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A Personal Connection with Charles Mingus

Francesco Gargiulli

One day, rummaging through the bins of a record store in his hometown of Syracuse, NY, clarinetist Harry Skoler came across a Charles Mingus recording called Mingus Moves. Something about that music – the complex harmonies, the angular melodies, the occasionally frenetic performances that veered between calm and chaos – or maybe it was just the overall feeling – something about Mingus touched him deeply. A few years later, just before Mingus retired from public performance due to ALS, Skoler saw him play live. According to Skoler, Mingus’ presence was unlike anything he had ever encountered.

“I don't think it's necessarily that Mingus had … a literal magic that made people feel something,” says Skoler. “I just think something about him, reverberated in people and allow them to kind of hone in on their own emotions. And so there was this incredible connection, this electrical spark… whatever the circumstance was, he was able to connect in unbelievably intimate ways.”

Over the next several decades, Skoler’s engagement with Mingus’ music remained personal and private. Finally, on what would have been Mingus’ 100th birthday, he is releasing an album featuring several of Mingus’ classic compositions. The cd is called “Living in Sound” and features bassist Christian McBride, pianist Kenny Barron, drummer Johnathan Blake, trumpeter Nicholas Payton and vocalist Jazzmeia Horn. The arrangements, written by Fabian Almazan, Ambrose Akinmusire and Darcy James Argue, give Mingus’ tunes a fresh sound with ensembles that combine a jazz combo and a string quartet.

In this segment, Skoler discusses his unusual origin story as a clarinetist and there are short excerpts from the new recording of Goodbye Porkpie Hat, Peggy’s Blue Skylight and Sue’s Changes.

Dave Chisholm

Peter Solomon is WESM's Music Director and host of Morning Jazz Unlimited, weekdays from 9 am to noon on WESM. He joined Delmarva Public Media in August 2021 after 22 years as a jazz host for an NPR affiliate in Richmond, Virginia.