Friday, February 28, 2014

Charles Mingus Speaks

Mingus Speaks
John F Goodman
photos by Sy Johnson
2013: University of California Press

Charles Mingus was one of the singular figures of jazz from the fifties through the seventies. As a bassist, composer, and band-leader, he was a formidable figure and person who left behind some of the most memorable body of compositions and recordings. He was thoughtful, intense, blunt, outspoken, humorous and, sometimes, volatile. John F Goodman was a writer for Playboy who did a number of jazz features for that publication who reviewed Mingus’ 1972 comeback concert and got intimate with him and some of his musical associates. The result is Mingus Speaks from the University of California Press.

Goodman interviewed Mingus a number of times and the conversations on a variety of topics are what this book is centered around including the comeback concert, jazz and his own music, his dealings with musicians and club owners, his personal troubles, the publication of his book Beneath the Underdog, his relationships on women and his viewpoints on issues of race. Goodman supplements these with interviews and commentary from Mingus’ associates including arranger Sy Johnson (also an accomplished photographer whose photos illustrate the book), Sue Mingus, Teo Macero, George Wein, Max Gordon (Gordon’s recollection of dealing with Mingus include when Mingus tore off the Village Vanguard’s front door and punched Jimmy Knepper), Paul Jeffrey,  and Bobby Jones.

We get discussions relating to the recording of artists and Mingus’ preparations for major concerts and the chaos relating to some of them. For example, Johnson notes that somewhat chaotic preparation for the comeback concert at Carnegie Hall as Mingus would be continuing to revise the charts up until the actual performance. Mingus was not a fan of the avant-garde artists like Ornette Coleman (and I note Bradford Marsalis recently made similar comments) asserting they could not play straight stuff. He expressed a similar antipathy to fusion and rock music, being particularly outraged by the declining visibility of jazz on the radio. The interviews and commentary from others round out and provide context for the conversations presented.

Mingus Speaks is an invaluable addition to the literature on Charles Mingus, aand jazz literature in general. Goodman’s assembly of this material fleshes out this larger than life legend while providing insight into his working methods and his life. It is a valuable supplement to Beneath the Underdog and Gene Santoro’s Mingus biography, Myself When I Am Real.

I received my review copy from the publisher.

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