Charles Mingus is one of the most original and influential jazz composers of the twentieth century. He created the second-largest volume of jazz work after Duke Ellington, and is the first African-American composer to have his work acquired by the Library of Congress. Mingus is known for his unusual style of composing and playing, which attempted to reconcile jazz improvisation with orchestration, in order for the final composition to conform most closely to his vision.
The trombone was the first instrument that Mingus took up. He was around eight years old when he received it for Christmas. Mingus' main reason for choosing it was his familiarity with it from the Holiness church. As he explained in his autobiography Beneath the Underdog, the trombone was "the only interesting-looking musical instrument he'd seen up to that time".
Charles Mingus, one of the greatest composers in jazz, left his magnum opus to be discovered after his death in 1979. ''Epitaph,'' a 500-page score that runs more than two hours, was heard for the first time Saturday [June 3, 1989] night at Alice Tully Hall at a concert that ranks with the most memorable jazz events of the decade.
Romance, rage, art, ancestry, risk, camaraderie and an endless scuffling quest are encompassed in the music of Charles Mingus. Elvis Costello is neither the first to cherish those qualities nor the first to put them in lyrics, but he stretched himself to try both when he collaborated with the Charles Mingus Orchestra...
Born in 1922, Charles Mingus, Jr. was raised in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif. His earliest musical influences came from the choir and gospel singing of his local church, though he was deeply affected by jazz he heard on the radio, particularly the records of Duke Ellington.
Mingus studied with bassist Red Callendar, an in-demand sideman in his day, and honed his technique while working with orchestral musicians, at the same time developing a classically-influenced compositional voice.
"He was a unique contributor to the American musical scene, the world's musical scene," Mr. Newsom [assistant chief of the Library of Congress' music division] said. "You can't take his music simply as notes on a piece of paper; he was a much more spontaneous, living, breathing composer who changed ideas every time he performed his work. He was a composer in the sense that Bach or Beethoven could be considered composers."
[Mingus] was constantly lectured by his violent teachers on his mental inferiority... Charles Mingus, who has described himself as a "protest cat", refused, from an early age, to be bullied by racists. He once told Nat Hentoff [a friend], "In high school I was on the basketball team, but the coach did something I didn't dig and the next day he looked up and saw me practising with the football team."
Unlike some of the more cerebral beboppers of the 1950s, Mingus did not camouflage the blues, gospel and popular-song melodies he loved, but constantly pummelled and stretched them with tempo changes and free-collective improvisations, or pared them down into modal or scale-based structures. He could make his orchestras shout, bustle and swing like Count Basie, but he also gave them Duke Ellington's sumptuous tone colours and ambiguous textures.
There was [Mingus'] temper. It was so bad that when he was subbing for Duke Ellington's bassist in 1953, he quickly became one of the few members of Ellington's band who was fired by Ellington himself, after fighting with fellow band member and trombonist Juan Tizol on stage. His anger wasn't always directed at his bandmates. During one gig, he stopped the music to chastise the audience for clinking ice in their glasses while the music was playing.