MINGUS EPITAPH ORCHESTRA | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader


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Charles Mingus, the greatest jazz composer since Ellington, presented his masterwork, Epitaph, only once, during a disastrous 1962 Town Hall performance. When conductor, composer, and musicologist Gunther Schuller sought to reprise the piece in 1989, he had to confront a paper trail of misorganized sheet music that required wholesale reconstruction. What he put together was something like Mingus-as-Mahler, a fantasia of familiar and iconic themes cobbled into a sprawling, two-hour portrait of a busy and messy musical mind. The sheer breadth of this material might overwhelm an audience were it not for the uniquely charismatic melodies; by turns earthy, sophisticated, ethereal, rustic, and sublime, they mirror the many moods of Mingus himself. The 31-piece jazz orchestra Schuller assembled for this performance--one of four scheduled across the country in celebration of what would've been Mingus's 85th birthday--includes several modern titans, among them pianist Kenny Drew Jr., baritone saxist Ronnie Cuber, trumpeter Jack Walrath, and bassist Christian McBride. The band also stars saxists Steve Slagle and Craig Handy, trombonists Ku-umba Frank Lacy and Conrad Herwig, and tuba legend Howard Johnson. a 8 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114, $19-$79.

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