SAN FRANCISCO, March 13, 2012 – Many things come to mind when one listens to the music of Charles Mingus: talented, sure; madman, maybe; genius, definitely. Yoshi’s San Francisco celebrates the 90th anniversary of Mingus’s birth and his accomplishments this Wednesday and Thursday.
Charles Mingus was born April 22, 1922 on a military base in Nogales, Arizona, and was raised in Watts, California, part of Los Angeles. His mother was Chinese and English, and his father is believed to have been a black farmhand. Mingus’ possible lineage is as interesting as his musical composition. At one time, Mingus’ white grandmother was believed to be a first cousin of Abraham Lincoln.
Church, choir and gospel were the only music allowed in the Mingus house. Despite this restriction, Mingus developed an early love for jazz, listening to greats like Duke Ellington over the radio when he was eight years old. He studied cello, double bass, and composition. The cello was his true love, but it was not accepted as a jazz instrument back then, and it was difficult for a black man to play classical music in those days. However, much of the cello technique was easily applied to double bass. And here begins the real history. As early as high school, Mingus was composing complicated and advanced jazz pieces, many of which were heavily incorporated with classical elements.
Mingus gained a reputation as a real bass prodigy. Much to his delight, some of his early work was with former Ellington clarinetist Barney Bigard. Then he started touring with all the greats: Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and eventually Duke Ellington himself.
Mingus settled in New York where he found himself at the forefront of the avant-garde. This is where such recordings as Mingus Dynasty and The Black Saint & Sinner Lady were conceived and produced. He recorded over three hundred scores and one hundred albums during his lifetime. Mingus had no musical inhibitions. He would write, then write some more.
He toured at an exhaustive pace throughout the US, Europe, Canada, Japan and South America until 1977. At that time he was diagnosed with a rare nerve disease called Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. This confined Mingus to a wheelchair, but didn’t stop him from composing. No longer able to write on paper or play the piano, he sung his last works into a tape recorder.
Mingus died in 1979 at 56 years old. The legacy and music he has left behind will speak for generations to come. He continues to be an inspiration and a musical benchmark for jazz musicians everywhere.
Yoshi’s is honoring this great jazz composing legend on Wednesday and Thursday of this week with the 90th Anniversary Birthday Celebration event. Mingus tribute band “Mingus Dynasty” will be performing with support from Ben Williams and Sound Effect.
To prepare yourself for this fantastic music event, I suggest listening to: Blues & Roots, The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady, and Epitaph from start to finish. Only then will you have a glimpse into the genius of Charles Mingus.
“Let my children have music! Let them hear live music. Not noise. My children! You do what you want with your own!” – Charles Mingus
A complete Mingus discography can be found on the Charles Mingus website.
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