Music: An Epitaph Comes Back to Life

Charles Mingus' long-forgotten jazz masterwork is getting its due

It is the longest and most richly textured of jazz compositions -- a suite of 18 sections comprising nearly 4,000 bars of music, with a performance time of more than two hours. By jazz standards, the forces required to perform it are almost Mahlerian: a 31-member band with full complements of brass and saxes, plus such normally nonswinging instruments as piccolo and contrabass clarinet. The work was played once in the composer's lifetime, but in a truncated form that left him despairing and furious. The score was put aside, abandoned.

This botched masterwork is titled Epitaph, and its composer was Charles...