In early 1964 Charles Mingus put together one of the great combos in jazz history. The sextet was composed of Mingus on bass, Dannie Richmond on drums, Jaki Byard on piano, Johnny Coles on trumpet, Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone and the extraordinary multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy on alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet. Mingus called his experimental group The Jazz Workshop.
In April of that year Mingus and his band embarked on a three-week tour of Europe, much of which is recorded on film and audiotape. The tour is remembered as one of the high-water marks in Mingus’s career. As Rob Bowman writes in the liner notes to the Jazz Icons DVD Charles Mingus Live in ’64:
The tour effectively introduced two new compositions, “Meditations On Integration” and “So Long Eric”, while the band walked a fine line between Mingus’s usual amalgam of bop, swing and New Orleans jazz and the free-jazz leanings of the cataclysmic Dolphy. The result, of course, was something that could only be called Mingus Music–a galvanizing, high-energy sonic stew that, while the product of the kinetic interplay of six musicians, could only have been conjured up with Mingus as the master of ceremonies.
The performance above is from Charles Mingus Live in ’64. It was recorded by Belgian television on Sunday, April 19, 1964 at the Palais des Congrés in Liège, Belgium. The band had unexpectedly been reduced to a quintet two nights earlier, when Coles collapsed onstage in Paris and was rushed to the hospital with what was later diagnosed as an ulcer. In the Belgian TV broadcast, pianist Byard makes up for the missing trumpet parts as the band plays three Mingus compositions:
- So Long Eric
- Peggy’s Blue Skylight
- Meditations on Integration
“So Long Eric” was named in honor of Dolphy, who had announced before the band left America that he would remain in Europe when the tour was over. Sadly, Dolphy fell into a diabetic coma in Germany and died just two months after finishing the tour. Mingus would later call the song “Praying With Eric.”