Dickey, Price win Cy Young awards

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Duke Ellington’s early 1960s collaborations with Charles Mingus, Max Roach and John Coltrane left him at some slight risk of coming off as outmoded, but these men, like most of the high moderns, were devout Ellingtonians who were hardly out to make him yield, and he was always plenty modern himself anyway. It says a lot about him that at this late date he could collaborate with these men without either compromising or surrendering to them—you simply can’t imagine Louis Armstrong in such a setting—but his approach was always to absorb, extend, elaborate and refine, and so you can’t be surprised that something like “Fleurette Africaine” is no curiosity, but something that rates with all but the very best of what Mingus was doing at a period when he was at the height of his powers.

As a side note: Many years before, Mingus had briefly been a member of Ellington’s band, before getting into a racially charged onstage brawl with trombonist Juan Tizol at the Apollo Theater. Mingus’s account of what happens next may not be journalistically accurate, but even so stands as probably the most credible account of what Ellington was actually like that I’ve ever read.

“Now, Charles,” he says, looking amused, putting Cartier links into the cuffs of his beautiful handmade shirt, “you could have forewarned me—you left me out of the act entirely! At least you could have let me cue in a few chords as you ran through that Nijinsky routine. I congratulate you on your performance, but why didn’t you and Juan inform me about the adagio you planned so that we could score it? I must say I never saw a large man so agile—I never saw anybody make such tremendous leaps! The gambado over the piano carrying your bass was colossal. When you exited after that I thought, ‘That man’s really afraid of Juan’s knife and at the speed he’s going he’s probably home in bed by now.’ But no, back you came through the same door with your bass still intact. For a moment I was hopeful you’d decided to sit down and play but instead you slashed Juan’s chair in two with a fire axe! Really, Charles, that’s destructive. Everybody knows Juan has a knife but nobody ever took it seriously—he likes to pull it out and show it to people, you understand. So I’m afraid, Charles—I’ve never fired anybody—you’ll have to quit my band. I don’t need any new problems. Juan’s an old problem, I can cope with that, but you seem to have a whole bag of new tricks. I must ask you to be kind enough to give me your notice, Mingus.”

The charming way he says it, it’s like he’s paying you a compliment. Feeling honored, you shake hands and resign.

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