Alto saxophonist Charles McPherson this weekend celebrates Charles Mingus, a bassist and composer whose innovative work helped define a new direction for jazz after World War II.

On Saturday, McPherson will perform in Nogales at the Charles Mingus Hometown Music Festival.

McPherson's concert in Tucson on Sunday will be with the Jeff Haskell Trio of Scott Black, bass, Pete Swan, drums, and Haskell, piano.

Mingus was born on April 22, 1922, at the all-black Army post of Camp Little in Nogales, where his father was stationed. The young Mingus grew up in the Watts section of Los Angeles.

Saturday marks the fifth annual festival in his name in Nogales. The day-long festival features McPherson playing Mingus compositions with the multiple national award-winning Ellington Band of the Tucson Jazz Institute.

In the post-war 1940s and 1950s Mingus helped propel jazz into an abruptly different direction from the pre-war swing sounds of Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman.

McPherson joined the action in 1960 as a 20-year-old burning bright in the Mingus firmament. A year earlier Mingus had jolted the jazz world with his album "Ah Um."

McPherson said all these players were "artists who were larger than life.

"Historically it was a unique moment, a time of great change, and it fueled their genius."

Bebop had become the new jazz language and Mingus was fluent in it. By the time McPherson left Mingus in 1972, jazz was dividing into competing camps. Miles Davis was experimenting with jazz fusion. The atonal abstractions of free jazz were finding an audience.

Ever the idealist, McPherson held a steady course. He loved bebop and would stay true to those musical roots. He found new things to say, new angles for this language to take, always bending his playing in more lyrical ways.

"I've managed to stay afloat, though other colleagues have gone on to make more money," McPherson chuckled. "That was my decision at the time and I'm happy with it."

The controversial Mingus was famous for his fiery temper. McPherson remembered him as "difficult for some people.

"He could be confrontational, and was never concerned with being politically correct. And he was kind of moody, too.

"But he had a yardstick based on his own sense of fairness, and he always tried to be fair."

It was Mingus' genius for composition that lifted him above the fray.


• What: Alto saxophonist Charles McPherson headlines the fifth annual Charles Mingus Hometown Music Festival in Nogales.

• When: Noon-6 p.m. Saturday

• Where: Sunrise Bank complex, 825 N. Grand Ave., Nogales.

• Tickets: Free

• What: McPherson featured in concert with the Jeff Haskell Trio.

• When: 2 p.m. Sunday.

• Where: Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway.

• Tickets: $30 in advance, $35 at the door, discounts available.

• Details: or 903-1265.

Chuck Graham is a Tucson-based freelance writer. Contact him at