Mingus Ah Um is a jazz album by Charles Mingus, recorded and released on Columbia Records in 1959, as CK 65512. It was his first album recorded for Columbia. The cover features a painting by S. Neil Fujita.
The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD calls this album "an extended tribute to ancestors" (and awards it one of their rare crowns), and Mingus's musical forebears figure largely throughout. "Better Git It In Your Soul" is inspired by gospel singing and preaching of the sort that Mingus would have heard as a child growing up in Watts, Los Angeles, California, while "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" is a reference (by way of his favored headgear) to saxophonist Lester Young (who had died shortly before the album was recorded). The origin and nature of "Boogie Stop Shuffle" is self-explanatory: a twelve-bar blues with four themes and a boogie bass backing that passes from stop time to shuffle and back.
"Self-Portrait in Three Colors" was originally written for John Cassavetes' first film as director, Shadows, but was never used (for budgetary reasons). "Open Letter to Duke" is a tribute to Duke Ellington, and draws on three of Mingus's earlier pieces ("Nouroog", "Duke's Choice", and "Slippers"). "Jelly Roll" is a reference to jazz pioneer and pianist Jelly Roll Morton; "Bird Calls," in Mingus' own words, was not a reference to bebop legend Charlie "Bird" Parker: "It wasn't supposed to sound like Charlie Parker. It was supposed to sound like birds - the first part."
"Fables of Faubus" is named after Orval E. Faubus (1910–1994), the Governor of Arkansas infamous for his 1957 stand against integration of Little Rock, Arkansas schools in defiance of U.S. Supreme Court rulings (forcing President Eisenhower to send in the National Guard). It is sometimes claimed that Columbia refused to allow the lyrics to be included on this album, though the liner notes to the 1998 reissue of the album state that the piece started life as an instrumental, and only gained the lyrics later (as can be heard on the 1960 release Presents Charles Mingus.)
When Columbia first issued the album in 1959, six of the album's nine songs (tracks 2, 3, 5, 6, 8 and 9) were edited in order to fit them on the LP; certain songs were shortened by several minutes. These six tracks were first restored in 1979 and three other recordings were discovered. Later reissues contain both the full-length versions of the original nine tracks and the three new tracks.
All songs composed by Charles Mingus, except 12, composed by Sonny Clapp. Original shortened song lengths are given within parentheses.
- "Better Git It in Your Soul" – 7:23
- "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" – 5:44 (4:46)
- "Boogie Stop Shuffle" – 5:02 (3:41)
- "Self-Portrait in Three Colors" – 3:10
- "Open Letter to Duke" – 5:51 (4:56)
- "Bird Calls" – 6:17 (3:12)
- "Fables of Faubus" – 8:13
- "Pussy Cat Dues" – 9:14 (6:27)
- "Jelly Roll" – 6:17 (4:01)
- Bonus tracks on later reissues
- "Pedal Point Blues" – 6:30
- "GG Train" – 4:39
- "Girl of My Dreams" – 4:08
- John Handy – alto sax (6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12), clarinet (8), tenor sax (1, 2)
- Booker Ervin – tenor sax
- Shafi Hadi – tenor sax (2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10), alto sax (1, 5, 6, 9, 12)
- Willie Dennis – trombone (3, 4, 5, 12)
- Jimmy Knepper – trombone (1, 7, 8, 9, 10)
- Horace Parlan – piano
- Charles Mingus – bass, piano (with Parlan on track 10)
- Dannie Richmond – drums
50th Anniversary Legacy Edition
In 2009 Sony's Legacy Recordings released a special 2-disc 50th Anniversary Edition of Mingus Ah Um. In addition to the complete album, the Legacy Edition includes three alternate takes: "Bird Calls (alternate)" (4:54), "Better Git It In Your Soul (alternate)" (8:30), and the standout "Jelly Roll (alternate)" (6:41). Oddly, the Legacy Edition of Mingus Ah Um also includes Mingus Dynasty, an album recorded later in 1959 (with unedited versions of five tracks shortened on the original LP release).