Keeping Time: Southern Arizona celebrates jazz legend Charles Mingus’ 100th birthday

click to enlarge Tucson, Nogales and Tubac are all hosting special events for the Nogales-born jazz - composer Charles Mingus. On Saturday, April 23, Nogales is even cutting the ribbon on a Charles Mingus Memorial. - COURTESY PHOTO / SUE MINGUS
Courtesy photo / Sue Mingus
Tucson, Nogales and Tubac are all hosting special events for the Nogales-born jazz composer Charles Mingus. On Saturday, April 23, Nogales is even cutting the ribbon on a Charles Mingus Memorial.

The Century Room, Hotel Congress’ new jazz club, is making noise with its upcoming grand opening doubling as the 100th birthday celebration for Nogales native and famed jazz composer and bassist Charles Mingus.

“We always had this date on the calendar as a target date because Mingus, we treat him as the patron saint for the club, really,” said founder, programer and manager of Century Room Arthur Vint. “We have several pictures of him hanging on the walls looking down on everybody and we want the space to honor him.”

However, this is only one of multiple Southern Arizona locations celebrating the jazz icon. On April 23, an all-day Mingus Festival Celebration and Memorial Dedication will be held in Nogales. And on April 30, which also happens to be International Jazz Day, organizers are planning an all-day Mingus Centennial Fiesta in Tubac.

Mingus is widely considered one of the most important and forward-thinking jazz composers of the 20th century, collaborating with figures like Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Herbie Hancock. His complex and often experimental style led to major jazz records like Mingus Ah Um, Blues & Roots, and The Black Saint and the Sinner
Lady.

The name of the Century Room comes from a mixture of a few items: one, the century plant is a nickname for the agave plant, as the venue is an agave-focused bar; two, Hotel Congress, the building that cradles the Century Room, is over one hundred years old; and three of course being Charles Mingus’ 100th birthday occurring the same year as its grand opening.

“Everything was kind of just coming into place with the grand opening at the same time as [Charles Mingus’] birthday celebration, so it all seems kind of fitting that we make it into one big party,” Vint said.

The celebration, beginning on April 22, will feature performances from the Mingus Dynasty band and the Tucson Jazz Institute.

The Mingus Dynasty band is a New York City based act containing a mix of former Mingus bandmates and newcomers. The band is dedicated to honoring Mingus’ memory by performing the more than 300 compositions the composer left behind.

“What makes [the celebration] so special is it’s bringing people who were closely associated with Mingus, including two people who actually worked with him, and bringing them back to Arizona,” said Mingus Dynasty band’s tour manager Alan
Hershowitz.

In addition to the band, the celebration will feature Tucson’s own talent with the Tucson Jazz Institute. According to its website, the school provides opportunities to Southern Arizona middle and high school students to develop skills in jazz performance.

“It’s about doing something where the aesthetic is formed and learned while you’re doing it,” said Scott Black, the small group instructor at the institute who will be guiding the students performing at the celebration. “The standard of doing something great, and how to do something that’s based on [a genre] that has no limits on it is just a really good thing for young minds to be thinking about and trying to do.”

In addition to the music, the Century Room will introduce its expanded drink and food menu, featuring the bar’s agave spirits, as well as the unveiling of its agave centerpiece sculptural bottle display.

The celebration and grand opening is a cumulation of jazz and Arizona history coming together and works to further cement the jazz industry’s place in the Tucson community.

“The good thing that’s happening in Tucson is there’s more and more space being created [for jazz],” said Black. “People are going out and want to go out and it’s a really good time to have venues and for people to experience jazz.”

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