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Mingus Speaks

Mingus Speaks

With Photos by Sy Johnson
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Mingus Speaks
    Book Description:

    Charles Mingus is among jazz's greatest composers and perhaps its most talented bass player. He was blunt and outspoken about the place of jazz in music history and American culture, about which performers were the real thing (or not), and much more. These in-depth interviews, conducted several years before Mingus died, capture the composer's spirit and voice, revealing how he saw himself as composer and performer, how he viewed his peers and predecessors, how he created his extraordinary music, and how he looked at race. Augmented with interviews and commentary by ten close associates-including Mingus's wife Sue, Teo Macero, George Wein, and Sy Johnson-Mingus Speaksprovides a wealth of new perspectives on the musician's life and career. As a writer forPlayboy,John F. Goodman reviewed Mingus's comeback concert in 1972 and went on to achieve an intimacy with the composer that brings a relaxed and candid tone to the ensuing interviews. Much of what Mingus shares shows him in a new light: his personality, his passions and sense of humor, and his thoughts on music. The conversations are wide-ranging, shedding fresh light on important milestones in Mingus's life such as the publication of his memoir,Beneath the Underdog, the famous Tijuana episodes, his relationships, and the jazz business.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95468-7
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    Many people have tried to explain Mingus to the world. Finally, it’s time for him to do the talking.

    His music has been praised, anatomized, criticized, discographized. No longer jazz’s angry man, he has achieved prominence as one of the great jazz composers, largely through the efforts of his wife Sue, who has done so much since his death to keep three bands going and let the public hear his music. Mingus is in the composer pantheon with Duke Ellington and a very few others. Wynton Marsalis loves him; he’s part of the received jazz canon. Would he be proud...

  6. 1 Avant-Garde and Tradition
    (pp. 23-47)

    The history of the jazz avant-garde is interesting, even if the music frequently is not. Could a white person have any business writing that history? Or even understanding the music? That’s the kind of question that was being asked in the late 1960s.

    I didn’t form my opinions on this music based on what Mingus had to say; I came to them after a long period of trying to be sympathetic to the widely advertised intentions, protests, and sounds of much so-called free jazz. One of the problems I had, as our conversations demonstrate, was trying to separate the apparatus...

  7. 2 Studying, Teaching, and Earning a Living
    (pp. 48-62)

    I asked Mingus to talk about his first days in New York, when he was married to Celia. A good part of what he had said about that period inUnderdogwas fiction, and I wanted to hear the true version. He couldn’t make a living by teaching, he said. He got into describing his work at the post office, which led him to the problems of writing music for a living—and how Bach and Beethoven handled that, with some asides about Beethoven’s living style—and finally some musings on the high life and the low life for a...

  8. 3 Recordings: Children and Friends
    (pp. 63-96)

    Let My Children Hear Musicwas recorded on several dates, September through November 1971. A smaller band with many of the same people played theMingus and Friendsconcert that followed in February 1972. In June of ’72, when we did the following interview, Mingus was rehearsing a big band for the Mercer Arts Center gig (see Introduction), again with some of the same players, most of whom had formed his Village Vanguard band in March. You will hear mention of and discussion about all these morphing “big” bands throughout our conversation.

    Childrencontains some of Mingus’s most astonishing and...

  9. 4 Authenticity: Whose Tribe Are You In?
    (pp. 97-130)

    Mingus had gotten word that Kenny Dorham was very sick and in the hospital. This was the cue that somehow led him to Dylan, the Beatles and their “borrowings” from American music, phony nicknames and “titles” for musicians, Madison Avenue (one of his favorite targets) and the royalty system, and finally some ideas on what might be an authentic ethnic music for black people.

    Then we had talk about attempts of the young to take over the old jazz language, and finally he punned his way into talking about the Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942.

    All of this had to...

  10. 5 Musicians: Reminiscing in Tempo
    (pp. 131-157)

    The great beboppers always fascinated me, and it was not just their music. They had a mission, which Mingus defined as being messengers or ministers to the people, but they made themselves into a sect. They were immensely creative, yet self-destructive; they dismissed blues and old-time jazz even as their music consciously grew out of it. Charlie Parker was, as Mingus said, a blues player.

    A woman came to my house recently and, when asked what music she wanted to hear, said, “Anything, as long as it’s not bebop.” The reaction is still there, even now. But bebop helped define...

