History - is a collection of a set of narratives that a group of people with some level of authority haphazardly capture, agree upon to an extent to generalize and build a story, a tale, a myth, a lesson, a grand(er) narrative. The same came be said of personal history, or one’s own life experiences. When two people are asked to narrate a shared event, either they’ll have a coordinated, rehearsed version to share or if not compared, it will be very differently told, depending on the emotional complexity of it. Now think in terms of music, using the journey of sound and it’s critique one can map out a historical journey, a narrative of sounds and how they are construed by words, and that juxtaposition will give you a delightful taste of how ‘history’ happens.
A wonderful example of the process of history being recorded going awry (from not so long ago) is in this excerpt from the wikipedia page of Charles Mingus about a concert (later released as an LP):
"Only one misstep occurred in this era: 1962’s Town Hall Concert. An ambitious program, it was plagued with troubles from its inception."
Adamant that things of greatness can be overly simplified and portrayed reductively and the belief that an artist, when in control of their own narrative can be robbed of credibility by ‘The Powers That (Review All That) Be,’ long ago, I had purchased a digitally remixed CD of said "misstep…(in) 1962’s Town Hall Concert", and much to my auditory pleasure and surprise, my predictions were indeed spot on. The glossy insert of literature in said CD case (which if absent, indicates a CD is not an original) was written by Brian Priestly, known most notably for his biography of Charles Mingus. In it he challenged this generally agreed upon narrative of the 1962 Charles Mingus New York Town Hall concert "…(being)…classified as…an abject failure…" by concisely crystallizing the reasons the released recordings of the concert were considered so, thus far, despite being directed by the maestro Mingus, himself who had ambitiously convinced a 30-piece band to to do an album as an experimental "open recording session with invited audience" versus a jazz concert which is also simply recorded as a matter of consequence. Mingus, was pushing boundaries and it had been recorded as a failure, how very myopic of The Powers That Be and popular opinion (unsurprisingly).
Priestly talks about how the very few tracks on the concert’s LP were also shortened, distorted versions, which were released without Charles Mingus’ consultation or knowledge. During the concert, the audience was frustrated and disappointed, by "…false starts and the incomplete performances intended to be edited later…" as they were unaware that these were in fact the nuts and bolts of a recording session, and expected a practiced concert with polished, end-products for the sake of performance to an audience, rather than what Mingus had designed - having simpler arrangements at the start of the performance to get the musicians used to each other "…break(ing) them in gently…" as Priestly theorized.
So the essential proponents of how the evening was documented and how it played out historically can be broken down into the following components;
1) a producer: who ambitiously tried to produce an entire LP with < 3hrs of music in front of a live audience,
2) a sound engineer: trying to capture the event without coordinating with the musicians,
3) Mingus (musician and director): admitted to being unused to doing written arrangements, and who also kept adding new bits during rehearsals.
4) the 30-piece band: who disagreed whether or not the show was indeed over - as some musicians started packing up near midnight while others wished to go on and were even boo-ed at.
5) and finally, once the hall was cleared, (some of) the band stayed back to do a retake without the audience (which was a lot longer and of better quality) and yet somehow - mysteriously - this last retake, although produced in an extremely sound manner and musically stunning was not a part of the final release.
Due to this, selective audience opinions (oft referred to as reporting bias) and versions released before the one dug out and digitally remastered that I sought out, were what music critics were basing their idea of that infamous concert on, and it was giving a bad name to Mingus’ phenomenally groundbreaking endeavour by painting it nothing more than a failure, skewing historical perspectives of what actually happened, showing that history is in fact always subjective, even when it is something late enough in our times to have have the capability to be recovered and digitally remastered.
If you want to feel Faiz when you hear Mingus’ Freedom - part 1 and remember:
"This mule could be called stubborn and lazy
But in a clever sorta way this mule could be workin’, waitin’
and learnin’ and plannin’
For a sacred kind of day.
So stand fast young-old mule
Soothe in contemplation
Thy burning hope and aching thigh.
Your stubbornness is ever-living
And cruel anxiety is about to die.”
- excerpt from Freedom, Mingus (1963)
And here’s a little something to all you wonderful musicians out there who are oft misunderstood, take a page out of the Life of Mingus, you make music for your own self first, don’t dumb yourself down because most people can’t understand - or don’t - they never will, it isn’t for them, it is for *you* - aur aqalmand ke liey ishara bhi kaafi hai. Cynical opinions will die a quick death, the louder they get. The truth of your sound will live on as will the story that resonates from within, no matter what history tries to suppress or pervert.
And live so your epitaph when read out, sounds like so because unlike Mingus’ epitaph, your life won’t have an alternative take.
~beautifully inspirational Pakistani music litters this piece as hidden/active links in phrases for you to unearth~