I started a blog in 2002, and have blogged a little bit on the MySpace page, but with so much happening now and no serious outlet for many of my views on these subjects, it made some sense to return to the blog format. By way of a start, a few words about why the column is called what it is:
The “Money Jungle” column takes its name from the title of the album below. It was recorded in 1962, and marks the only time all three artists played on the same session. Ellington recorded mostly with members of his own band and in occasional collaboration with people like Coltrane, Count Basie and Louis Armstrong. In this case, United Artists made entreaty for a rare trio record, with sidemen drawn from the younger group of artists working the newer style, making for an instructive crossing between generations and methods.
Mingus and Roach were both masters by this point, and were then at critical junctures of their careers. Both had been employees of Ellington at separate times in 1943. Mingus lasted long enough to get fired after a fight with Juan Tizol (author of “Caravan”), while an 18 year-old Roach sat in for Sonny Greer for a gig.
Mingus had emerged as a force through his Jazz Composers Workshop, recording for labels like Savoy and Bethlehem before a short but phenomenal run on Columbia, a label he would return to in the 1970s. He was working with Impulse at this point also; his “Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” would arrive in 1963. Roach had plowed through the 1950s, first as Charlie Parker’s drummer of choice (appearing on most of his late-period Verve stuff), then as co-leader of a quintet with Clifford Brown, who died in 1956, and then as sole leader of successive bands that did a ferocious amount of work for Mercury and related labels, including two basically perfect jazz albums: “Max Roach+4” and “the Max Roach 4 Plays Charlie Parker”. He’d recorded at least seven albums in 1958-59 alone; much of that is documented on a Mosaic Records box set, reviewed elsewhere. He had just recorded his “Freedom Now Suite” for Candid, and was in the midst of an association with Impulse that produced records like “It’s Time” and “Percussion Bitter Sweet” in 1962; the “Money Jungle” sessions would be soon followed by his last trio recording, with The Legendary Hassan.
As far as I know, Ellington coined the phrase himself on occasion of composing the title track, which is the album’s strongest. My understanding is he wanted to evoke the harshness and drama of NYC, a place that exists as testament to the sustained power of global capitalism. There was an interesting book released last year by Rutgers University Press using that title, playing the theme against redevelopment action in the Times Square area, and the economic contraction has led the occasional journalist to use it, too. And there was also a film by that name, which does in fact center on global capitalism. It may be inevitable.
While I can’t claim credit for inventing the phrase, I do claim credit for being first to jack it from Ellington.