Feb 29, 2016
Has there more written-about any jazz legend than has been written about Charles Mingus?
A cursory review of the Library of Congress catalog finds seventeen titles about the legendary composer/musician, including the Mingus autobiography Beneath the Underdog . Only Miles Davis and Duke Ellington have had more books written about their lives and storied careers.
Krin Gabbard has written an important addition to the Mingus canon with the publication of Better Git It in Your Soul: An Interpretive Biography of Charles Mingus (University of California Press). While a portion of the book is a chronological biography of Mingus, much of the book veers off into other areas and topics as a way of explaining the importance of the man and his music. For example, one part of the book focuses on Mingus relationship with the “Third Stream” music movement and his place in jazz history; another focuses on his writings, including his poetry.
Gabbard is uniquely qualified to shine these varying lights on the Mingus legend. A trumpet player who wrote Hotter than That: The Trumpet, Jazz, and American Culture, he taught and wrote extensively about the cinema during his full-time academic career. He merged these two loves in writing Jammin’ at the Margins: Jazz and the American Cinema and now teaches in the jazz studies program at Columbia University.
For Krin, Mingus is among the most towering figures in 20th century American music. Classicly trained on cello, he moved to jazz music and played with virtually every major figure in the history of jazz, starting with New Orleans legends Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory. He played bass in the “Greatest Jazz Concert Ever” at Massey Hall in Toronto, sharing the stage with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Max Roach. He recorded with his father-figure Duke Ellington (Money Jungle) , but also with Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton, and helped launch the careers of Eric Dolphy, Booker Ervin, and Paul Bley. As a composer and bandleader, his works moved from bebop to blues, from ballet scores to orchestral pieces, from in-your-face civil rights protests to moving elegies. At his death from ALS in 1979, he was working with Joni Mitchell on the album that would eventually be called Mingus.
Podcast 52_ is my conversation with Krin Gabbard, as we talk about the importance of Mingus, and Krin delves into topics like the “Angry Man of Jazz” handle that haunted Mingus throughout his career; and what Krin sees as the failures of the Mingus album. Musical selections include Mingus performances “Diane”(Mingus Dynasty), “My Jelly Roll Soul” (Blues and Roots), and "Track B – Duet Solo Dancers" (The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady) plus a track from the Joni Mitchell collaboration, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”.