Thursday, September 21

less than a dog

Because there are things that only happen at night, like neon lights or the phosphorescent color of cemeteries, and the Chet Baker thing happened on a spring night; a cursed night scented with the sinister scent of death. He crashed into the pavement of an Amsterdam street and the blow was deadly of necessity. When they lifted his body, a pool of blood was left where the stars were reflected.

The case of Chet Baker is just one example of how jazz musicians, like some writers, push their luck too far. He could go on enumerating the corpses of jazz musicians and writers, of ghosts that allow themselves to be seen in the soft muzzled light of funeral homes. It is easy to summon them and make literature out of them by following the trail of dirt and beauty left by their lives. Because jazz, like literature, is made with memory and desire.

The freest music in the world was created by slaves; cotton farmers who broke their chains expressing themselves with the rage of blackness contained in their genitals, taking the pelvic brazenness of their hot rhythms to the brothels. These days a suggestive and significant title is published, a desolate bark that promises a journey through secondary roads, paths of dust and defeat that lead to that place from which one never returns. It is about the memoirs of Charles Mingus entitled ‘Less than a dog’ (Kultrum).

For those who still do not know who Charles Mingus was, it must be said that no one has played the double bass like him; no one. Mingus achieved a vibration as dirty as it is beautiful, a tremor with which the true mystery of life is revealed, which is none other than to enjoy it to excess. Because the happiness of being alive only makes sense when you risk your life to enjoy it, I don’t know if I’m explaining myself, but Mingus knew how to play that game.

In the late fifties, after suffering a love disappointment, Mingus headed for Tijuana. From that debauchery through motels and hostess bars was born one of his most excessive albums and one of the most important albums in the history of jazz. I mean Tijuana Moods; a frontier album where classic jazz is distorted until it reaches the madness of free jazz. Its constant changes of rhythm and the entrance of local color with a mariachi party that did not lack castanets would lay the foundations for what would come years later, when Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors and Philip Wilson set up the Art Ensemble of Chicago .

The biography of Charles Mingus is a journey from the mud to the stars passing through the bars of the Bellevue psychiatric hospital in New York where he was confined for a while and where he composed the song Lock’Em Up (Hellview Of Bellevue). His childhood was marked by the rhythm of his father’s strapping, a skilled guy in handling the belt. Perhaps, for this reason, Mingus fled from any repressive shadow that came to bring order and pattern to his artistic expression.

For what has been said, his biography is much more than the biography of a great musician; it is a sociological portrait of a racial and sonorous era, it is the life experience of a man who was not defeated even when the disease ripped the double bass out of his hands.