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Mingus/Mingus: Two Memoirs (Limelight) Paperback – August 1, 2004
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Charles Mingus was one of the greatest talents in the jazz world, as a bassist, bandleader, and composer. Mingus comes to life again through these two memoirs written by two of his friends.
passionate and unruly as its subject...funny, respectful and revealing."
- The New York Times Book Review
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Charles Mingus (April 22, 1922 – January 5, 1979) was an important composer and bass player. "In music", writes one of the two donors to this memoir, "his own approach to rhythm was: 'You draw a picture away from the beat right up to its core with different notes of different sounds of the drum instruments so continuously that the core is always there for an open mind. . . if one tries to stay inside the dead center or directly on top of the beat or on the bottom, the beat is too rigid on the outside where it is heard.'"
"I'm riding that wild Mingusuan horse again. You might call it Pegasus but, call it what you will, it sounds and smells like the roaring-train facet of Mingus's diamond sound; purr and thunder, tiptoe and clickety-clackety--and whenever I'm immersed in Time Square or time squared, I can always hear and feel and rush with it down and around the tracks of my years", writes the second contributor.
This was the period of such Mingus works as "Pithecanthropus Erectus" and "Ah Um." Both Coleman and Young followed Mingus to New York City, where at clubs like the Bohemia, Mingus' "Jazz Workshops" (people pay to hear us practice), musicians such as Jacki Byard, Dannie Richmond, Jimmy Knepper, Jackie McLean followed Mingus' spontaneously combusting arrangements. We get a glimpse of Mingus the musician, the writer, and general connoisseur of life. As Coleman puts it, I knew Mingus during "his Shotgun, Bicycle, Camera, Witchcraft, Cuban Cigar, and Juice Bar periods, and was familiar with his Afro, Egyptian, English banker, Abercrombie and Fitch, Sanford and Son, and ski bunny costumes. I ate his chicken and dumplings, kidneys and brandy, popcorn and garlic . . . " There are several good clues to the puzzle of Mingus' autobiography "Beneath the Underdog," a work which Coleman, among others, helped edit. I recommend reading "Mingus/Mingus" before tackling his Joycean autobiography.
We also see the political Mingus, rightly protesting the treatment of black musicians, as well as racism and militarism generally. After all, this is the genius who wrote such pieces as "Oh, Lord, Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me (with the great line, "don't drop it, bebop it"), "Remember Rockefeller at Attica," and the great "Fables of Faubus," which courageously lambasted the segregationist governor. Cole's memoir is perhaps the more literary of the two (Coleman is a writer), and gives us a very personal view of Mingus' profound effect. Coleman may have been the closer friend and she offers some rarely heard and often humorous anecdotes. Both Coleman and Young knew Mingus for more than 20 years, and the book is rich with material recalling Mingus and the social and creative forces of the period: For example, Mingus played Genghis Kahn in a "psychedelic Western" written by Coleman's husband and filmed at Timothy Leary's ranch. Mingus criticizes Leary's approach: "You can't improvise on nothin', man. You gotta improvise on something." The book is filled with Mingus' humor and anger and appetites; his idealism and his realism. A titan of a man and at times, a study in contrasts, Mingus the subject is as compelling as the music he composed. (No index, but you get Mingus' recipe for eggnog!) Highly recommended, I just wish there were more to read! Highly recommended for fans of Mingus, jazz and the sociopolitical climate of the era.