53 Facts About Charles Mingus


In 1993, the Library of Congress acquired Charles Mingus' collected papers—including scores, sound recordings, correspondence and photos—in what they described as "the most important acquisition of a manuscript collection relating to jazz in the Library's history".

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Charles Mingus Junior was largely raised in the Watts area of Los Angeles.

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Charles Mingus's maternal grandfather was a Chinese British subject from Hong Kong, and his maternal grandmother was an African-American from the southern United States.

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Charles Mingus was the great-great-great-grandson of the family's founding patriarch who was, by most accounts, a German immigrant.

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Charles Mingus's ancestry included German American, African American, and Native American.

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Charles Mingus's mother allowed only church-related music in their home, but Mingus developed an early love for other music, especially Duke Ellington.

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Charles Mingus studied trombone, and later cello, although he was unable to follow the cello professionally because, at the time, it was nearly impossible for a black musician to make a career of classical music, and the cello was not yet accepted as a jazz instrument.

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Charles Mingus toured with Louis Armstrong in 1943, and by early 1945 was recording in Los Angeles in a band led by Russell Jacquet, which included Teddy Edwards, Maurice Simon, Bill Davis, and Chico Hamilton, and in May that year, in Hollywood, again with Teddy Edwards, in a band led by Howard McGhee.

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Charles Mingus then played with Lionel Hampton's band in the late 1940s; Hampton performed and recorded several of Mingus pieces.

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Charles Mingus was briefly a member of Ellington's band in 1953, as a substitute for bassist Wendell Marshall.

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Also in the early 1950s, before attaining commercial recognition as a bandleader, Charles Mingus played gigs with Charlie Parker, whose compositions and improvisations greatly inspired and influenced him.

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Charles Mingus considered Parker the greatest genius and innovator in jazz history, but he had a love-hate relationship with Parker's legacy.

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Charles Mingus blamed the Parker mythology for a derivative crop of pretenders to Parker's throne.

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Charles Mingus's wives were Jeanne Gross, Lucille (Celia) Germanis, Judy Starkey, and Susan Graham Ungaro.

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In 1952, Charles Mingus co-founded Debut Records with Max Roach so he could conduct his recording career as he saw fit.

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On May 15, 1953, Charles Mingus joined Dizzy Gillespie, Parker, Bud Powell, and Roach for a concert at Massey Hall in Toronto, which is the last recorded documentation of Gillespie and Parker playing together.

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One story has it that Charles Mingus was involved in a notorious incident while playing a 1955 club date billed as a "reunion" with Parker, Powell, and Roach.

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Charles Mingus took another microphone and announced to the crowd, "Ladies and Gentlemen, please don't associate me with any of this.

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Charles Mingus often worked with a mid-sized ensemble of rotating musicians known as the Jazz Workshop.

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Charles Mingus broke new ground, constantly demanding that his musicians be able to explore and develop their perceptions on the spot.

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Charles Mingus shaped these musicians into a cohesive improvisational machine that in many ways anticipated free jazz.

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Charles Mingus had already recorded around ten albums as a bandleader, but 1956 was a breakthrough year for him, with the release of Pithecanthropus Erectus, arguably his first major work as both a bandleader and composer.

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Charles Mingus said in his liner notes: "I was born swinging and clapped my hands in church as a little boy, but I've grown up and I like to do things other than just swing.

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Charles Mingus witnessed Ornette Coleman's legendary—and controversial—1960 appearances at New York City's Five Spot jazz club.

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Charles Mingus initially expressed rather mixed feelings for Coleman's innovative music: ".

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In 1961, Charles Mingus spent time staying at the house of his mother's sister and her husband, Fess Williams, a clarinetist and saxophonist, in Jamaica, Queens.

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Subsequently, Charles Mingus invited Williams to play at the 1962 Town Hall Concert.

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In 1963, Charles Mingus released The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, described as "one of the greatest achievements in orchestration by any composer in jazz history.

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Charles Mingus released Charles Mingus Plays Piano, an unaccompanied album featuring some fully improvised pieces, in 1963.

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Charles Mingus' pace slowed somewhat in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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In 1971, Charles Mingus taught for a semester at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York as the Slee Professor of Music.

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Charles Mingus continued composing, however, and supervised a number of recordings before his death.

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At the time of his death, he was working with Joni Mitchell on an album eventually titled Charles Mingus, which included lyrics added by Mitchell to his compositions, including "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat".

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Charles Mingus died on January 5, 1979, aged 56, in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he had traveled for treatment and convalescence.

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Charles Mingus's compositions retained the hot and soulful feel of hard bop, drawing heavily from black gospel music and blues, while sometimes containing elements of Third Stream, free jazz, and classical music.

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Charles Mingus once cited Duke Ellington and church as his main influences.

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Charles Mingus espoused collective improvisation, similar to the old New Orleans jazz parades, paying particular attention to how each band member interacted with the group as a whole.

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Charles Mingus recruited talented and sometimes little-known artists, whom he utilized to assemble unconventional instrumental configurations.

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Dizzy Gillespie had once said Charles Mingus reminded him "of a young Duke", citing their shared "organizational genius".

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Charles Mingus was physically large, prone to obesity, and was by all accounts often intimidating and frightening when expressing anger or displeasure.

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When confronted with a nightclub audience talking and clinking ice in their glasses while he performed, Charles Mingus stopped his band and loudly chastised the audience, stating: "Isaac Stern doesn't have to put up with this shit.

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On October 12, 1962, Charles Mingus punched Jimmy Knepper in the mouth while the two men were working together at Charles Mingus' apartment on a score for his upcoming concert at The Town Hall in New York, and Knepper refused to take on more work.

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Charles Mingus' blow broke off a crowned tooth and its underlying stub.

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Charles Mingus' music is currently being performed and reinterpreted by the Mingus Big Band, which in October 2008 began playing every Monday at Jazz Standard in New York City, and often tours the rest of the U S and Europe.

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Charles Mingus had once sung lyrics for one piece, "Invisible Lady", backed by the Mingus Big Band on the album, Tonight at Noon: Three of Four Shades of Love.

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Charles Mingus wrote the sprawling, exaggerated, quasi-autobiography, Beneath the Underdog: His World as Composed by Charles Mingus, throughout the 1960s, and it was published in 1971.

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Charles Mingus' autobiography serves as an insight into his psyche, as well as his attitudes about race and society.

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Charles Mingus recognized the importance and impact of the midweek gathering of black folks at the Holiness – Pentecostal Church at 79th and Watts in Los Angeles that he would attend with his stepmother or his friend Britt Woodman.

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Gunther Schuller has suggested that Charles Mingus should be ranked among the most important American composers, jazz or otherwise.

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In 1993, The Library of Congress acquired Charles Mingus' collected papers—including scores, sound recordings, correspondence and photos—in what they described as "the most important acquisition of a manuscript collection relating to jazz in the Library's history".

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New York Ska Jazz Ensemble has done a cover of Charles Mingus' "Haitian Fight Song", as have the British folk rock group Pentangle and others.

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Hal Willner's 1992 tribute album Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Charles Mingus contains idiosyncratic renditions of Charles Mingus' works involving numerous popular musicians including Chuck D, Keith Richards, Henry Rollins and Dr John.

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One of the most elaborate tributes to Charles Mingus came on September 29, 1969, at a festival honoring him.

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