A Modern Jazz Symposium of Music and Poetry is a classic recording that should not be overlooked. It was originally released in 1957 between the absolute classic recordings of "Tijuana Moods" and "Mingus Ah Um." While it may not live up to those lofty standards, it remains an album for Mingus lovers to thoroughly enjoy and other jazz novices to explore. It had been out of print for far too long. Bethlehem finally got around to re-releasing this album in the CD format.
The album title is somewhat misleading. Only on the first track, "Scenes in the City," is there any symposium between music and the spoken word. The rest is pure instrumental unless, of course, you believe that jazz by its nature is poetry. "Scenes" was written and performed by Lonnie Elders with help by Langston Hughes. This and the third track, "New York Sketchbook" are intrinsically related; both are inventive impressions of that urban tangled colossus known as New York. It’s a panoramic tour of down-on-its-luck Updown, refined Midtown, frantic Chinatown, to the capitalist boulevards, commuter trains, and Village sidestreets, and to the top of the Empire and jazz basements.
"Duke’s Choice" is a slow elegant piece that drips with melancholia and regret. In the album notes, Nat Hentoff mentions that "if you listen to.... ’Duke’s Choice’ first, then ‘Nauroog,’ and finally ‘Slippers,’ you’ll have a three-part piece.... " Running through each is Nauroog, a woman "who does what she feels." Similar to the new pair, these three pieces can stand on their own or as disconnected chapters of a long running story.
A Modern Jazz Symposium of Music and Poetry is a delicately sculptured body of music that reconfirm the genius and glory of Mingus.