Jazz Night in America: Muldrow Meets Mingus

Mar 23, 2017

At a glance, Georgia Anne Muldrow isn't the obvious pick to create an interpretive tribute to the bassist and composer Charles Mingus. She was born in 1983, four years after Mingus died at 56. Her music stands well outside the jazz perimeter, aligning more with the Afrocentric current that flows through underground hip-hop, avant-R&B and psychedelic soul. She isn't a bassist like Mingus, but rather a singer, rapper and beat-making producer. Her village elders include the rapper Mos Def, the producer Madlib and the vocalist Erykah Badu.

But Muldrow, like Mingus, hails from Los Angeles — and that's far from the most salient commonality between them. She grew up with his music courtesy of her father, Roland, a working jazz musician. And she gravitated to Mingus' example as a creative maverick, a political activist and an outspoken advocate for black America — someone who, in her words, "expressed the truth."

Jason Moran, the acclaimed pianist and composer, recognized the potential here. As the Artistic Director for Jazz at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., he commissioned a concert program called "Muldrow Meets Mingus." It took place earlier this year at the Kennedy Center's Crossroads Club, and Jazz Night in America was there for the rehearsals as well as the world premiere, which featured audacious musicians like alto saxophonist Darius Jones, trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy and drummer Karriem Riggins.

In this irrepressibly funky episode of Jazz Night, you'll hear excerpts of the concert, including Muldrow's reimagining of Mingus' "Fables Of Faubus" and "Goodbye Porkpie Hat." You'll also hear insights from Muldrow, Moran and the critic Greg Tate, who approvingly calls out the shamanistic aspects of this music.

"When you hear someone like Georgia, who has such a wide palette of sounds and inspirations and execution," Moran says, "you know that's a real artist." "Muldrow Meets Mingus" represents a celebration of that spirit, full of extravagant risk and equal reward.