Unearthing Jazz’s Next Holy Grail By Charles Mingus

Unearthing Jazz’s Next Holy Grail By Charles Mingus

charles mingus jass

It’s been a phenomenal time for Jazz with the recent unearthing of John Coltrane’s lost Both Directions At Once album and last year’s restored Thelonius Monk soundtrack for the 1960s French film Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The good news is set to continue with the release of a live session from master composer and titan bassist Charles Mingus’ 1973 live session from Detroit’s Strata Concert Gallery on 180 Proof and BBE’s Jazz in Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden. ILYOS caught up with 180 Proof label owner, album producer and master crate digger Amir Abdullah (of Kon and Amir fame) to talk about the story behind the discovery.

Available on Friday 2nd Nov, you can cop the 5CD/5LP set here.

ILYOS: Hey Amir - congratulations, you really convey your excitement of what it was like getting a hold of these recordings in the liner notes to the album but can you go in to a bit more detail about how and when these discoveries go from being something ‘cool’ to a project of some commercial value? I know that might sound a little gross, but when’s the moment where ‘I gotta get this out to the people’ actually becomes a reality?

Amir: So really the moment for me when I knew that this Mingus recording needed to be heard by the world was pretty much when I first heard the transfer that (famed Disco producer-engineer and one of the inventors of the ‘remix’)  John Morales had done.  I knew immediately that this recording would pique the interest of the jazz world right away.  And this was before I even knew of the Coltrane and Monk releases.  I mean as a jazz music lover I would be very excited if I had heard that there was an unreleased Charles Mingus live recording coming soon.

I also thought of my father who was very influential in my journey to jazz.  He was a huge hard bop and bebop jazz fan.  Having also grown up with Jaki Byard, he was well-versed in Mingus’ music.  It would have been my ultimate dream to have my father helping me with the research on the Mingus project!  Furthermore, when I heard the Roy Brooks interview and I was blown away!  I knew that the world needed to hear the things that he saw happening in the jazz world in 1973.

In the beginning, I didn't really put too much thought into the commercial value of this recording.  For me, it was more about exposing the world to this wonderful piece of jazz history.  It wasn’t until I saw the Coltrane release that I started to focus more on the commercial value of this release.  


charles mingus set


ILYOS: Are these types of discoveries for you the new, elevated high that you used to get mainly through digging for records in your DJ sets?

Amir: These types of ‘new’ discoveries are definitely an elevated high for me!  With the Mingus recording, it feels like I just discovered a time capsule buried for 40-50 years and I am the one that is exposing it to the world. I still heavily dig for vinyl like many other record collectors.  However, the new discoveries are about exclusive multi-tracks, masters, and especially, unreleased material. Many DJs/producers are all trying to get their hands on these new discoveries so it’s a real competitive market now. That feeling that you get from discovering something that no one has heard and never knew existed is priceless!

Now that I have released some of the small but influential catalogs of Strata Records, I am looking to find more labels like Strata.  

ILYOS: Mingus’ autobiography Beneath The Underdog makes him seem like such a foreboding character, which was further conveyed by Oscar Peterson’s description of him in his own book, which gives us a somewhat skewed expectation of his music. Some of the stuff on here has just the lightest touch. How do you think such a heavy cat could channel such beauty?

Amir: I have to be honest I have never read ‘Beneath The Underdog’ but I feel like Mingus was just a complicated person like so many other musicians. I often wondered how some people could create such beautiful art and music but also could be a volatile person. For example, James Brown and Miles Davis were not the nicest in the world to people around them and to many of the musicians that played with them but that doesn’t take away from their genius.  

Mingus was a very demanding person who absolutely wanted things his way even if it meant getting into physical confrontations with people. If he didn’t think you were up to the task of the demands of playing with him, he would definitely let you know!  James Brown and Miles Davis were the same way. 


charles mingus notes

ILYOS: Miles, in his book, also talks about how they would butt heads. Have you had much interaction with people who knew the man and have you been able to get a sense of what he was like?

Amir: I think Miles and Mingus butted heads because of two reasons.  One, they definitely had different approaches to how they would create.  For Miles, I feel like he was more a ‘freestyle’ creative whereas, Mingus needed more of a structural foundation to spontaneously create. Hence, Miles being able to create the basis of jazz fusion.  Also, I think they had similar volatile personalities.  Of course, I never knew either of them so this is just my guess! 

