© 2022 KENW
background_fid.jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Remembering jazz great Charles Mingus who was born 100 years ago

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Charles Mingus would have turned 100 today. The jazz bassist is often mentioned in the same sentence as Duke Ellington as one of America's greatest composers.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES MINGUS' "BETTER GET HIT IN YO SOUL")

RUSSELL HALL: He figured out how to internalize the entire expression of human emotion in music.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Russell Hall is a bassist and composer in New York City.

HALL: I feel like a descendant of Charles Mingus, like a direct descendant.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES MINGUS' "HAITIAN FIGHT SONG")

HALL: If I had to describe what his playing is like, it's like a dragon or a lion or the kraken. It's like this wild mythological beast.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES MINGUS' "HAITIAN FIGHT SONG")

HALL: He's just somebody that sees the music on a pan-dimensional level. So they always pin Charles Mingus as the angry man of jazz. But to me, this is somebody that felt every single emotion there is to feel as an artist and translated that through music.

MARTINEZ: Mingus was full of contradictions. The same man who once punched his trombonist in the mouth also wrote a manual for toilet training a housecat. He called it a CAT-alog.

INSKEEP: A 1968 documentary reveals how, when threatened with eviction, he picked up a gun and shot a hole in his own ceiling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHARLES MINGUS: Well, I'm going to shoot it.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)

C MINGUS: A gun.

INSKEEP: But his widow, Sue Mingus, told Fresh Air in 2002 there was more to Mingus than his angry man of jazz persona.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SUE MINGUS: He spent hours at the piano. It was where he found the center of his being. He was a very sensitive artist in a society that did not accept who he was, either as an artist or a musician or as a man with the skin color that wasn't approved. And he fought back.

MARTINEZ: Charles Mingus died of ALS in 1979. He was 56.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES MINGUS' "MODE D, MODE E, MODE F") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.