The Unfinished Score
“ The complex harmonies--dissonant in their symmetry. The surprising shifts in rhythm. all contributed to the wondrous narrative of the music. And of course, all this captured exquisitely wrapped in the mercurial character of Mingus. ”
In the act and art of writingwhether word or music, prose or poetry, a writer is almost completely lost in the creative challenge; the adventure that unfolds as words or notes start to appear on the page or in between the lines and spaces of a score sheetboth of which start off blankis both exciting and terrifying. Perhaps this is why the so-called 'jazz' musician AND the subject of my by-now-infamous manuscriptCharles Mingus considered himself a vessel through which ideas poured in by divine intervention.
The 'music' came from God, so to speak. And he just interpreted it as he heard it, but to perfection, mostly at the bass or piano all his life, until the end whenstricken with non-Hodgkin's Lymphomahe 'noodled' his musical ideas into a tape recorder. Perhaps as a result of this belief, he was a demanding boss, berating his musicians to interpret the music as HE heard it. In performance too, he was known to care little for audiences especially the ones who considered his concerts social events. Mingus often ceased a performance mid-composition, if and when audiences were not giving the music complete and undivided attention and lectured them with an evangelical fervor that belied his gospel roots.
It was no different for me when I packed in my research for my BIG Mingus Bookas I called my work in progress, deciding that like the music of my subject, that was exactly what it would be: A book that would shatter 'the predictable' and challenge the reader to 'hear' Mingus' music and moods; his cry for recognition amid racism; his failures and ultimate triumpheven though most readers would least expect it in a book about musician, who went unrecognized until the very end of his life. So even before writing a page, I entitled this book, The Unfinished ScoreThe Complete Works of Charles Mingus. Of course I knew very well that it would be never really be complete, even after the 15 years it took me to 'complete'. Perhaps 'put to bed' would be a better way to describe bringing something to fruition. You would think...
Now I had to deal with the fact that in Canada, my new home, I had nothing. My only significant published work had been in India, the Mid East, where I created the first English language for Sony Entertainment and in the US.
More precisely, my poetry was first featured in the prestigious pages of the now-defunct Illustrated Weekly of India, IN 1974. Then came a book published together with two other poets, simply called 3 Poets as an affront to the establishment in Bombayincluding the likes of the Oxford University Press, Cambridge Press and Penguin Booksthen part of a so-called colonial publishing empire and known to thumb their noses at emerging writers, as a colonial publishing industry is wont to do!
We sold 500 copies of our book by direct mail, held our own poetry readings and ended up a fairly successful independent publishing house in its own right. Later my poems found their way into the exotica of the 70s and the 80s: anthologies of 'Indian Writing in English' 'Indo-Portuguese/Indo-Anglian' poetry! How quaint and how revolting these categories were! But I was happy to be published at ant rate.
The University of Michigan at Ann Arbour published one such anthology and the only copy I had was lost to a flood one monsoon in the 1980s. But most of the books were so esoteric that you had to 'Google' to find if they existed or were out of print. I also found Journal of Commonwealth LiteratureIndia (Ed. Narayan, 1979), Modern Indian Poetry (Bruce King, OUP 1987), Literary Cultures in HistoryReconstructions from South Asia (Ed. Sheldon Pollock, Univ. of California Press, 2003) and a website that has translations of my poetry into the Norwegian, of all languages! Flattering? Perhaps, but it would have been better to know which of the poems have been translated. And no one asked for my permission to translate the poetry. Perhaps the translators assumed that I was dead a quarter of a centuryor moreago! Penguin (India) did ask my permission to include a poem of mine in a textbook for a degree course in English, but I have yet to see the book. And that was in 2003! It would have been the last straw that broke the camel's back, but for the fact that I continued to be consumed by my other inheritance: Music.
And so, fade to sepia...
In 1960, I had begun the study of Theory and Pianoforte at Trinity College of Music, London. My aunt, the first and only teacher I ever had, discerned in me a talent worthy of further recognition and so I began formal study of music almost as soon as I could read English with fluency. My family's first language was Portuguese, so understanding the Latin instructions written into the music by its composers was came easily as well. Within a few years, as I progressed quite rapidly, and with excellent grades, I developed a head full of baroque, romantic, classical and modern impressionistic music.