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About this Piece

The Three Lives of Epitaph

This presentation is the third stage of the life of Charles Mingus' personal and dynamic masterwork Epitaph, prophetically named because, as he said, he "wrote it for my tombstone." Its first life was the ill-fated recording/concert at Town Hall in 1962, with too little time to prepare and rehearse, a truncated performance, and some brilliant highlights that can be heard on Blue Note Records. Mingus shelved it for the rest of his life, returning to it only once, in order to remove three compositions, which he sold to the New York Public Library. In the mid-'80s, when Andrew Homzy was assisting Sue Mingus in cataloging Mingus' complete works, he discovered the loose pages of a 500-page score (minus the three pieces sold), and, like a detective, pieced together by measure number the individual movements of Epitaph.

The second life was the 1989 premiere at Lincoln Center, conducted by Gunther Schuller, of what was then considered the complete score. This version of Epitaph traveled the world and The New York Times called it the "jazz event of the decade." Gunther Schuller said it was "the most important prophetic statement in the history of jazz."

Tonight you are part of the third life of Epitaph, now complete and energized by two decades of creative evolution. Inspired by the 1989 premiere and the power of Mingus' music in an expanded context, Sue Mingus has organized numerous ensembles whose musicians, Gunther Schuller notes, "play jazz that is in some respects even more advanced than what Mingus wrote. So they are interpreting the music from their own personalities but with full respect for Mingus and the fire and the intensity of his music, and then bringing a certain kind of extra dimension to it."

When asked to comment on his accomplishments, Mingus said his virtuosity on the bass was the result of hard work, but that his talent for composition was a gift from God. Today's Mingus musicians use their skills, their heart, and their individual voices to channel that gift, allowing Mingus' composition to instruct, challenge, and inspire them as his legacy lives on.

"Mingus' hope was to find improvisation and spontaneity and freedom, and at the same time compose a large extensive frame of reference. That's the problem, that in jazz has not yet been solved. Only Duke Ellington really tackled it. But Ellington was still writing songs and fashioning suites around them. Epitaph has nothing to do with 32-bar song forms. It is composition in the true sense." -Gunther Schuller


  1. Main Score Part 1
  2. Percussion Discussion
  3. Main Score Part 2
  4. Started Melody
  5. Better Get Hit In Your Soul
  6. The Soul
  7. Inquisition
  8. Moods in Mambo
  9. Self-Portrait/Chill of Death (Todeskälte)
  10. O.P. (Oscar Pettiford)
  11. Please Don't Come Back from the Moon (Pinky Don't Come Here For Love, Man)
  12. Monk, Bunk & Vice Versa (Osmotin')
  13. Peggy's Blue Skylight
  14. Wolverine Blues
  15. The Children's Hour of Dream
  16. Ballad (In Other Words, I Am Three)
  17. Freedom
  18. Interlude (The Underdog Rising)
  19. Noon Night
  20. Main Score Reprise

Following the posthumous premiere of Epitaph in 1989, it became clear that Mingus intended to include seven additional compositions in this extended overview of his musical life. Tonight for the first time, the following pieces will be performed as part of Epitaph:


"Duke's Choice"

"This Subdues My Passion"

The complete published score of Epitaph will be available through Hal Leonard
in the fall of 2007.

For more detailed information about Epitaph, please visit