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Mingus Big Band, called “the greatest repertoire project in jazz history” by The New York Times, will perform at 8 p.m. Tuesday, October 31, in Lafayette’s Williams Center for the Arts. The concert features 14 of New York’s finest musicians for the Mingus Big Band’s “Blues and Politics” tour.

Tickets cost $20 and may be purchased by calling the Williams Center box office, (610) 330-5009.

The Mingus Big Band features some of the most outstanding jazz musicians from the New York jazz community. Included in the all-star gathering that will perform at Lafayette are saxophonists John Stubblefield, Vincent Herring, Alex Foster, and Seamus Blake, trumpeters Alex Sipiagin and Jim Rotundi, trombonists Earl McIntyre, Clark Gayton, and Luis Bonilla, and bassist Boris Kozlov, the Russian-born musical genius who will perform at Mingus’ seat of honor.

The Mingus Big Band remains devoted to the vast repertoire that the late bassist and composer left behind when he died in 1979. Organized and overseen by Sue Mingus, his widow, the band plays special big band arrangements of Steve Slagle, Ronnie Cuber, and Jack Walrath, as well as Mingus himself and his frequent collaborator, Sy Johnson. The band has performed every Thursday night since 1991 to sold out houses at the Time Cafe in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

The Mingus Big Band has played to critical acclaim in many cities around the United States, including New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Minneapolis. It has appeared at virtually every major jazz festival in Europe and at many of the major concert halls, including the Barbican in London and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. The Mingus Big Band has been featured on television in Japan, Germany, Brazil, and ltaly, and in the U.S. on NPR, live from both the Chicago and Detroit Jazz Festivals. In 1993, it performed in Washington, D.C. at the Academy of Arts and Sciences to celebrate the acquisition of Mingus’ music by the Library of Congress. Mingus was the first African-American musician to achieve this honor.

Both the JazzTimes and Down Beat critics and readers polls have voted the Mingus Big Band “Best Big Band” for several years running, and in June, 1999, the New York Jazz Awards awarded Mingus Big Band both the “Best Big Band” & “Best Touring Band” Awards. JazzTimes has called the Mingus Big Band “the smokingest big band on the planet.”

The Mingus Big Band has released five recordings, all on the Dreyfus label. Gunslinging Birds was nominated for a 1996 Grammy for “Best Large Ensemble Jazz Recording” and won the 1996 NAIRD INDIE Award for “Best Mainstream Jazz Recording.” Live in Time was released in January, 1997 and was also nominated for a Grammy. The recently released Blues and Politics focuses on some of Mingus’ more political pieces, as well as the blues at the heart of his music.

One of the most important figures in 20th century American music, Mingus was a virtuoso bass player, accomplished pianist, bandleader, and composer. Born on a military base in Nogales, Arizona in 1922 and raised in Watts, California, his earliest musical influences came from the church — choir and group singing — and from “hearing Duke Ellington over the radio when [he] was eight years old.” His early professional experience in the ’40s found him touring with bands like Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory and Lionel Hampton. Eventually he settled in New York, where he played and recorded with the leading musicians of the 1950’s — Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Art Tatum, and Duke Ellington. One of the few bassists to do so, Mingus quickly developed as a leader of musicians. By the mid-’50s, he had formed his own publishing and recording companies to protect and document his growing repertoire of original music. He also founded the Jazz Workshop, a group that enabled young composers to have their new works performed in concert and on recordings.

Mingus soon found himself at the forefront of the avant-garde. He recorded over 100 albums for many labels and wrote over 300 scores. In 1971, Mingus was awarded the Slee Chair of Music and spent a semester teaching composition at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In the same year his autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, was published. Mingus received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Smithsonian Institute and the Guggenheim Foundation. He also received an honorary degree from Brandeis and an award from Yale University. His music was performed frequently by ballet companies, and Alvin Ailey choreographed an hour program called “The Mingus Dances” during a 1972 collaboration with the Robert Joffrey Ballet Company.

Mingus toured extensively throughout Europe, Japan, Canada, South America, and the United States until the end of 1977, when he was diagnosed as having a rare nerve disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He was confined to a wheelchair, and although he was no longer able to write music on paper or compose at the piano, his last works were sung into a tape recorder.

The 2000-2001 Performance Series at Lafayette is cosponsored, in part, by grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Mid Atlantic Foundation for the Arts.

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