Everyone has a favorite jazz giant. Your guy might be Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Dexter Gordon, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk or any number of others from a bygone era when musicians from another planet walked the earth.
One of the giants of the bass, in size as well as in talent, was Charles Mingus. The double-bass-sized musician, songwriter and bandleader was known for his skills, his feel for jazz and for the eccentrically titled songs he composed.
In Davis' autobiography, Mingus is described as a true iconoclast who welcomed a good philosophical argument. His unique character was expressed in songs with titles like "Fables of Faubus," "Pithecanthropus Erectus," "Tonight at Noon," "E's Flat, Ah's Flat Too," "Eat That Chicken," "Low and Behold," and "Zootcase." His "Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat" is bluesy jazz at its saddest and sweetest.
The bassist died in 1979, but his wife, Sue Mingus, has maintained two ensembles dedicated to his songs and style, the Mingus Big Band and the Mingus Orchestra. (The former will perform at Washington University in October.)
Also known for a great sense of humor, Mingus was apparently able to toilet-train his cat. The official Web site, www.mingusmingusmingus.com, contains hilarious instructions for duplicating this feat, written by the musician in 1972. He allegedly even taught his cat, Nightlife, to flush.
The opening concert of the Monday Night Jazz Series at Webster University features the school's jazz faculty performing a tribute to the late, great musician. Michael Parkinson and Randall Holmes on trumpet; Paul DeMarinis on saxophone; James Martin and Zach Danner on trombone; Kim Portnoy and CarolBeth True on piano; Kevin Gianino on drums; Steve Schenkel, Dan Rubright, Tom Byrne and Rob Block on guitar; and Dan Eubanks and Jay Hungerford on bass will perform an all-Mingus concert, which will include "Better Git It in Your Soul," "Fables of Faubus," "Reincarnation of a Lovebird" and "Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat." For 2 bucks, it really can't be beat.