The era of the big band in jazz has declined rapidly since the 1950s, primarily as a result of the economic difficulty in keeping a big band working enough to make ends meet for 14 or more musicians. In addition, most of the big bands on the road these days are primarily vehicles for nostalgia -- recycling the music of a Duke Ellington or a Glenn Miller without really breaking any new musical ground in the process.
But don't tell the members of the Mingus Big Band that the genre is passé. Catch these musicians in action Sunday evening at Washington University's Edison Theatre, and you'll hear a collection of the best musicians on the jazz scene going far beyond rote re-creation of the music of legendary bassist/composer Charles Mingus. You'll hear music that's vital, energetic, challenging and extremely contemporary.
The continuing vitality of the Mingus Big Band has a lot to do with the music created by Mingus from the 1940s until his death in 1979. Like Ellington, Mingus put together bands full of fine musicians -- then wrote music that capitalized on their strengths. But unlike Duke, Mingus was never afraid of adding a heaping helping of his forthright political and social opinions to the music -- and doing it in a way that added emotion and excitement to his compositions.
The Mingus Big Band, which has played a regular gig at the Time Cafe in New York City since 1991, doesn't tour that often, so this is a rare chance to hear great Mingus compositions played by outstanding musicians. The music begins at 7 p.m. This promises to be one of the jazz events of the year in St. Louis.