It’s that money spending time of year again, when retailers are supposed to finally be in the black for their fiscal year. I haven’t shopped on the day after Thanksgiving in years, and although it always looks like there are some deals that are too good to be true, I just don’t like the fight. Cyber Monday is a little more my style, as I have done most holiday shopping online in recent times. I asked someone who had been out in the stores, how was it out there? Their reply was, “It’s a jungle!”.
Of course, me being me, the tune that popped into my head was “Money Jungle” from a Duke Ellington piano trio album of the same name. This is really a special album, with Duke making a rare appearance in a small group setting. What a group it was, with Max Roach on drums and The Angry Man of Jazz himself on bass, Charles Mingus. All three of these men are geniuses on their instrument. They came together this one time, just for this recording.
The original album from 1963 had seven tracks, most of which were tunes composed by Ellington. I am lucky to have discovered this album in the CD age, where it was released with some unheard tracks and alternate takes to bring the total up to 15 tracks. The music is amazing, fresh, and spontaneous in part because there was absolutely no rehearsal. Duke gave out some scribbled music with a melody and chords, said a few words, and then what we hear on the album is the absolute first time these men played together.
The recording almost didn’t get finished, as Mingus and his temper walked out of the recording session. Duke had to go after him and persuade him to come back. Duke was a very debonair and persuasive man, but it was brave to go after the Black Saint when he was mad. Mingus had physically assaulted more than one fellow musician in his day.
Some people criticize the sounds of this album, in part because of the generational difference between Ellington and the other two men. I actually love the sound and the playing here. These are three of my favorite jazz players, and I can hear each of their personalities and playing clearly on this record. Even without liner notes, I could have told you it was Roach on drums, Mingus on bass, and Duke on the keyboard. One of the most attractive things about jazz is the individuality of the musician coming through in their playing. In orchestra music, you hear the composer and the conductor’s personality, and much less of the individual player. If you put three different men together, and gave them the same compositions to play, it would be a completely different record.
Instead of going out to the mall and fighting the crowd, I would suggest putting on some comfortable pajamas, logging in to your favorite online shopping sight, and playing Money Jungle on Spotify. It surely will beat hearing Sleigh Ride on the overhead speakers at a department store for the twentieth time in a row.