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Myself When I Am Real: The Life and Music of Charles Mingus Paperback – November 29, 2001
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A light-skinned African American with Native American and Asian bloodlines who was born in 1922, Mingus endured a difficult childhood in Los Angeles, forever stung by the rampant racism that halted his dreams of a career in the classical music field. Undaunted, Mingus went on to work with several jazz giants, including Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, and Duke Ellington, before creating his own record company (Debut) and composing over 300 iconoclastic compositions, including "Eclipse," "Haitian Fight Song," "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," "Cumbia and Jazz Fusion," and many other jazz standards. Santoro writes that the music "is overwhelming in its torrent of musical styles and psychological switchbacks and emotional punch, its tumble of raucous gospel swing, luminous melodies, European classical threads, bebop tributes, Mexican and Colombian and Indian music and sounds from anywhere and everywhere."
In addition to his keen insights into the music (including a thorough discography), Santoro deftly analyzes Mingus's mercurial personality. From the highs (his celebrated recordings Blues & Roots and Mingus Ah Um) to the lows (his horrible Epitaph concert, his eviction from his New York apartment, his numerous assaults on sidemen, and his slow death from Lou Gehrig's disease in 1979), Santoro fairly and faithfully lays bare the mind, body, soul, and art of an American original who influenced everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Joni Mitchell. "Mingus' music was autobiography in sound," Santoro writes. "Everyone in his life had a role. His portraits, his musical tributes, his insistence on forcing his sidemen to find themselves in what he imagined, his clamor for recognition, his emphasis on his originality ... these were more than stylistic trademarks. They were the essence of who he was." Myself When I Am Real captures this essence brilliantly. --Eugene Holley Jr. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
For me the worst thing about the book is the wealth of inaccuracies regarding the music. Frequently the author gets song titles mixed up ("Meditations On Integration" was never renamed "So Long Eric" -- those are two entirely different pieces, as anyone who examined a few recordings would know). He gets confused on other points as well (Dolphy is not on "Mingus At Monterey" nor is "Ghost Of A Chance" a Mingus original!). How can I trust his presentation of biographical facts (which I cannot easily check) when he can't get these simple things right?
I was also rather disappointed that the book did not really examine the music in any depth (it is "the life AND MUSIC of..." after all). The fabled 1959 Columbia sessions are given little more than a page each. Few connections are drawn with other works, no mention is made of the augmented instrumentation used on some pieces. He doesn't do any better on other recordings. (Perhaps this just reflects my personal obsessions, but how could one summarize the 1964 European tour by discussing only the Oslo video, never discussing the various performances that have been available to fans over the years? This is a great way to examine Mingus' approach to his music on an almost day-by-day basis). Frankly, my impression is that Santoro hasn't really listened to a lot of the music and perhaps isn't all that interested.Read more ›
It appears as though Gene Santoro has tried to write the jazz biography as jazz - his transitions are abrubt and curl back on themselves, he reuses several motifs and phrases (sometimes so often they become annoying), and he stitches together various pieces to form a supposedly illuminating whole. However, this book is a patchwork that never really adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Most of the details are here - the ex-wives, the feuds over the music and money, the revolving door of bandmates. Without a doubt there are funny and poignant stories, otherwise what's the point of Mingus? But we never really understand why Charles Mingus is in the pantheon of great 20th Century composers (American or otherwise), or how he started out wanting to be the Orson Welles of jazz and ended up its Aaron Copland. And Santoro's attempts to put either Mingus behavior or Mingus music into the rapidly evolving political and social contexts of the 50s and 60s are the usual broad strokes of jazz biography.
The definitive Mingus biography is still waiting to be written. Read Sue Mingus's "Tonight at Noon" for a touching summation of his later years, read the liner notes to "Black Saint and the Sinner Lady" if you want a glimpse of what music meant to Charles Mingus. Most of all, listen to Mingus. And if you read this book while listening to its subject, don't be surprised if your mind wanders from the printed page.
Santoro does get a little hung up on extraneous financial details at the expense of giving a clear sense of these human characters. He also gives some pretty pat and unnecessary capsules of the history of the times through which Mingus lived. (Do we really need anyone to tell us that the 60s were a time of upheaval?) The research shows, but at times he doesn't seem to have fully digested all this material, and he is reduced to quoting Mingus's tax bills and throwing around some fairly meaningless refrains like "He was feeling the zeitgeist again" or "He was his father's son." 2 stars don't seem like quite enough, but 3 seems a little generous. In default of a 2.5 star option, it will do. Oh well.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Charles Mingus was such a colorful, tempestuous personality that any biography will at the very least be readable. Read morePublished on January 2, 2013 by Steve
I am not a book reviewer by any means but when this book came out I got it from the library and read it up. Read morePublished on May 26, 2010 by Endre Tarczy
Mingus, for all his many hideous transgressions depicted herein, deserves far better than to have this amateurish draft pass for a definitive biography. Read morePublished on April 25, 2010 by David Hewitt
I think it VERY difficult to critique not only the rich and complex mind, musics,and moods of Charles Mingus, and much has ALREADY been said pros and cons about Mr Santoro's... Read morePublished on December 2, 2002 by Peppino
Contrary to the other reviewers, I thought that this was an excellent book. The author places Mingus in the context of the pop culture of the 1940's through the first half of the... Read morePublished on January 9, 2002
This biography is a very rough read. Santoro presents a barrage of blunt, declarative sentences that present irrelevant facts along with the interesting details, indiscriminately. Read morePublished on December 4, 2001 by M.R.
This is a very bad book.
If you are interested in the monthly payments Charles Mingus made on his car loan, this may be the book for you. Read more
This book chronologically tells the story of the legendary bassist's life but this is no narrative. Santoro employs testimony from Mingus' bandmembers, ex-wives, kids and various... Read morePublished on September 18, 2001 by Ahmed Chronwell