Charles Mingus: Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956) Atlantic


Selection: Pithecanthropus Erectus (Mingus)

Note: a little light crackle in background of quiet passages

According to Mingus’ liner notes (quoted by Wiki) the title song is a ten-minute four-chapter  tone poem, depicting the rise of man from his hominid roots Upright Ape-Man to an eventual downfall due to “his own failure to realize the inevitable emancipation of those he sought to enslave, and his greed in attempting to stand on a false security.” Now there was me thinking it was just a great piece of music, turns out to be a PhD in social anthropology and a political polemic.

AllMusic adds: The piece is held together by a haunting, repeated theme and broken up by frenetic, sound-effect-filled interludes that grow darker as man’s spirit sinks lower…the whole thing seethes with a brooding intensity that comes from the soloist’s extraordinary focus on the mood. Or as we say here at LJC, Great! Same thing, fewer words.


Jackie McLean (as) J.R. Monterose (ts) Mal Waldron (p) Charles (not “Charlie” as here) Mingus (b) Willie Jones (d) recorded Audio-Video Studios, NYC, January 30, 1956; Recording engineers Tom Dowd/ Hal Lustig

Asked who was playing brass on this magnificent piece, from memory, I’d have to guess – wrong. Seeing the credits – McLean and JR Monterose  caught me by suprise.

Chronology:  Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956); The Clown (1957); Mingus Mingus Mingus (1957); Tijuana Moods (1957); East Coasting (1957;) Jazz Portraits (Wonderland) (1959); Blues and Roots (1959); Ah Um (1959); Mingus Dynasty (1959); Mingus Presents (1960); Reincarnation of a Lovebird (1960); The Black Saint and the Singer Lady (1963); Mingus 5 (1963); Mingus at Monterey (1965).

Glancing over the Mingus chronology in an earlier post I realised I had omitted one of the master’s earliest and greatest works. What’s to do? Should I  Like Pithecanthropus on Facebook? Follow #Pithecanthropus on Twitter, download The Pithcanthropus App, play Call of Duty 4: Pithecanthropus?  Or just play the damn record!


The post-war years found Mingus in the rhythm section of the greats, mastering the vocabularies of bop and swing, but the breakthrough came when PE established him as a leader/ composer, a fresh new voice with ambitiously modern ideas but firmly grounded in the great jazz tradition of Ellington. Mingus has noted this was the first album where he taught arrangements to his musicians by ear in place of writing everything down. The mix of structured and improvised playing is just perfect, the tunes nag like Monks’, dddlrllieeh, the pace and energy is irresistible.

Vinyl:  Atlantic 1237( US Black label) Is this the first pressing? With so many smartypants around it’s a dangerous thing to claim. But I’ll make the claim. There are worse things in life than being taken down a peg. Though to think of it, not many.


Got to love that cover, laminated artwork on heavy card, it’s a pure joy the downloaders will never know.


Collectors Corner

Source: London record shop

Browsing online I stumbled on a seller who identified themselves as a record shop in South East London I had never heard of, more inner-city than my usual orbit, who claimed to have a copy of PE on original Atlantic at a very fair price, something I had been looking for a long time.

LJC-rastaNext morning I boarded to local bus service, travelling incognito,  so as not to draw attention to myself,  humming under my breath Get up, get up, stand up, get up ..err.. stand up… umm… sit down, don’t give up your seat …How does it go again?

Entering the shop I realised why I had not been here before. The jazz section was tiny, mainly  1980’s reissues, and worse – lots of fusion. Nothing collectible, and no copy of Mingus PE. I asked the manager, had they advertised a copy of Mingus PE? The manager, who turned out to be French, spoke a heavily-accented form of English common to recently arrived language students, a lingo I call “‘ow you say?” a phrase which punctuates every other sentence. Quite different from the local argot here, in which every sentence finishes with the question – You know what I mean? (rhetorical, of course)

“Mingus”? I mimed the upright bass. “Pithecanthropus…” Probably best not to go down that road, I thought. Could be taken the wrong way, international insult. No need. Instant recognition! The Basement, one minute! and  promptly disappeared, returning with a beautiful laminated cover in hand. Tipping the record from its sleeve, I inspected the vinyl closely under a 150 watt bulb…only joking. Fairly clean, not perfect, a few scuffs and marks, will have some background crackle, but an acceptable VG positive. Bonding a little, I asked where in France he was from. The South – we had interests in common, and yes, he missed the sun. And for cash? I asked. He took a fiver off without blinking.

Merci monsieur, bonne journee! I was certainly going to have one, now, you know what I mean?

