The Rifftides piece about Charles Mingus brought a response from pianist and composer Jill McManus in New York.
I knew Mingus! I was introduced to him one night when I took my mother, in from England, to the old Half Note in the ’70s. I seem to remember it was pouring. We were waiting in line, chilled and dripping, chatting with Rev John Gensel when Mingus plunged in, and John introduced us. Mingus was charming, looked at them, one on either side of me, smiled and said, “Hmm, good Christian girl.” (!!) ( think I lowered my eyebrows.) He and John then proceded to a contest of crushing beer tops with the thumb of one hand, and Mingus won.
Mingus heard me play the early set at the Village Gate one night and was complimentary, and always greeted me warmly except once: The Jazz Sisters band was to open for him downstairs at the Gate. We were a sextet, and his group was a quintet. We got a great response, the only female jazz group of its kind in that day. Word was sent that Mingus resented being upstaged by a band bigger than his, but after his pout we were invited to his dressing room for cake. He was actually very nice.
I sat in with Mingus once at the Vanguard ( I was a beginner player, had been studying with Roland Hanna) one night when he was having a spat with Jaki Byard. Jaki was simmering at the bar, and Mingus called me up. Wow. I struggled to stay in place with Danny Richmond’s crazy style and dropping of bombs. Think I came out a couple of beats late on “Star Eyes.” But Mingus said “Come back and play anytime.”
The last vision – Mingus was in a wheelchair at Bradley’s with a group of friends. I went up to him and reached out to shake his hand, not realizing he was paralyzed. I was so chagrined I almost cried. But he nodded and I saw he forgave me. One night not long after that I dreamed that he was on a big boat leaving shore — it was foggy — I was trying to reach out to him to say goodbye — it was too far — too late to jump across. The boat disappeared into the fog. I think he died that night, and I learned of it a day or so later.
Some years later I met his oldest son, Charles III, at an art opening on the East Side. He told me about the time his father put him on the roof of a shed, and said “Jump, I’ll catch you. Trust me.” The little kid jumped and Mingus stepped back and let him crash to the ground, saying, “Never trust anybody.” The saddest story…
Jill McManus’s previous Rifftides contribution was in a team report on last fall’s benefit concert for Richard Sudhalter. In addition to composing and playing music, she writes about it for the Newark Star-Ledger.
McManus’s Symbols of Hopi (Concord, 1984) featuring her compositions and piano, David Liebman, Tom Harrell, Marc Johnson, Billy Hart and American Indian percussionists, is one of the important recordings of the 1980s still not reissued on CD.