Charles Mingus - The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
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"Touch my beloved’s thought while her world’s affluence crumbles at my feet." -- From a poem on LP’s front sleeve.
One year prior to John Coltrane recording his most illustrious album, A Love Supreme, jazz bassist/composer Charles Mingus recorded its reciprocal, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. A Love Supreme crashes like ocean waves, steadily and righteously—a baptismal current of spiritual awakening. The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady roars like a typhoon, rolling and thundering—a feverish downpour of unbound romanticism. In addition to religious referencing in A Love Supreme’s track listing, Coltrane penned a tribute to God for its liner notes and also included a similarly themed poem. One step ahead of Coltrane in terms of expressing the state of his soul through album supplements, Mingus composed the liner notes for The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, in which he wrote:
“This music is only one little wave of styles and waves of little ideas my mind has encompassed through living in a society that calls itself sane, as long as you’re not behind iron bars where there at least one can’t be as crazy as in most of the ventures our leaders take upon themselves to do and think for us, even to the day we should be blown up to preserve their idea of how life should be. Crazy? They’d never get out of the observation ward at Bellevue.”
Mingus was arguably the most important jazz composer to the Beat scene of the 1950s, so it’s not surprising that he would embellish his track listing with tone poems. These lyrical subscripts focused on “Freedom”, “Revolution” and “Merriment on Battle Front”. It’s important to note that even though most people think of the late 1960s—hippies and rock music—when they think of rebellion and renaissance in this country, the real insurrection—the hottest burst of enlightenment—was occurring in the late 1950s and early 1960s via Beat writers, avant-garde filmmakers, jazz composers and one tragic comedian named Lenny Bruce, who battled the Establishment before it became a surefire way of scoring with chicks. By the late 1960s, the true rebels were either dead or insane and what was left were moneymaking posers who were too callow, too cautious, to get involved at the ground floor. The Beatles and the Stones were for the children playing revolution; Coltrane and Mingus were for the adults living it. The Sexual Revolution in particular didn’t kick off with an electric guitar strum, but with the tap, tap, tap of an exotic drum.
Whereas Coltrane was getting on the spiritual tip, Mingus avowed secularism and to greater degree: sensuality. The music on “Black Saint” thrashes about in tortured close quarters—like the broody scoundrel Brando played in A Street Car Named Desire—springing up to drenched sheets and a heaving chest. The Sinner Lady is delicious poison on our Black Saint’s mind—stroking his manhood with a Jezebel smirk, clutching his heart with a stone cold hold. She dances slowly with him, then faster—faster! —grinding a fire as she whispers sin in his ear; her soft voice sings of love and revolt. The drums march forth; the trumpets and trombones moan amorously; the bright piano cuts its way through the dark tempest; the saxophone cries in simultaneous pain and release; the tuba and bass throb a burgeoning movement. Is this modern jazz or dance music for lustful existentialists? Whatever it is, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady isn’t for people who like their music featherlike. No. It’s for us iconoclastic fuckers who relish intensity and depth with a madass swing!
Thank you Mingus. Goddamn.
By: Edwin Faust
Published on: 2003-09-01