Frankie Dunlop: Recording a Garbage Can Lid with Mingus

Frankie Dunlop

Frankie Dunlop

SKF NOTE: A segment from the full transcript of my Frankie Dunlop interviews. The back story on the interview is posted here.

In researching for my meeting with Frankie Dunlop — pre-internet — I found Frankie listed as playing percussion on Charles Mingus‘s Tijuana Moods album. However, Frankie told me, “I did play drums [on Tijuana Moods]. It was me and Dannie Richmond. I played on several takes on that particular album where I played a tambourine or I was shaking something.

“Dannie Richmond did play drums on most of the tunes. I played a few, but they listed me on the album jacket as a percussionist because that’s what I mostly played. If I heard the record I’m sure I could tell you what tracks I played on…,” Frankie said.

The original album title on the 1957 Bethlehem release is A Modern Jazz Symposium of Music and Poetry. The recording session Frankie describes here as Tales of the City is actually the album’s opening song titled, Scenes in the City. The 1983 Italian reissue of this album is titled Scenes in the City.

Frankie said the narration on Scenes in the City is written by poet Langston Hughes. According to Nat Hentoff‘s liner notes, “The narration was conceived and written by actor Lonnie Elders [sic]. Langston Hughes helped him put it into shape.”

I’m unable to find Frankie Dunlop credited anywhere as being on this Mingus album. I did listen to Scenes in the City — which I am including here — and I did hear a garbage can lid just as Frankie describes it. Perhaps this conversation will add a missing piece to jazz history and to Frankie Dunlop’s discography.

Charles MingusScott K Fish: Was [Charles] Mingus a good person to work for?

Frankie Dunlop: His music was accurate. Yeah. He was okay to work for. You had to get use to his method. See, he might jump up — not that he was really angry with you — but he’d holler over at you the things that he’d want. Mentally, if you’re not geared to receive that type of an approach, you might take offense — which most musicians did.

That’s why I give Dannie Richmond so much credit. Because Dannie Richmond stayed there so long. And Mingus would holler at that man: DANNIE! DANNIE! USE BRUSHES! MAN, DON’T USE THE STICKS. DANNIE! KEEP THE CYMBAL LIKE IT IS. DANNIE! WHAT YOU DOIN’, DANNIE?

SKF: Taking Dannie’s place was filling a tough spot.

FD: I filled a very tough spot.

I did another record date with Mingus that was on Bethlehem Records. That particular record will be a collector’s item — I don’t give a damn how long the world stands here. You can dig this particular record by Mingus up 50 years from now and it’ll be a collector’s item.

It’s called Tales of the City. The original lyrics were written by Langston Hughes, and I was playing a garbage can top.

Tales of the City is the story of a musician who’s come into New York. He’s a jazz musician and he wants exposure.

Mingus’s mind was just like [Thelonious] Monk’s. So far advanced.

Modern Jazz Symposium on Music & Poetry LP coverI forget the name of the guy who narrated Langston Hughes’ lyrics on the record date. [SKF NOTE: The narrator on the album cover is listed as Mel Stewart.] There were two versions of Tales of the City. I don’t know if I’m on the Bethlehem record.

Tales of the City starts off with a jazz musician’s monologue: “I’m a jazz musician. I’m in this big City of New York.”

And this music is building behind the monologue in 6/8 times.

He [the narrator] says, “Oh, I’d just like to get down there so I could dig the cats that’s down on 52nd Street. But man, I don’t have a job. I don’t even have subway fare.”

So the musician bumps into some guy and says, “Hey, Bozo. Can you let me hold a dime? I’m goin’ downtown. I got my horn. I wish they’d let me sit in.”

So it’s this thing where a guy lends this musician a horn. He comes downtown and he’s going into 52nd Street — or whatever — saying, “I want to hear some jazz. I hope I get a chance. I love jazz.”

And when [the musician] was getting on the subway, Mingus had 8 bars of music that sounded just like a subway.

“Okay. Let me see if I can find… there’s a nickle. Hey! I got a dime. Let me put it in here. There we go. I’m goin’ to be downtown hearin’ them cats play that jazz. My love! I got my horn.”

And then you hear the music.

“Here comes the subway.”

And as the subway approaches the music gets louder and faster — and it stops. He [the musician] says, “Okay. Hold the door, man. Okay.”

Dannie Richmond

Dannie Richmond

Then he’s on the subway and the music starts to build slowly. And it gets faster and louder as the subway leaves the platform.

“52nd Street. Okay. Hey, man, you got my coat caught in the door. Hey, conductor! Open!”

[Conductor says,] “I’m sorry.”

[Musician says,] “Okay.”

[The musician] comes up [from the subway station] and he goes into the jazz club.

Now, Mingus has got the music in a slow swing tune. Then you hear all this monologue [and find out] the musician don’t get the chance to sit in. All this is in Mingus’s music. This is all on the album.

In his monologue, the guy [musician] says, “Oh, man. Went down there and the man…. Ah, I didn’t get a chance to play. I gotta get back on this sub and go uptown. Hey, I’m busted. I can’t pay. I’m gonna see that landlady and she’s goin’ to be askin’ me for my rent.”

Then the subway music comes again.

“Okay. Here comes that sub.” He puts his dime in and gets on. He’s going back uptown. Then he goes upstairs to his place.

Now, where my part was, I had the garbage can and Mingus was there to watch me. And when the [narrator] gets to the part where the [musician] says, “Oh” — and the band plays a descending line and stops. “Phew. Here I am back. I don’t know. I thought I might get a chance to play ’cause I love jazz.

“I got to hear Bud.”

And you hear some fast bebop piano.

“And man, and Max….”

Then you hear some drums.

“And man, I heard Dizzy play.”

Some upstairs trumpet playing.

“And, shoot, I didn’t get a chance to play.”

Mingus slides down on his bass. All this is on the record. The guy [musician] walks upstairs [and] the music imitates that. And he says, “Oh, there’s my room.” There’s a knock at his door. “Hey, who is that?”

“This is your landlady. You owe me rent.”

“I told you I don’t have it. I was downtown tryin’ to get a gig.”

“Well, look. If you don’t get any money you’re going to get evicted. I’m goin’ to throw you out if you don’t pay.”

Then [the musician] hears some noise in the alley. He yells down, “Who is that?”

“It’s the garbage man.”

Mingus yells out, “OKAY? FRANKIE.”

I threw the garbage can top down. Mingus said, “Wait a minute. Cut! Cut! Hey, Frank. You didn’t throw the can down on time. You’re behind. Hey, take that take over.”

Here I am at my first record date in New York, throwing a garbage can lid in the RCA Victor recording studios. Dannie Richmond was playing the drums. He was playing all the intricate stuff. But my thing was, when the [musician’s] yelling down to the garbage man, “Man, stop rattling that stuff. I’m tryin’ to sleep!” — that’s when I was supposed to slam the lid down. And I missed it.

Mingus says, “No. You’re supposed to wait, Frank, until [the musician] says [the word] ‘sleep.’

The A&R man is sitting in there looking at Mingus, thinking, “What in the hell are we doing? Who is this cat? What kind of record date is this?”

That was in 1958 or ’57, really. It’s been reissued. I don’t know. You might hear a garbage can or you might not. I heard it when they played the record on WBGO. But there were two recordings.

Charles Mingus Photo Credit
Dannie Richmond Photo Credit


About Scott K Fish
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