"Epitaph" is aptly named as it was only discovered as a full piece of music after Mingus' death in 1979.There had been an attempt to play it back in October of 1962, but with somewhat disastrous results. It seems that the parts weren't fully written and the musicians participating on the project had never seen most of the music that already had been committed to paper. What was supposed to originally be a recording session was opened to a paying public who were expecting a fully rehearsed concert. They were quite surprised and disappointed by the constant stops and starts, and the general incoherency of the performance. So the piece was completed buried away, until…
June 3rd, 1989, the Alice Tully Hall at New York's Lincoln Center is where this jazz symphony was finally brought to life in it's entirety. Conductor Gunther Schuller and a veritable who's who of jazz musicians (30 players in all,including a very young Winston Marsalis among others) brought this mammoth piece to an audience for the first time. This show was filmed, resulting in the DVD currently under review.
Divided in 18 parts and covering over 2 hours, "Epitaph" was written over a 23-year span (1940 to 1962). Some tracks here may have seen life as pieces written for smaller combos, while others had never been heard before this night. The music has elements patently Mingus throughout. It is very dense and very complex, with most parts having a definite "movie score" feel to them. A detailed "track by track" description is available as part of the extensive liner notes provided with the DVD. The performance is about as good as you can expect for a piece of this size covering such a vast musical scope. Conductor Schuller guides the musicians as if this were a symphony more than a huge jazz ensemble. The music maybe suffers a little because of this, coming across lacking a little life and vibrancy. I'm sure that had this been a tour instead of a one-off concert, there would have been a marked improvement from night to night as the musicians would have become much more comfortable with the music, taking more liberties with it, in true jazz fashion. I'm convinced that if the inimitable Mr Mingus had been at the helm on this night, the results would have been quite different!
Shot in 4:3 and available in Dolby 2.0 only, one buys this DVD more for its historical significance than for the its sonic and/or visual quality. Anybody who ever took more than just a passing interest in this great man's work will definitely want to see and hear his magnus opus.
- Main Score: Part One
- Percussion Discussion
- Main Score: Part Two
- Started Melody
- The Soul
- Ballad (In Other Words I am Three)
- Moods In Mambo
- Self Portrait: The Chill Of Death
- O.P. (Oscar Pettiford)
- Please Don't Come Back From The Moon
- Monk, Bunk, & Vice Versa (Osmotin)
- Peggy's Blue Skylight
- Wolverine Blues
- The Children's Hour Of Dream
- Interlude (The Underdog Rising)
- Better Get It In Your Soul
- Neon Night
- Main Score Reprise