazz fan. The CD issue includes one track, "Taurus in the Arena of Life," not on the original LP, but unfortunately gives only snippets from the Mingus essay that accompanied the album. That essay, covering enormous territory, reads like an inspired Mingus bass solo and should be sought out by interested listeners. One can't recommend this album highly enough.
- Brian Olewnick (All Music Guide)
========= from the cover ==========
The passages by Charles Mingus (in boldface type) are excerpts from the original liner notes essay included with the first issue of Let My Children Hear Music in 1972. The complete essay has been reprinted, as "What Is A Jazz Composer?" in Charles Mingus-More Than A Fake Book (Jazz Workshop/Hal Leonard Publishing Corp.).
I think the music on this record is serious in every sense. I say, let my children have music. For God's sake, rid this society of some of the noise so that those who have ears will be able to use them someplace listening to good music. When I say good I don't mean that today's music is bad because it is loud. I mean the structures have paid no attention to the past history of the music. Nothing is simple. It's as if people came to Manhattan and acted like it was still full of trees and grass and Indians instead of concrete and tall buildings.
This album represents one of Charles Mingus' most ambitious attempts to build new "tall buildings" in jazz employing large ensembles and extended compositional structures. It also was his favorite, a fact not only attested to by the acknowledgement to Teo Macero on the original album cover for "his untiring efforts in producing the best album I have ever made," but also in a message he sent to Sy Johnson (the album's principal arranger and orchestrator) from Mexico shortly before his death in 1979 telling him that of all the recordings he ever did, Let My Children Hear Music was the one he liked the most.
Like many musical events in Mingus' life, this album did not turn out the way it was initially planned. In 1970, Mingus began reappearing with more frequency on the jazz scene, after almost a half decade of semi-retirement, partially the result of health problems. Teo Macero convinced Columbia to sign him to a new contract, and Mingus conceived of an ambitious project with a large ensemble and hired Thad Jones to do the arranging and scoring. But Jones, in the midst of writer's block, didn't produce any music.
Each jazz musician when he takes a horn in his hand-whatever instrument he plays- each soloist, that is, when he begins to ad lib on a given composition with a title and improvise a new creative melody, this man is taking the place of a composer.
...If you like Beethoven, Bach or Brahms, that's okay. They were all pencil composers. I always wanted to be a spontaneous composer. I thought I was, although no one's mentioned that. I mean critics or musicians. Now, what I'm getting at is that I know I'm a composer. I marvel at composition, at people who are able to take diatonic scales, chromatics, 12-tone scales, or even quarter-tone scales. I admire anyone who can come up with something original. But not originality alone, because there can be originality in stupidity, with no musical description of any emotion or any beauty the man has seen, or any kind of life he has lived. For instance, a man says he played with feeling. Now he can play with feeling and have no melodic concept at all. That's often what happens in jazz: I have found very little value left after the average guy takes his first eight bars-not to mention two or three choruses, because then it just becomes repetition, riffs and patterns, instead of spontaneous creativity. I could never get Bird to play over two choruses. Now, kids play fifty thousand if you let them. Who is that good?
Mingus wasn't big on writing out scores. He liked his musicians to learn his music by playing it, following his sung or played (on piano or bass) lines, supplying harmonies via his exhortations and commands. So when he arrived at a copyist's office in Manhattan looking for an arranger to replace Thad Jones, meeting Sy Johnson serendipitously, what he had for Johnson were some tapes and some ideas, but very little written music.
"What he gave me initially," remembers Johnson, "was a tape and partial transcript of a performance by his current Jazz Workshop of 'The I of Hurricane Sue' plus the album he had made at UCLA in 1965 of music written for the Monterey Jazz Festival for an octet with five brass (tuba, French horn, fluegelhom and two trumpets), alto sax, drums and his bass and piano."
Two pieces from that album were transcribed by Johnson: "Don't Be Afraid, The Clown's Afraid Too,' and "Once Upon A Time, There Was A Holding Corporation Called Old America." The latter became "The Shoes Of The Fisherman's Wife Are Some Jive Ass Slippers."
As I say, let my children have music. Jazz- the way it has been handled in the past-stifles them so that they believe only in the trumpet, trombone, saxophone, maybe a flute now and then or a clarinet. But it is not enough. I think it is time our children were raised to think they can play bassoon, oboe, English horn, French horn, full percussion, violin, cello. The results would be-well the Philharmonic would not be the only answer then. If we so-called jazz musicians who are the composers, the spontaneous composers, started including these instruments in our music, it would open everything up, it would get rid of prejudice because the musicianship would be so high in caliber that the symphony couldn't refuse us.
In fact, who wants to be in the symphony anyway, nowadays? If you stop and take note of what jazz has done, and the kind of musicianship which has developed from each instrument, it becomes obvious that it has made each player a virtuoso.
The large ensembles employed on three of the compositions on this album ("Shoes Of The Fisherman's Wife...," "Adagio Ma Non Troppo" and "The Chill Of Death") include configurations consisting of ten woodwinds (from piccolos to contra-bass clarinets), brass including French horns and tuba, a section of six bassists and a cello. The other selections feature a small big band with five reeds and five brass (including two French horns).
