Mingus Speaks

Mingus Speaks

Mingus Speaks

Mingus Speaks


Charles Mingus is among jazz's greatest composers and perhaps its most talented bass player. He was blunt and outspoken about the place of jazz in music history and American culture, about which performers were the real thing (or not), and much more. These in-depth interviews, conducted several years before Mingus died, capture the composer's spirit and voice, revealing how he saw himself as composer and performer, how he viewed his peers and predecessors, how he created his extraordinary music, and how he looked at race. Augmented with interviews and commentary by ten close associates--including Mingus's wife Sue, Teo Macero, George Wein, and Sy Johnson-- Mingus Speaks provides a wealth of new perspectives on the musician's life and career.

As a writer for Playboy, John F. Goodman reviewed Mingus's comeback concert in 1972 and went on to achieve an intimacy with the composer that brings a relaxed and candid tone to the ensuing interviews. Much of what Mingus shares shows him in a new light: his personality, his passions and sense of humor, and his thoughts on music. The conversations are wide-ranging, shedding fresh light on important milestones in Mingus's life such as the publication of his memoir, Beneath the Underdog, the famous Tijuana episodes, his relationships, and the jazz business.


This is not just another book on Mingus. This is the man speaking in his own voice. From the outset I did not want to write another critical study or an analysis of the music. It had to be basically a book of interviews, letting the man speak in his own headlong delivery, constructing his own verbal solos, punctuating with blasts fired off at musicians and critics who didn’t measure up, with ramblings into paranoia and real pain. But I wasn’t sure how to give it a form so that his voice would be heard—and heard accurately.

With all the stuff that’s been written about him, there is very little in the way of extended interviews—and somehow he and I connected to make these happen.

Let me first give you some sense of who I am and where I came from— the bona fides in other words. I grew up in Chicago and its suburbs, fortunate to have parents who passed on to me their great love of music. As a toddler, I could identify the music in my father’s big collection of 78-rpm records by the color and design of their labels: the Vocalions, Victors, and Columbias, the music of Duke and Lunceford, Paul Whiteman, Chick Webb and Ella (on blue-and-gold Decca), most of the major big bands, Glenn Miller, the Dorseys, a few small-group things, some show music, André Kostelanetz (yes), concert and symphonic music.

In high school, a group of us devoted ourselves to listening to and playing jazz, starting with Dixieland and small-group swing. We were early’50s examples of what Norman Mailer later called white Negroes: we read Mezz Mezzrow (a Chicago guy); aspired to be hip and cool; and made frequent weekend trips to the city to get drunk and hear some of the great old-timers—Baby Dodds, Henry “Red” Allen, Chicago veterans like George Brunis and Art Hodes, and of course the Ellington and Basie bands when . . .

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