Release date:  June 1979

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Album Notes

The first time I saw his face it shone up at me with a joyous mischief. I liked him immediately I had come to New York to hear six new songs he had written for me. I was honored! I was curious! It was as if I had been standing by a river – one toe in the water – feeling it out – and Charlie came by and pushed me in – "sink or Swim" – him laughing at me dog paddling around in the currents of black classical music.

Time never ticked so loudly for me as it did this last year. I wanted Charlie to witness the project's completion. He heard every song but one – GOD MUST BE A BOOGIE MAN. I know it would have given him a chuckle. Inspired by the first four pages of his autobiography – Beneath The Underdog – on the night of our first meeting – it was the last to actually take form – two days after his death.

This was a difficult but challenging project. I was trying to please Charlie and still be true to myself. I cut each song three or four times. I was after something personal – something mutual – something indescribable. During these experimental recording dates, I had the opportunity to play with some great musicians. I would like to thanks them here – they helped me to search.

Eddie Gomez - Bass
John Guerin - Drums
Phil Woods - Alto Sax
Gerry Mulligan - Baritone Sax
Danny Richmond - Narration
Tony Williams - Drums
John McLaughlin - Guitar
Jan Hammer - Mini Moog
Stanley Clark - Bass

I would especially like to thank Jeremy Lubbock for helping me to overcome inertia. And thank you Daniel Senatore for introducing my music to Charlie. Thanks to everyone who played on the final sessions. These versions satisfy me. They are audio paintings.

Sue Graham-Mingus graciously gave me access to the tapes I have interspersed throughout the album. For me they add a pertinent resonance. They preserve fragments of a large and colorful soul.

Charles Mingus, a musical mystic, died in Mexico, January 5, 1979 at the age of 56. He was cremated the next day. That same day56 sperm whales beached themselves on the Mexican coastline and were removed by fire. These are the coincidences that thrill my imagination.

Sue, at his request – carried his ashes to India and finding a place at the source of the Ganges River, where it ran turquoise and glinting with large gold carp, released him, with flowers and prayers at the break of a new day.

Sue and the holy river
Will send you to the saints of jazz –
To Duke and Bird and Fats –
And any other saints you have.

Man: "Ready?"
Sue: "Alright!"
Chorus: "Happy birthday to Charles, Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday dear Charles
Sue: Play that minor chord!"
Charles & Chorus: "How old are you – How old are you
Charles: "Fifty-four Motherfucker"
Chorus: ha-ha-ha-ha-ha
Sue: "Fifty-three"
Charles Singing: "How old are you?"
Sue: "Fifty-three Charles!"
Charles: "Fifty-Four"
Sue: "Fifty-three"
Swede: "How old are you now - tell me honestly."
Sue: "Fifty-three! He was born in 1922"
Swede: "1922. . . (voices fade into cacophony)

. . .led and enormous band."
Swede: "Oh, Bit I know he's very lucky too, because when Mingus dies there's going to be the same funeral they had for Duke Ellington. . . in a big church and the whole country's going to say – WOW – he was so far out – You know what I mean?"
Charles: "No man – no big church!"
Swede: "Ha-ha-heh-heh-heh"
Charles: "I'm going to be buried man – I got my shit all figured out!"
Swede: "You're going to get a big funeral – You're famous!"
Charles: "Vedanta Society – India – I'm going to be buried in India!"
Swede: "I know, but you're going to get a big funeral in this country – and they'll play your music for two days – heh-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha"
Charles: "Who's going to do that?"
Swede: "It's far out isn't it, you know what I mean?"
Charles: "You want me to hurry up man!"
Swede: "No, I don't want you to hurry up, but in the future I know you're going to get a beautiful funeral – I can see it!"
Charles: "But I got it all planned man!"
Swede: "You're going to be here many more years"
Charles: "You know the Vedanta Society in India – Yuga?"
Swede: "Yeh!"
Charles: "Well I'm going to be buried by that church!"
Swede: "Yeh?"
Charles: "So they got to find another place to do it that's all."
Swede: "Plenty of time to go – You have another fifty years – you're lucky!"
Charles: "Uh, Duke lived to be seventy-seven years old right?"
Swede: "Right!"
Charles: "I'm going to cut him!"
Swede: "Coltrane was very strong. . . you know. . ."
Charles: "I'm going to cut Duke!

Charles and Joni: "I's a Muggin. . ."

Charles: "I never had it too, too hard, Uh, you know. All my life, uh you know, just everything I touched turned to gold. I'm not rich but, you know, I've always had a few, some dollars in my pockets!"

Charles: "I was lucky man? God blessed me, you know! I was blessed by God!"

Joni Mitchell - Guitar & Vocals
Jaco Pastorius - Bass; Horn Arrangement on The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines
Wayne Shorter - Soprano Sax
Herbie Hancock - Electric Piano
Peter Erskine - Drums
Don Alias - Congas
Emil Richards - Percussion

Wayne Shorter appears courtesy of ARC Records
Herbie Hancock appears courtesy of Columbia Records

God Must Be a Boogie Man and The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey by Joni Mitchell © 1979 by Crazy Crow Music (BMI)
A Chair in The Sky, Sweet Sucker Dance and The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines by Joni Mitchell and Charles Mingus © 1978 by Crazy Crow Music and Jazz Workshop, Inc. (BMI)
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat by Joni Mitchell and Charles Mingus © 1979 by Crazy Crow Music and Jazz Workshop, Inc. (BMI)
Happy Birthday, Funeral, I's a Muggin and Coin in the Pocket raps © 1978 by Jazz Workshop, Inc. (BMI)

Recorded at A&M Studios in Hollywood by Henry Lewy and Steve Katz

Additional recordings at Electric Lady Studios in New York by Henry Lewy and Jerry Solomon

Mixed by Joni Mitchell, Henry Lewy and Steve Katz

Mastered by Bernie Grundman

Personal Management Elliot Roberts
Paintings by Joni Mitchell
Art Direction by Glen Christensen

Reviews of the album from the Library:

Transcriptions of songs from the album:


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thespiancool on

I have heard a lot of comments about this album's "pre-recording" recordings. JM herself refers to those musicians as the ones who helped her "search". Are these recordings available anywhere? That would make a great "expanded edition" should whomever has control of the masters. Then again, JM said only a handful of LP's (remember those?) sold at the time. Deeper still, can't find new appreciators of this work if it is not available anywhere. JM used to say (in regards to her paintings) "commerce began without me". It's your move, Joni.

afriendofspirit on

Another underrated Joni album...and the gateway to my love of Mingus' music...Joni said that this was meant as a collaboration, not an adaptation or a cover-album, and you can almost hear her and Mingus dancing with each other throughout the songs. Plus, the two she wrote along are some of her best work- Lindsey is absolutely spine-tingling.

Elyce on

"Mingus" is truly a masterpiece. It's unfortunate that this recording received negative reviews from critics and fans when initially released. The musicians on this recording showed not only great talent individually, but as an ensemble, each person was sensitive to the others' musical contributions. The music and the lyrics were written by great artists, and performed by great artists.  [ed.]

simper on

This is the album that confused so many fans but when you listen to it now it has stood the test of time, Joni found a new voice and began a new journey on this album and her musuc became the richer for it