"The Shoes Of The Fisherman's Wife Are Some Jive Ass Slippers" has been expanded, and the tempo accelerated, from the UCLA piece ("Once Upon A Time..."), with sumptuous chorals dividing it into three sections. The main soloists (sometimes simultaneously) are alto saxophonist Charles McPherson, trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer and tenor saxophonist Bobby Jones. Sy Johnson arranged, orchestrated and conducted.
Now, on this record there is a tune which is an improvised solo and which I am very proud of. I am proud because to me it has the expression of what I feel, and it shows changes in tempo and changes in mode, yet the variations on the theme still fit into one composition. (It is not like some music I hear where the musician plays eight bars and then the next eight bars sound like he is playing another tune). I would say the composition is on the whole as structured as a written piece of music. For the six or seven minutes it was played (originally on the piano), the solo was within the category of one feeling, or rather, several feelings expressed as one. I'm not sure whether every musician who improvises can do this.
The piece Mingus is referring to is"Adagio Ma Non Troppo," from a solo piano album he made. It was transcribed and sent to Mingus by a fan, Hub Miller, and orchestratred and conducted by Alan Raph. The piece has an intense lyrical quality reflecting Mingus' almost profligate gift for melody. The six bowed basses are used to good effect here, with Charles McCracken's solo cello also heard.
"Don't Be Afraid, The Clown's Afraid Too," besides benefitting from a faster tempo, also expands on the UCLA recording.
"Mingus wanted layers and layers of stuff to cover up what was there originally," recalls Sy Johnson. "I used a vocal part he sang for me, borrowed some well defined lines for the backgrounds, and wrote out a piano part from the UCLA recording for the brass. I also wrote a lot of connective music."
The emphatic three-quarter time bridge borrows from an earlier Mingus piece, recorded with narrator Jean Shephard in the mid-1950s, "The Clown." Some of the circus sounds were added later by Mingus and Macero. Mingus has one of his rare (for this album) bass solos, and the other main soloists are again McPherson, Hillyer and Jones.
"Taurus In The Arena Of Life" was recorded by the smaller ensemble at the sessions for the original album, but never released. It debuts as a recording here. "We didn't think of it as a definitive version," says Johnson, "but 20 years later, in context on the album, it sounds more complete; there are some nice textures going on."
The piano cadenza that prefaces "Taurus" is from a book of Bach variations that pianist Roland Hanna was practicing in the studio between takes. The piece goes into a rhythmic feel that Mingus called "the Spanish trash," familiar from his Tijuana Moods album. Johnson wrote most of it from verbal instructions, and 12 bars of music, given to him by Mingus.
When I was a kid and Coleman Hawkins played a solo or Illinois Jacquet created "Flyin' Home,' they (and all the musicians) memorized their solos and played them back for the audience, because the audience had heard them on records.
"Hobo Ho" was conceived by Mingus for Illinois Jacquet, and he even had a portion of Jacquet's "Flyin' Home" solo transcribed for the reeds to play as a background. But Jacquet couldn't make the date, so James Moody took over the preachy tenor sax lead solo, and the reeds can be heard playing part of his famous "Moody's Mood For Love" solo in the background. Mingus dictated the arrangement to Bobby Jones for this piece, featuring his bass anchoring the swelling ostinato. Johnson remembers that the band never finished a complete performance with all the repeats, so "what we have here is an artfully constructed performance put together from fragments." Yet, thanks to Moody and Mingus, the work builds inexorably to a satisfying emotional climax.
Here is a piece I wrote in 1939 and I wrote it like this because I thought in 1939 I would probably get it recorded someday. But when you have to wait 30 years to get one piece played-what do you think happens to a composer who is sincere and loves to write and has to wait 30 years to have someone play a piece of his music? That was when I was energetic and wrote all the time. Music was my life. Had I been born in a different country or had I been born white, I am sure I would have expressed my ideas long ago.
Mingus' adolescent composition, "The Chill Of Death," is impressive in a grand guignol way. His recited poem equating Death with a beautiful woman, is very Edgar Allen Poe-ish. The arrangement makes good use of the six bass section in a gothic movie/novel style. McPherson's alto solo, over the same orchestral backing as the poem, was inspired by Charlie Parker, when, as Mingus recounts, Parker called him on the phone and began soloing over a recording of Stravinsky's "Firebird."
As I was saying, each jazz musician is supposed to be a composer. Whether he is or not, I don't know. I don't listen to that many people. If I did, I probably wouldn't play half as much to satisfy myself. As a youth I read a book by Debussy and he said that as soon as he finished a composition he had to forget it because it got in the way of his doing anything else new and different. And I believed him.
"The I Of Hurricane Sue"-dedicated to his wife, but "not about her-just a tribute to her from me, that's all"-opens with sound effects of a storm and surf, and Johnson's arrangement, for the smaller ensemble, follows in that turbulent mood before settling down for solos from McPherson, Jones and French hornist Julius Watkins. Although it is in a familiar AABA form, the piece is typical of Mingus' extended approach to jazz composition, with a 16-bar B section and a rising chromatic turnaround.
Let my children have music! Let them hear live music. Not noise. My children! You do what you want with your own!
-George Kanzler (The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ.) Newhouse News Service)