Charles Mingus' 'Peggy's Blue Skylight': Listen to Intimate, Previously Unreleased Performance

Hans Kumpf
Charles Mingus

When Amir Abdullah first learned of a Charles Mingus Quintet performance at the tiny Strata Concert Gallery in Detroit during 1973, he never dreamed he'd be spearheading a release of the set. But it surfaces on Nov. 2 as Mingus -- Jazz in Detroit/Strata Concert Gallery/46 Selden -- including the track "Peggy's Blue Skylight," premiering exclusively below.

DJ and musicologist Abdullah saw a poster for Mingus' week-long residency at Strata during a visit to Detroit's Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, where he was gathering materials for a Strata Records exhibition he was curating. Then, during the summer of 2017, Abdullah received an email from Strata owner Barbara Cox telling him that drummer Roy Brooks' widow Hermine had a recording of the Mingus concert, which had been broadcast on the local public radio station WDET. "Of course I said yes," Abdullah tells Billboard. He was living in Berlin at the time so sent producer/DJ friend John Morales to check out the reel-to-reel tapes. "We were all blown away at how stunning the recording sounded," Abdullah says. "You really feel like you're in the small but intimate Strata Concert Gallery, sitting in front (and) grooving to Mingus and the band." He subsequently brought the tapes to Mingus' widow, Sue, who gave her approval for the release.

The set stands out for a variety of reasons, according to Abdullah. "You get to hear Mingus in this intimate setting where he and the band are free to explore whatever musical territory that suits them," he explains. The recording also features Mingus working with a tenor saxophonist (John Stubblefield) for the first time. "Although he didn't last that long with Mingus this recording really highlights why Mingus invited him to be in the band," Abdullah says. The album also features the earliest known recording of "Noddin' Ya Head Blues," with Brooks playing musical saw, and the first official release of "Dizzy Profile," which Mingus never recorded in a studio.

"This recording adds more than just the chance to hear Mingus in a rare intimate setting but it also allows the listener to hear his process of arranging and improvisation combined with his ability to tell a story with his music," Abdullah says. "It also shows how Mingus was not above playing smaller venues and supporting local black-owned businesses. Strata was an artist-run and owned collective that spoke to the people of Detroit. You have to remember that 1973 was still a turbulent time in America, particularly after the riots of 1967 and 1968 in Detroit. Motown had already moved to L.A., and that left a huge vacuum in Detroit.

"So having someone like Mingus come to your neighborhood to do a week-long residence would have been mind-blowing for many in Detroit."

The Mingus set will be released as five-CD and five-LP packages and is available for pre-order. And the good news is that there are more treasures to come from the Strata Records and Strata Gallery archives.

"In fact," Abdullah says, "Herbie Hancock was the next artist to do a week long residence at the gallery followed eventually by Ornette Coleman, Elvin Jones, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Weather Report. I am working hard to secure these masters as they would even add more to historical legacy of jazz."