Charles Mingus

Bass / Bandleader / Composer

1922 - 1979

Go to Charles Mingus' page at emusic for free MP3 downloads

One of the most important figures in twentieth century American music, Charles Mingus was a virtuoso bass player, accomplished pianist, bandleader and composer. Born in Nogales, Arizona in 1922 and raised in Watts, California, his earliest musical influences came from the church and from "hearing Duke Ellington on the radio as a young boy. He studied double bass and composition with H. Rheinshagen, principal bassist of the New York Philharmonic, and compositional techniques with the legendary Lloyd Reese. His early professional experience, in the 40's, found him touring with bands like Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory and Lionel Hampton . Eventually he settled in New York where he played and recorded with the leading musicians of the 1950's; Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Art Tatum and Duke Ellington himself. One of the few bassists to do so, Mingus quickly developed as a band leader. By the mid-50's he had formed his own publishing and recording companies to protect and document his growing repertoire of original music. He also founded the "Jazz Workshop," a group which enabled young composers to have their new works performed in concert and on recordings. Mingus soon found himself at the forefront of the avant-garde. He recorded over a hundred albums and wrote over three hundred scores. Although he wrote his first concert piece, "Half-Mast Inhibition," when he was seventeen years old, it was not recorded until twenty years later by a 22-piece orchestra with Gunther Schuller conducting. It was the presentation of "Revelations" which combined jazz and classical idioms, at the 1955 Brandeis Festival of the Creative Arts, that established him as one of the foremost jazz composers of his day. He toured extensively throughout Europe, Japan, Canada, South America and the United States until the end of 1977 when he was diagnosed with a rare nerve disease, Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis. He was confined to a wheelchair, and although he was no longer able to write music on paper or compose at the piano, his last works were sung into a tape recorder. From the 1960's until his death in 1979 at age 56, Mingus remained in the forefront of American music. Mingus received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Smithsonian Institute, and the Guggenheim Foundation (two grants). He also received an honorary degree from Brandeis and an award from Yale University. At a memorial following Mingus' death, Steve Schlesinger of the Guggenheim Foundation commented "I look forward to the day when we can transcend labels like jazz and acknowledge Charles Mingus as the major American composer that he is." The New Yorker wrote: "For sheer melodic and rhythmic and structural originality, his compositions may equal anything written in western music in the twentieth century." Both New York City and Washington, D.C. honored him posthumously with a "Charles Mingus Day." After his death, the National Endowment for the Arts provided grants for a Mingus foundation called "Let My Children Hear Music" which catalogued all of Mingus' works. The microfilms of these works were then given to the Music Division of the New York Public Library where they are currently available for study and scholarship--a first, for jazz. A repertory band called the Mingus Dynasty and the Mingus Big Band continue to perform his music.

Recommended recordings
Mingus at the Bohemia [live] Debut / OJC
Plus Max Roach Debut / OJC
Pithecanthropus Erectus Atlantic WEA
The Clown Atlantic
East Coasting Rhino
Weary Blues Polygram
Blues and Roots Atlantic
Mingus Ah Um Columbia
Mingus Dynasty


Pre-Bird Polygram
Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus Candid
Oh Yeah Rhino
The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady GRP
Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus GRP
Mingus Plays Piano GRP
Town Hall Concert [live], Jazz Workshop / OJC
Let My Children Hear Music Columbia
Changes One Rhino
Changes Two Rhino
Three or Four Shades of Blues Atlantic
Live in Stuttgart 1964 Unique Jazz
New Tijuana Moods RCA
Passions of a Man /Complete Atlantic recordings Atlantic
Complete 1959 Columbia Recordings Sony Columbia
Complete Debut recordings Debut
Thirteen Pictures Rhino
In a Soulful Mood Music Club
Mingus in Europe Vol. 2 Enja