Mingus Awareness Project: Return to Richmond

After a year off, Brian Jones’s Mingus Awareness Project is back. The event features the finest jazz around, including a big band directed by Doug Richards. All proceeds benefit research for ALS, making this an event truly worthy of your time and your ears.

Fifteen people are diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis every day. Better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ALS is a neuromuscular disorder that causes progressive paralysis — impairing simple functions like swallowing and breathing — and ends in death. To this day, there is no cure, and it kills thousands every year. Jazz legend Charles Mingus died of the disease in 1979, bringing to an end the life of one of the music’s most significant composers and bassists.

Created and first held in Chicago by brothers Jon, Dan, and Erik Godston in May 2007, Mingus Awareness Project was formed to educate people on the disease as well as raise money to benefit an ALS research foundation. Drummer Brian Jones — a childhood friend of the Godston’s — was affected when their mother died from the disease after years of suffering through it. He brought MAP to Richmond in October 2007, and this is its third almost-annual event.

Any Brian Jones event is bound to be spectacular, whether it’s his John Cage-inspired Musicircus or a night in a local club with any of his eclectic ensembles. MAP is no different. Taking place in a larger venue each year, there never seems to be enough space for those who come to take part in a great cause and to hear some of the best jazz around.

The Mingus Awareness Project Big Band is stacked with Virginia’s finest, topped off with living legend Doug Richards. The Great American Music Ensemble director and founder of the VCU Jazz Studies program brings much to the table, like his adventurous arrangements and his impassioned and inspiring direction. His love of Mingus certainly brings his involvement to a new level.

“[Mingus was] one of the three or four truly significant composers in jazz history,” Richards has said. “His various groups that he led, from the mid 50s through his death, were some of the most outstanding ensembles in jazz history, and the recordings that they made are some of the most significant recordings made. As a bassist, he is, in my opinion, one of the four or five greatest jazz bassists. There aren’t too many individuals that one can make all of those accolades about.”

Mingus’s singular and raw voice as a bassist and composer was a direct reflection of his personality. “You kind of are what you are,” Jones has said, “and that’s what will ultimately come out of your music. Mingus may be the epitome of that idea.”

Lots of great music happened in Richmond last year, but there was an enormous void when Mingus Awareness Project didn’t happen. I’m proud to say that the event of the year has returned.

Mingus Awareness Project features Adam Larrabee Plays Money Jungle and Mingus Awareness Project Big Band directed by Doug Richards and will take place on Sunday, October 24, 2010, 7pm, at Richmond CenterStage’s Rhythm Hall. Tickets are $22 and go on sale on Tuesday morning at the CenterStage box office and all Ticketmaster vendors. All proceeds benefit ALS research. For more information, visit CenterStage online.

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Dean Christesen

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