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Music / Charles Mingus

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Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.

Charles Mingus, Jr (19221979) was a Jazz bassist, pianist and composer. Dubbed "The Angry Man of Jazz" for good reason, he was very hot-headed and outspoken about racism and civil rights, but also one of the most influential musicians and composers of jazz, covering the whole spectrum from 1940's big band music (he briefly played with, and was one of very few musicians to ever be fired by, Duke Ellington) through bebop up to free jazz and beyond, while still always keeping one foot grounded in blues and gospel traditions. Starting out as a classically trained cello player, and then discovering that there was no demand for a black cello player in The '40s, Mingus switched to bass and ended up becoming one of the most iconic bandleaders of the 1950's and 1960's alongside the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker, as well as one of the most ambitious composers. He's the first — and only, so far — jazz musician to have his entire (gigantic) catalog acquired by the Library of Congress.

Albums by Charles Mingus with their own page:

Better Git Tropes in Yo Soul:

  • Canis Latinicus: He did it with his own name in the title of the album Mingus Ah Um. It's a play on the way that people studying Latin memorize the pattern for declension of adjectives.
  • Eccentric Artist: Aside from his usual rage antics, in the documentary Mingus: Charles Mingus 1968, he shoots a rifle into the ceiling of his messy apartment wearing a sombrero and singing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" in gibberish. With his 5-year-old daughter playing in the same room with toys made out of garbage.
  • Epic Rocking: Many of his songs go on for quite a bit, especially live. "Epitaph", a suite clocking in at 127 minutes, was never performed in full before his death. It carries all the complexity of Mingus' normal work, but just at an insane length.
    • Less extreme than "Epitaph" but still noteworthy, Cornell 1964 has two songs that go on for around half an hour, and another three that go on for at least fifteen minutes. Two of the songs on Let My Children Hear Music break the ten-minute mark, and side two of The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is a continuous suite that goes on for 18:39. Five of the six songs on Mingus at Antibes are longer than ten minutes, with the 14:05 "What Love?" standing out as the longest. The version of this last track on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus is even longer, at 15:24; this album also contains the 13:08 "Folk Forms No. 1". Half the songs on Tijuana Moods also break the ten-minute mark, as do half the songs on Pithecanthropus Erectus (including the 14:54 "Love Chant"). Half the songs on The Clown break the twelve-minute mark. We could go on.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: The title of his 1956 album Pithecanthropus Erectus was taken from the Latin name for a group of fossils discovered in 1891, now known as "Java Man" for the place where they were found. At the time, they were the oldest hominid fossils ever unearthed.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: He was prone to rage-filled outbursts, often during live performances and directed at both audience members and his own band, and he was justly known as "The Angry Man of Jazz." One of the most memorable instances occurred in October 1962, when he punched his trombonist in the mouth; the man lost a tooth and a full octave off the top of his range.
  • Instrumentals: Most of his music. In the case of "Fables of Faubus" this was due to Executive Meddling, as Columbia Records felt the lyrics were too political. A version with lyrics can be heard on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, which was released on the more independent Candid Records.
  • Jazz Musicians Smash Basses: Once smashed a $20,000 bass after being heckled by the audience.
  • Lead Bassist: If not quite the Trope Codifier, then certainly one of the most iconic examples.
  • New Sound Album: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady introduced far more complex classical influences. Mingus Plays Piano is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Composed the score for John Cassavetes' Shadows.
  • Protest Song: Quite a few, especially for a musician who mostly worked with instrumental music; "Freedom", "Fables of Faubus", "Oh Lord, Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me"...
  • Re-release the Song: He would frequently retitle songs to be able to record new versions for different record companies.
  • Self-Titled Album: Several, including Mingus Ah Um, Mingus!, Mingus Revisited and Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Frank Zappa mentions Mingus as an influence in a list on his debut album Freak Out.
    • Radiohead also cited him as an influence.
    • The epic sound of "Theme From Turnpike", a song by dEUS from their album In a Bar, Under the Sea, is sampled from "Far Wells, Mill Valley" from "Mingus Dynasty" (1959). The band's lead singer, Tom Barman, is a huge fan of Mingus.
    • Joni Mitchell called her last studio album on Asylum Records "Mingus". He collaborated with her on it too. It would be his last work before his sudden death.
    • Mingus is namedropped as an influence on the music of the album Radio by John Zorn and his band Naked City.
  • Spoken Word in Music: "The Clown," featuring Jean Shepherd (the narrator of the film A Christmas Story, and the author of the book on which it was based).