Myself When I Am Real The Life and Music of Charles Mingus

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2001-11-29
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press

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Charles Mingus was one of the most innovative jazz musicians of the 20thCentury, and ranks with Ives and Ellington as one of America's greatestcomposers. By temperament, he was a high-strung and sensitive romantic, atowering figure whose tempestuous personal life found powerfully coherentexpression in the ever-shifting textures of his music. Now, acclaimed musiccritic Gene Santoro strips away the myths shrouding "Jazz's Angry Man,"revealing Mingus as more complex than even his lovers and close friends knew.A pioneering bassist and composer, Mingus redefined jazz's terrain. He pennedover 300 works spanning gutbucket gospel, Colombian cumbias, orchestral tonepoems, multimedia performance, and chamber jazz. By the time he was 35, hisgrowing body of music won increasing attention as it unfolded into onepioneering musical venture after another, from classical-meets-jazz extendedpieces to spoken-word and dramatic performances and television and moviesoundtracks. Though critics and musicians debated his musical merits and hispersonality, by the late 1950s he was widely recognized as a major jazz star, abellwether whose combined grasp of tradition and feel for change poured hisinventive creativity into new musical outlets.But Mingus got headlines less for his art than for his volatile and oftenprovocative behavior, which drew fans who wanted to watch his temper suddenlyflare onstage. Impromptu outbursts and speeches formed an integral part of hislong-running jazz workshop, modeled partly on dramatic models like Orson Welles'Mercury Theatre. Keeping up with the organized chaos of Mingus's art demandedgymnastic improvisational skills and openness from his musicians-which is whysome of them called it "the Sweatshop." He hired and fired musicians on thebandstand, attacked a few musicians physically and many more verbally, twicethrew Lionel Hampton's drummer off the stage, and routinely harangued chatteringaudiences, once chasing a table of inattentive patrons out of the FIVE SPOT witha meat cleaver. But the musical and mental challenges this volcanic man set hisbands also nurtured deep loyalties. Key sidemen stayed with him for years andeven decades.In this biography, Santoro probes the sore spots in Mingus's easily woundednature that helped make him so explosive: his bullying father, his interracialbackground, his vulnerability to women and distrust of men, his views ofpolitical and social issues, his overwhelming need for love and acceptance. Ofblack, white, and Asian descent, Mingus made race a central issue in his life aswell as a crucial aspect of his music, becoming an outspoken (and oftenmisunderstood) critic of racial injustice.Santoro gives us a vivid portrait of Mingus's development, from the raciallymixed Watts where he mingled with artists and writers as well as mobsters, uniontoughs, and pimps to the artistic ferment of postwar Greenwich Village, where heabsorbed and extended the radical improvisation flowing through the work ofAllen Ginsberg, Jackson Pollock, and Charlie Parker. Indeed, unlike Most jazzbiographers, Santoro examines Mingus's extra-musical influences--from OrsonWelles to Langston Hughes, Farwell Taylor, and Timothy Leary--and illuminateshis achievement in the broader cultural context it demands.Written in a lively, novelistic style, Myself When I Am Real draws on dozens ofnew interviews and previously untapped letters and archival materials to explorethe intricate connections between this extraordinary man and the extraordinarymusic he made.

Author Biography

A former Fulbright scholar, book editor, and musician, Gene Santoro is a music critic at the New York Daily News and columnist at The Nation and Chamber Music. The author of Dancing in Your Head and Stir It Up, he has written articles and essays for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, The Village Voice, Spin, Rolling Stone, and Down Beat. He divides his time between New York City and Shokan, New York.

Table of Contents

Preface vii
Introduction 3(6)
Prologue: Better Get It in Your Soul 9(4)
Growing Up Absurd
Black Like Me
Making the Scene
Life During Wartime
Portrait of the Artist
The Big Apple, or On the Road
Pithecanthropus Erectus
Mingus Dynasty
The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
Beneath the Underdog
Let My Children Hear Music
Don't Be Afraid, the Clown's Afraid, Too
Notes 385(6)
Bibliography 391(10)
Discography 401(24)
Acknowledgments 425(4)
Index 429

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