ILYOS: Detroit Jazz is getting a little bit of shine at the moment - I think the Lightmen reissues and the Phil Ranelin record sale lately are two recent examples - but there seems so much more to be done. You’re doing your bit with this and the Strata album reissues but what other things should people look out for from the scene who might only be familiar with Motown?

Amir: The Detroit Jazz scene is definitely getting a lot more spotlight these days and I am super happy that it is.  The Detroit area boasts some of the greatest jazz musicians like Elvin Jones, Dorothy Ashby, Donald Byrd, Milt Jackson, Yuseef Lateef and Roy Brooks to just name a few.  And not to mention all of the session musicians that everyone from Miles to Coltrane to Mingus would call upon when in town to jam with them. So Detroit was/is a breeding ground for musical genius. 

Independent labels like Strata and Tribe strove to not only to be creative and innovate culturally and artistically but also made concerted efforts to improve their communities. For example, the Strata Concert Gallery which was a low cost option for many to witness the greatest of jazz giants like Mingus helped to bring the music to the people.  

All of this makes for great historical context on the Detroit jazz scene.  In my opinion, it is why some like myself have come to appreciate the legacy of the Detroit jazz scene.  Also many collectors have been traveling to Detroit to rediscover modern soul, disco, boogie, and northern soul artists and labels for many years.

ILYOS: You mention in your notes that you get a sense of ‘being there’ in the recordings and I think another thing that what’s bringing a new understanding of jazz to modern audience are these live recordings where the audience is losing their shit or the band is interacting with them in a way that you might almost consider kind of punk. The Miles/Coltrane live in paris thing that came out this year when the audience is booing Coltrane’s other worldly solos is a great example. Do you think live recordings are going to be the next ‘go to’ documents for unearthing music in the future? Especially hearing how a band develops a set over a few different sets; it’s really rewarding to invest in when you have the time as a listener, no?

Amir: I do think that the rediscovery of many jazz live recordings could be the future because it gives the listener a real inside view of jazz history.  I had not heard the Miles/Coltrane live recording but that’s sad to hear that the audience was booing Coltrane during one of his solos.  On the Mingus live recording, there’s an audience member clearly drunk telling Mingus how much he loves him and even calls Mingus, Chuck!  Moments like these are priceless on this recording because that’s how relaxed and intimate the Gallery was.  The banter between the band is amazing with moments of Mingus yelling “I love you guys!”  Hence, why I felt like I was actually there at the Gallery.


charles mingus live flyer

IYLOS: You talk about your Dad being proud of you preserving this material and I’ve often called this type of work cultural preservation or modern-day historian type of stuff. Would you agree? Do you think people have an idea about how much work goes into it?

Amir: Yes, I talk about my father a lot with regards to this recording because he was a huge Mingus fan,  As I mentioned before, my father grew up with Jaki Byard who spent several years with Mingus’ band (they were childhood friends and that my father dated Jaki’s sister back then.  They both had a mutual respect for jazz and classical music).  And although my father never graduated from high school due to WW2, he prided himself on researching and studying history. So preserving the culture of Jazz/Black American Music is something that is dear to my heart.  It is part of my duty to not just reissue this music but also to let the history and legacy be heard too. 

I really do not think the average person realizes the amount of work that goes into the research and preservation of projects like this project.  This project took a little over a year to complete.  The research of the correct names of songs, tracking down photos of everyone in the band and overall remastering took a lot of sweat and work. This was a true labor of love!

ILYOS: What’s next for 180 Proof?

Amir: What’s next on the label is the previously released Sphere Inside Ourselves album on Strata.  However, this release will also have 4 extra unknown tracks that I discovered on the reel to reel masters.  Also, I am hoping to have the next Contemporary Jazz Quintet (CJQ) album, Black Hole ready.  This previously unreleased album is another live recording at the Ann Arbor and Blues and Jazz Festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan from 1973.  Lastly, I am trying to track down the other live recordings from the Strata Concert Gallery featuring Herbie Hancock, Elvin Jones, Keith Jarrett, Ornette Coleman, Chick Corea, and Weather Report.

Check out Amir’s Spotify playlist of his Top 10 Charles Mingus recordings.

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