By 1956, with the release of Pithecanthropus Erectus (Atlantic), Charles Mingus had clearly found himself as a composer and leader, creating pulsating, ever-shifting compendiums of jazz's past and present, feeling his way into the free jazz of the future. For the next decade, he would pour forth an extraordinary body of work for several labels, including key albums like The Clown, New Tijuana Moods, Mingus Ah Um, Blues and Roots and Oh Yeah; standards like "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," "Better Git It in Your Soul," "Haitian Fight Song" and "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting," and extended works like Meditations on Integration and Epitaph.
Through ensembles ranging in size from a quartet to an 11-piece big band, a procession of noted sidemen like Eric Dolphy, Jackie McLean, J.R. Monterose, Jimmy Knepper, Roland Kirk, Booker Ervin, and John Handy would pass, with Mingus' commanding bass and volatile personality pushing his musicians further than some of them might have liked to go. The groups with the great Dolphy (heard live on Mingus at Antibes) in the early '60s might have been his most dynamic, and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963), an extended ballet for big band that captures the anguished/joyful split Mingus personality in full, passionately wild cry -- may be his masterpiece.
The decade that followed is generally regarded as Mingus's most productive and fertile period. Impressive new compositions and albums appeared at an astonishing rate: some thirty records in ten years, for a number of record labels (Atlantic Records, Candid, Columbia Records, Impulse! Records and others), a pace perhaps unmatched by any other musicians except Ellington and Frank Zappa.
Mingus had already recorded around ten albums as a bandleader, but 1956 was a breakthrough year for him, with the release of Pithecanthropus Erectus, arguably his first major work as both a bandleader and composer. Like Ellington, Mingus wrote songs with specific musicians in mind, and his band for Erectus included adventurous musicians: piano player Mal Waldron, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean and the Sonny Rollins-influenced tenor of J. R. Monterose. The title song is a ten-minute tone poem, depicting the rise of man from his hominid roots (Pithecanthropus erectus) to an eventual downfall. A section of the piece was free improvisation, free of structure or theme.
According to Mingus's liner notes, the title song is a ten-minute tone poem, depicting the rise of man from his hominid roots (Pithecanthropus erectus) to an eventual downfall due to "his own failure to realize the inevitable emancipation of those he sought to enslave, and his greed in attempting to stand on a false security." The song's title translates into "Upright Ape-Man", which holds a dual meaning with "upright" referring to Mingus's bass.
Charles Mingus – bass
Jackie McLean – alto saxophone
J. R. Monterose – tenor saxophone
Mal Waldron – piano
Willie Jones – drums