1001 Albums: The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady



Artist: Charles Mingus

Album: The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady

Year: 1963

Length: 39: 25

Genre: Avant-Garde Jazz



“jazz instrumentation”

I realise I’ve been quite behind in writing these posts. I’ve had one of those weeks where you don’t even see it go. Kind of turn around and the week has already passed, done before you had a chance to see it. It’s not that I wasn’t paying attention to it, it was more just a really busy week. I’ve had a lot going on and had been preparing myself for a lot of things. So, my time was consumed and without realizing it I had been behind on my post.

No worries though. I am currently sitting in the back of a car, zooming on my way to Toronto for the weekend. It is almost 3 am in the morning, which I feel is the perfect time for me to catch up on these posts (because why would I sleep and rest?). The long trip also gives me the opportunity to get through quite a few albums at once and since I have my laptop with me, I can actually crank out the posts really easily and efficiently. No waiting until I get home from work, instant response.

Enough talk about that, let’s see what we have in store now.

Uh oh…

Oh no…

Just as I feared… jazz…

My relationship with Jazz has really taken a turn. Where I started to love it and even grew to be incredibly fond of it, I am now dreading and fearing it. This is one of the moments where I really wish I knew what I was talking about. I had a conversation with a friend of mine when it came to discussing the jazz albums on the list and he seemed to agree with me for the most part. Jazz is incredibly difficult to talk about, especially if you’re not trained in jazz musical theory. Even the critiques in the book for the most part say “This album is amazing, so good, wow amazing jazz.” If those guys couldn’t say anything coherently specific, how am I supposed to even talk about it?

I mentioned it in my Jazz Samba post that at this point I feel I don’t really know what else to say without repeating myself from previous posts. Heck, I just repeated that because I have no idea how to go about talking about this album.

For the most part, it’s one of those difficult jazz albums to listen to. It’s not to the level of Thelonious Monk, but it does come close. Whereas most Jazz I can easily get lost in, this one at times hurts my ears and even gave me a headache. It’s not the easiest jazz to listen to, but that being said I do recognize the incredibly complex arrangements that Mingus pulled off here, especially with his use of an 11-piece ensemble, which really brings out a rich texture of varying sounds that you might not get on other albums. It ranges from the odd to the melodic and can shift easily from hard-bop to swingin’ jazz. It really is a fascinating and remarkable album when you sit back and think about it and Mingus manages to make his album a little undefinable. With the mix of styles and vibes and feelings that flow from one to the other seamlessly, it’s hard to really say what he’s doing with the album, but he definitely takes you on a journey with your ears as you experience almost everything the jazz genre has to offer.

I read that this album was actually written as one long composition and as a ballet, separated into four songs and six divisions. If this was written as a ballet, I’d be curious to see it performed by an actual ballet. We have Les Grands Ballets right here, which is a damn prestigious ballet company, it’d be interesting to see them take this piece and turn it into a show. Knowing nothing about how ballet works in terms of choreography, I’d love to see what kind of dance moves they crack out to this. I haven’t seen very many ballets in my life (only one actually, The Nutcracker, which I found disappointing for the most part) but I would definitely pay to see the ballet of The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady purely out of curiosity.

Speaking of which, this is probably the first instance of a jazz album where I felt the names of the songs actually made sense. I remember the little piece I wrote in my Brilliant Corners post about trying to understand the naming of jazz songs and how they came up with them. To this day it’s still a fascinating topic and I would love to get some more insight on how they choose the names of their songs. But this one, I get it.  Solo Dancers, Duet Solo Dancers, Group Dancers, Trio and Group Dancers… it’s very straight-forward, if not a little uninspired. He took the naming quite literally here and didn’t really leave room for much to the imagination. But at least I know how many dancers he was aiming for each song and if I really wanted to (not really, but maybe) I could picture that while listening to the music. The Solo Dancers song could easily be each dancer one by one, showing what they’ve got, trying to out-do the previous one. Heck, the whole thing could be a non-stop competition between dancers, until the big finale where they all band together and have a dance-off of epic proportions.

This ballet practically writes itself, maybe I should do it….


This album is considered to be one of Charles Mingus’ masterworks and one of the greatest achievements in jazz. I can’t disagree with that because even if I did I’d have no idea how to argue against it. I guess they’re right. But putting that aside, it really is a beast of an album and it doesn’t take a genius to see the amount of work and effort that went into it. Even if it’s not really my type of album, I still found myself impressed the whole way through, even though I have no idea why. Maybe I was able to see the complexity of it all and how the ensemble really blended together to create an atmosphere and vibe that Mingus was trying to capture. And maybe Mingus’ musical genius shown through in ways I can’t explain, but it still left an imprint on me as a listener. It’s funny how the more I think about it the more I seem to find it better and better. Everything from the horns to the piano to even the acoustic guitar were so masterfully arranged with such intricate detail and perfectionism that maybe, just maybe, it’s hard not to recognize the weight of this album, even if you have no idea what you’re talking about.

Despite all that, by the end of it all there is definitely one thing that I know for sure…

That’s a pretty sweet hat he’s wearing and I’d like to get one for myself. Just to wear, you know.

Song of Choice: Mode D – Trio and Group Dancers




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