Charles Mingus: Epitaph


On DVD: 
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Running Time: 
101 minutes

Charles Mingus was a jazz legend who played with some of the greats from the 40’s all the way up until his death in 1979. Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie...his path intersected with some of the true giants of the craft. At the time of his death, Mingus left behind an epic, unrecorded piece of music, entitled “Epitaph,” as he believed that it would never be performed within his lifetime.

Unfortunately, he was correct in this assumption, but ten years after his passing, his wife produced a live performance of the composition with the help of a conductor and a 30-piece jazz orchestra. That live performance in 1989 is the entirety of this DVD release. And it is mammoth. The whole of Epitaph is just over two hours long, with various movements, interludes and even a spoken word section. It’s an incredible work of art and a testament to the creative genius that Mingus wielded.

If you’re a jazz fan of any sort, this release is definitely worth seeing. Be warned however, that the actual video quality is not that terrific. It appears to be a simple transfer from video tape, so the footage is rather grainy. Additionally, there are no special features, which is a shame. It would have been cool to see interviews with some of the players from the orchestra, or perhaps a small feature on Mingus’ life and work outside of “Epitaph.”

As it is, this is a worthwhile DVD, if only because it documents, in full, the whole sum of a legendary work of jazz music. Very impressive and inspiring.

Jeremy Hunt
Review by Jeremy Hunt
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