Recorded in 1957, Tijuana Moods was initially released five years later in 1962. It was written during a very blue period in Mingus’ life. He was separated from his wife Celia, so he made his first trip to Tijuana, Baja California with Dannie Richmond in hopes of forgetting her. It didn’t work, but ever the artist Mingus “decided to benefit musically” by recreating his border town experiences.
“Dizzy Moods” was influenced by Gillespie’s “Woody ‘n’ You,” sketched out on the drive down. The horns have a full, warm sound, a perfect match for heading southbound on the freeway during the late afternoon as the sun begins its descent into the Pacific. The windows are down, and the summer air feels good on your skin.
Walking the streets of Tijuana, the castanets and female vocals call out. Enter a dimly lit club, cervezas y tequila are brought to the table, and witness “Ysabel’s Table Dance.” Mingus explains, “spots in the music played by the piano represent the scantily clad woman spinning from table to table.” The Latin influences disappear about four minutes in. The jazz swings behind Shafi Hadi’s sax. These are sounds of home, the big city. Mingus still remembers what he wants to forget. The sax somberly solos and the bass returns the Latin rhythms underneath, before the number swings again. Ysabel returns to the forefront, dancing up a storm. Mingus’ thoughts continue drifting back and forth, home and here.
While the music is very good and enjoyable, I don’t get what Mingus was going for in “Tijuana Gift Shop.” I have been in them, but don’t hear the connection. It’s a brief visit before we are back on the streets and encountering “Los Mariachis,” street musicians who entertain the tourists. They play different music for different people, hoping to pick the correct song that will maximize their tips. For Mingus, it keeps coming back to the blues this evening. He can be occasionally heard shouting about his woman in the background.