[Photos updated to modern standard October 8, 2016]

28 thoughts on “Charles Mingus: Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956) Atlantic

  1. I have 2 black label Atlantics in my collection (both, ehmmm…MJQ). They sound magical. Would love to have this one, some day…

  2. I just purchased a non dg black label copy on ebay identical to yours and I am trying to figure it out. What is throwing me off is that the sleeve included advertised records up to 1370, which if it were the original sleeve, would put it at a 1961 pressing. If that is the case, why the black label? Perhaps they did use surplus labels at some point? I’m not complaining too much however, the record sounds fantastic and was advertised as vg, but to my eyes is closer to ex.

    • The cover can not lie, a 1961 release can not be advertised on a 1956/7 cover. Equally, if the source master and metalwork is the same, not to lose any sleep over it. Atlantic has not been subject to the same intensive forensics that we are putting Prestige through. Use of old stock labels is not something associated with majors like Atlantic, but I put that in the unknown box.

      • I was referring to the inner sleeve that was included, which I believe is totally possible to not be original to the record. The cover/jacket I have is the heavy cardboard laminated one identical to all other first pressings I have seen.

        • when I was starting to collect, I would use inners with same label ads in stead of the original plain white ones, or in absence of an inner sleeve. P.A., if I am correct, was originally issued without an inner. Based on what you have written, you have an original P.A. with a later Atlantic inner.

  3. Remember buying this new at Rose Records or somewhere like that in Chicago a lifetime ago.
    Still have it, black label if I remember correctly too lazt ot get up and look maybe will play it later on my 40 thrift store turntable with 40 dollar Grado cartirdge.

  4. I had a DG copy in mediocre condition. The two factory story may be right, explaining the absence of a DG. I sold my worn copy with this marvelous, laminated hard cardboard cover and bought a lovely, heavy vinyl London Atlantic copy instead.

    • London Atlantic, Decca pressing, lovely. In the background you can almost hear the cheery tea lady and her trolley, delivering elevenses in the Decca New Malden pressing plant. Cuppa tea, milk and two sugars, please Lil.

  5. I love A FOGGY DAY, personally. There is nothing that quite matches the almost scary intensity of a Mingus band flying by the seat of its pants, Mingus yelling encouragement and imprecations to the troops and whumping his bass. Have you seen the Thomas Reichman (yes, I guess that is a slightly unfortunate surname) documentary? I found it recently by accident, here:

    • Apologies – I didn’t intend to embed the video on your blog! How in God’s name did I manage to do that — without (a) trying, and (b) any technical expertise whatsoever?

      • Thanks, Alun, instantly promoted to Senior IT Advisor to LJC 😉
        Ooops, for a moment there I thought I was back working in the Public Sector.

        Its actually very easy. I have no idea how to do it either – and it works every time!

  6. great record, dip gruv original,my old Atlantic Mingus trilogy has got one on each side.
    there was a discussion ’bout Giant Steps, mine has DG, black. bull’s eye too. Blues and roots, Atl 1305, bull’s eye, DG.

  7. Hey, that is my local record store you are describing! They occasionally get good stuff in but often it only goes online and, if not, they put out all their new stock on a Saturday morning (reasonably priced) and all the good stuff is scooped up by dealers within a couple of hours. Ho hum. I once passed up a UK copy of Giant Steps for £50 they had there last year and then saw the very same copy sell on ebay a couple of weeks later for £387. Ouch.

    • Damn, my cunning disguise has been seen through!. Hi Matt, or is it VG-minus today? Yes, it was “Rodent Records”. Shame about that Giant Steps. (Next time, remember the collectors rule: see it buy it, or regret it)

  8. Who cares if it’s a “first” pressing!? It’s a gorgeous copy of the difficult-to-find-black-label pressing of a terrific record. Well done lad.

    • Wiki: “A number of influential artists are namechecked by the Alabama 3 ( Woke up this morning , Exile on Coldharbour Lane Sopranos The Chosen One edit):-

      Charles Mingus and the album Pithecanthropus Erectus
      J. R. Monterose
      Jackie McLean
      Eric Dolphy
      John Coltrane
      Duke Ellington
      Lester Young
      Billie Holiday
      Ella Fitzgerald
      Jimmy Reed
      Muddy Waters
      Howlin’ Wolf

      Maybe its me but I can’t hear any connection between the namechecker and the namechecked, what is it, and can’t find a youtube of any “original” send url. .
      More significantly, is that avatar Michael Nyman? Answer all these questions correctly and you can nominate a forthcoming album title for LJC.

      • Well that makes a change from Kurt Weill. Actually the other day I had Nyman… No, ’tis me.
        Will send you a link to Woke Up This Morning at some point but am nowhere I can find one at the moment.

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