Frankie Dunlop on Mingus the Perfectionist (or, Frankie! The Tempo’s Gone Down!)

SKF NOTE: A favorite moment from my interviews with the great drummer Frankie Dunlop. Now, for the first time, listeners can hear Frankie’s impersonation of Charles Mingus as Frankie describes a moment on The Half Note bandstand drumming with Mingus.


SKF NOTE: Leafing this morning, July 13, 2019, through my original edited version of my Frankie Dunlop interview, I came across this edited version of the full conversation in the YouTube video posted here.

If nothing else, the two versions give readers an idea of how bits-and-pieces of normal conversation — the spoken word — are left behind when editing the written words for reader clarity.

Scott K Fish: How did you get in Mingus’s band? What happened to Dannie Richmond?

Frankie Dunlop: This was for a job in Washington, DC. Dannie couldn’t make it. I knew that I was basically filling in for Dannie. But I knew that if Mingus liked my work, later on I might be recommended for other jobs — which did happen. Mingus recommended me to Sonny Rollins, who I did go with.

But playing with Mingus was an experience. It kept me together.

I remember one time when I was playing with Mingus at The Half Note. We were in the middle of a tune like Salt Peanuts, and Mingus says, “Hey, Frankie. Keep playing. I got to go over here and talk to Joe.”

Joe [Termini] owned The Half Note.

Well, the tempo was way upstairs and I wasn’t adjusted to playing that fast anyhow. I’d just gotten into New York.

Playing at that tempo was bad enough with the bass. Here I was with just a piano player.

Mingus finally comes back on the bandstand after several minutes, picked up his bass and starts playing. Same tune.

He turns to me and says, “Hey, man. Hey, Frankie. The tempo has gone down, man! That’s not the tempo I started.”

And I guess it had gone down. I was scuffling.

He didn’t tell me about that because he disliked me. If he didn’t think I could have made the gig, he wouldn’t have hired me. But Mingus was such a perfectionist, that the things the average musician or bandleader would say, “To hell” with, he wouldn’t let it slide.

All of the geniuses are like that. They may be eccentric, but deep down inside they’re concerned about their music. Monk, Mingus, Rollins, Miles Davis — they didn’t want any substitutions, nothing second-hand for what it was really supposed to be.

I’m glad I came up under the guiding light of those cats.

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