Daily Listen–Charles Mingus–Self-Portrait In Three Colors

Today’s listen, “Self-Portrait In Three Colors” by the legendary Charles Mingus, is one of my favorite jazz pieces, and I’m not really sure why. It’s certainly not the most virtuosic or technically impressive song on 1959’s classic Mingus Ah Um, nor is it the most well known. I honestly think the song may only hold its status in my heart because it was the first song from the album that I heard. While I was studying in London a few years back, I decided (for some reason) to get into jazz music. My parents played a lot of jazz in the house when I was a kid, and I always complained when they put it on because I thought it was just “random notes.” When I got to London, though, I guess I wanted to try and put on airs since I had become a worldly gentleman all of a sudden. I looked up some Top 50 Jazz Albums lists on Google (clearly the best way to find music) and went from there. Pretty sure I chose this one song to listen to from the 12 on Mingus Ah Um because I liked its title the most. I kept returning to it even after I had become a fan of the genre and listened to endless hours of other music. “Self-Portrait In Three Colors” is mellower and more deliberate than a lot of jazz that I’ve heard, with brushed cymbals acting as the only percussion, and Mingus himself giving a restrained performance on bass (trust me, he could fucking motor when he wanted to). Two saxophones and a trombone play around each other, diverging and converging to truly paint a picture in three colors; the ascending and then descending sax refrain gets stuck in your head despite not being catchy. It feels like languishing around your apartment on a hot summer day, blinds closed and fan on, a cup of coffee in hand. Or something. Really recommend this one, along with the rest of Mingus Ah Um.

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