Thirty years ago Andrew Homzy helped resurrect Charles Mingus’s lost catalogue, and now he’s invited those who keep the renowned jazz composer’s music alive to headline the 2018 Nanaimo International Jazz Festival.
The Charles Mingus Dynasty Quintet – trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt, bassist Andy McKee, pianist David Kikoski, director and saxophonist Wayne Escoffery and drummer Donald Edwards – performs at the Port Theatre on Sept. 22. The musicians will also hold a workshop for jazz students and perform in the kick-off and closing concerts on Sept. 21 and Sept. 23.
Homzy, president of the Nanaimo International Jazz Festival Association, said his association with Mingus dates back to the mid-’80s when, as jazz instructor and researcher for Montreal’s Concordia University, Homzy travelled to New York City to learn more about the then recently deceased jazz great.
When Homzy got to New York he cold-called Mingus’s widow Sue from a phone booth on the subway platform in the World Trade Centre, introduced himself and asked if she had any scores Mingus wrote for his groups.
“She was very gracious,” Homzy said. “She said, ‘Look, here’s my address, come uptown and ring the bell and you can come up to my apartment and I’ll show you what I have.”
Homzy said going up to Sue’s apartment was “like walking into a fable.” She led him to an “ancient-looking” trunk in the centre of a room and opened it to reveal a trove of sheet music and manuscripts.
“I started going through it and I just became overwhelmed by seeing all these pieces that I’ve been listening to for decades and Sue said to me, she said, ‘Oh, if you see anything that interests you, you can just take it down to the photocopy shop down on the corner.’ I mean these are priceless manuscripts. Like I said, it was really, really quite overwhelming and I had a similar experience with (Duke) Ellington’s music but that’s for another story,” Homzy said.
In the ensuing years Homzy catalogued the compositions in Sue’s trunk, discovering pieces that had never been recorded in the process. The most notable work Homzy reassembled was Epitaph, a two-hour long composition for jazz orchestra that Mingus attempted to record in 1962. Due to Homzy’s effort the piece was finally recorded in 1989, 10 years after the death of its composer.
After Epitaph, Homzy continued collaborating with Sue on a number of projects, including a book of accessibly-arranged Mingus works. Homzy said Sue “has almost been like family.”
“Over the years, every time I would go to New York I would often stay at her apartment and she would introduce me to all kinds of musicians that were playing. She formed the Mingus Big Band and that group is still going,” he said. “They won a Grammy Award two years ago and some of the musicians in the Mingus Dynasty that will be here in Nanaimo are on that Grammy Award-winning CD, so it’s pretty exciting for our town and our festival.”