‘Creativity is making the complicated simple’: The vocal music of Charles Mingus at Auburn State Theatre
Charles Mingus, one of the most important figures in 20th century American music was quoted as saying, “My music is evidence of my soul’s will to live.” His extraordinary repertoire of innovative personal music mixed with his fiery virtuosity as a bassist and band leader gave him a reputation as a creative force with a unique compositional voice. Much of his music has yet to fully be discovered even though it has had a profound influence on musicians around the world.
On Saturday, February 29th at 7:30 pm the Auburn State Theatre will present the concert, Mingus Sings, celebrating the vocal music of Charles Mingus with Nevada County vocalist Ellen Johnson, pianist and arranger Rick Helzer, drummer Gary Newmark and bassist John Lauffenburger whose collective individual past experiences include performances with Bobby McFerrin, James Newton, Charlie Haden, Diane Shuur, Joe Henderson, Peter Erskine, and Mel Torme. The concert will also feature East Coast recording artist, composer and educator, saxophonist Don Braden who has toured the world leading his own ensembles or as a guest and sideman with jazz greats Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, Tony Williams, and Roy Haynes among many others. Tickets are $26 in advance/$28 day of show with $10 for students and group discounts. For more information or to purchase advance tickets call 530-885-0156 or go to http://www.livefromauburn.com. The theatre is located at 985 Lincoln Way in Auburn.
The seldom heard vocal compositions include lyrics by Charles Mingus as well as Joni Mitchell, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and vocalist Ellen Johnson’s original lyrics and collaborations with pianist and arranger Rick Helzer. Johnson, who has been performing the Mingus vocal music for many years is a respected professional vocalist, educator and author of the biography Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan. Jazz Journal International described her performances as “superior jazz singing by an artist of the highest quality.” In the early 90s Johnson was granted permission by Sue Mingus to write and record original lyrics to several Mingus compositions including a haunting version of “Peggy’s Blue Skylight” featuring alto saxophonist and frequent Mingus collaborator, Charles McPherson. Since that time Johnson has recorded several of these compositions most recently “Weird Nightmare,” “Nostalgia In Times Square” and “Noddin Ya Head Blues” with guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Darek Oles and l ongtime Cannonball Adderly drummer Roy McCurdy.
For this Sacramento/Nevada County première, Johnson and Helzer teamed up after a 30-year hiatus to add new Mingus material including an homage to Mingus along with inspired improvisations and quotes from the legendary bassist. The musicians are focused on what Mingus aspired to, “Creativity is making the complicated simple.” Johnson is actively working on an all Mingus recording project, seeking grants while promoting the Mingus Sings concerts for educational and performing arts centers. She can be reached at: http://www.ellenjohnson.net.
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