  11. 6 Debut Records, George Wein, and the Music Business
    (pp. 158-186)

    On different occasions we talked about how the music business works, and Mingus of course had strong opinions on that subject. In 1972, he said on more than one occasion that the record companies had promoted rock and R&B music to such an extent that they drove jazz out. In 1974, he seemed to be changing his tune, saying that the problem really lay with the radio outlets, the media in general, finally “society.”

    What Mingus really wanted in music, as in economics, was fair competition—like those battles on the bandstand he talked about (see chapter 5). There had...

  12. 7 The Clubs and the Mafia
    (pp. 187-216)

    We had a great 1972 session talking about Mingus’s experiences in the clubs and with the less savory elements of the jazz business. Some of his comments on the clubs and club owners were confusing, and I’ve attempted to straighten them out with a few notes in passing.

    The important subject of New York’s nightclubs—its jazz joints, that is—had not been much discussed or researched at the time of this conversation, though it has gotten more attention since.¹ Max Gordon wrote the story of the club he founded inLive at the Village Vanguard, with chapters on Mingus...

  13. 8 The Critics
    (pp. 217-225)

    One key to Mingus is that, for all his ranting about critics, he was indeed a perceptive critic himself. His comments about music and musicians cut to the essence of how jazz is made and how it should be made, what musicians are doing and how they do it. His essays in criticism reveal more about Mingus, by the way, than any interviews he did with jazz critics and more than most of the comments they made about him.

    The major critical statements he offered in print were the two essays I’ve mentioned (see my commentary on the avant-garde in...

  14. 9 Survival: The Reason for the Blues
    (pp. 226-244)

    Toward the end of my 1972 time with Mingus, we did a long, loud, and uproarious interview in a Lower East Side bar with his friend Booker Tillery present. I never got to hear Booker’s full story, but I knew he was an ex-con, now a tailor, and Mingus once or twice referred to him as “my road manager.” In the opening pages of her book,Tonight at Noon, Sue Mingus talks a little about Booker, giving some of his history and describing his closeness to Charles.¹

    Later on, I asked Charles to pursue an idea we had talked about...

  15. 10 Eviction and Laying Out
    (pp. 245-263)

    Here’s Mingus talking to me and Booker Tillery about the dark time in the ’60s when he simply laid out and couldn’t function in music or in much else. It was a bad period for him and culminated in his eviction from the Great Jones Street loft, which Tom Reichman chronicled in his 1968 film and talks about in his commentary to this chapter.¹ Mingus also refers to another, prior eviction, from a place on Third Avenue, his so-called School of Arts, Music, and Gymnastics. Elsewhere Gene Santoro and Brian Priestly give rather rambling descriptions of these events, but Mingus...

  16. 11 Mingus Women
    (pp. 264-282)

    Lately there seems to be a growing consciousness, among jazz scholars at least, of the highly sexist, macho culture of jazz—in everything from gross “hypermasculinist” talk to the dearth of women in jazz bands.¹ That said, the history of jazz as a mostly male art is what it is, and bringing a new, liberalized cultural awareness to the table—a good thing—cannot change how the music’s creators have historically asserted themselves, both onstage and off.

    Everything about Mingus’s upbringing created and reinforced his macho attitudes about sex and women. His feelings about women also related to his thoughts...

  17. 12 Mingus on Sue
    (pp. 283-298)

    The summer of 1972, when I got to know Sue and Charles, was a time of great stress in their relationship—which translated into arguments (one or two of which I witnessed) where nothing got resolved. Mingus was feeling rejected because of what he saw as Sue’s abiding failure to communicate.

    I was sympathetic and ended up being more involved in his revelations than I wanted to be. His need to talk about Sue also dominated many of our conversations in 1974; a portion of one (with Booker Tillery present) follows here.

    I trusted Mingus but never fully understood his...

  18. 13 The Real and the Fictional Mingus
    (pp. 299-316)

    This session started in Chick & Chock’s bar, around the corner from Mingus’s apartment at Fifth Street and Avenue A, talking about dope. Later in our conversation, he invited me into his place for piano music and more talk. Some of the best, most telling comments Mingus made to me about his music were in that apartment, where he illustrated his points on the piano. That discussion covered his new composition, “Number 29,” Bach, Thad Jones, and Sue. There was also the ever-present answering machine (a big focus in Mingus’s life) and some marvelous piano interludes and musings.

    I put this...

  19. Chronology
    (pp. 317-318)
  20. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 319-320)
  21. Index
    (pp. 321-329)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 330-330)