Charles Mingus:Triumph of the Underdog

Charles Mingus:Triumph of the Underdog

Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog is a 1998 documentary film about the life of jazz musician Charles Mingus.

The film starts by the narration of Charles Mingus himself. He first states his nationalities by saying that he is half black and half yellow. He uses colors to describe himself. Although he claims both Asian, (yellow) and African American, he continues to say that he is just a negro. "In a society which sends messages that are racists capitalists, and have Judaeo-Christian ethic roots, the transmission of these messages to Black people can lead to socializing of their young with noncomplementary values. He plays the cello. Although he was a famed jazz musician, he was not famed enough to, make a living. Charles is one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. Did not get the publicity his talent deserved because society saw him just as a negro. Gunther Schuller a composer/conductor/historian states that Charles Mingus is high up with American composers. Mingus' work is compared by Schuller to Duke Ellington. Mingus was a third string, because he brought together jazz and classical music.He was the first third string,and he brought them together in his own way, in teen years. Mingus is more known as a bass leader than as a composer. Mingus as a composer, is not highly recognized for how great he was. He had creative mind, and made music that compared to his life. The Mingus Big Band in rehearsal performs Starting Melody in the Time Cafe in 1997. This band specializes in the late music of Charles Mingus. This piece was premiered at Town Hall in October 1962. The documentary plays clips of film from both performances. Another performance called Epitaph featuring "Started Melody" in June 1989 at the Lincoln Center/Alice Tully Hall

Award-winning Wynton Marsalis on trumpet states that Charles Mingus was always relating his music to something human.

John Handy continues to remark that Mingus' personality ran like the color spectrum. Simply put Charles Mingus's personality was very dynamic. Another piece, Peggy's Blue Skylight, was played in November 1966. Sue Mingus comments that Mingus was individual, volatile and strong. She states that he was just supremely honest and uncompromising. She noted that Mingus was always trying people to see how far he could go, and yet, most people would not have done it anyways. Mingus wrote the piece "Celia" for his wife, and it was performed June 1972 and first recorded in August 1957.

Jerome Richardson, who specializes in the reeds, comments that Mingus was aware of what was going in regards to race. And even though it was there, Mingus never backed down from it. Mingus states that "one day he will pledge allegiance to see that some day (America) will look to its own promises, to the victims that they call citizens". John Handy, award-winning Alto sax musician, states that Mingus did most others could not, mainly because he was conscience of the race issue. his music portrayed dramatized events, past and present maybe even futuristic. He also notes that Mingus was writing compositions when everyone else was writing tunes. Gunther Schuller adds that all of his variety of his personality comes out in Mingus' music, and not only that it is the widest range of music composed by one single human being. It covers the entire range of human emotions, conditions. so he reflected who he was through his music. In addition, Schuller states that anything that was music, Mingus absorbed, and he absorbed it fast. Pithecanthropus Erectus was performed in October 1970 and first recorded in January 1956. Wynton Maralis well-known trumpet player says that Mingus was not victimized by a style. He doesn't play a generic style. When asked by Chris Albertson how Mingus feels about the term music, or jazz, Mingus replied with its like someone is using a substitute name for music. Randy Brecker notes that the willingness to expose yourself, is something that Mingus did.

His whole life is all one level he says, there is. His father was born on a farm in Arizona, half black, half Swedish, his mother was half black, half Chinese. she died when he was 20 months old. His father married another lady that was half black half Indian, but she didn't get along with his father, it left emotional scars. His father had a mistress, which is why they didn't get along. Mingus tried to be all types of races, he was a misfit that didn't belong anywhere. Britt Woodman, who was a childhood friend and a trombone player that states that he took lessons, and was playing very well then. He would study all night.

Schuller notes that Mingus studied composers like Stravinski. He was a bass player that studied avant garde music in the 1930s. Snooki young says that there were many clubs on Central avenue back then, and that they would have random jazz sessions. Mingus was just one of the guys.

"This Subdues My Passion" Boron Mingus and his Octet May 1946.

Mingus said that music pulled him in his heart also says that people have a right to tune into something that they love.

Britt Woodman, who played trombone with Duke Ellington, recalls that Mingus really liked Duke Ellington emerged in 1920s as one of the greatest composers of all time, perfectly encapsulating jazz music's innovative creativity.[1]

CarvanDuke Ellington and his orchestra composer Juan Tizol

Tizol asked Mingus to play for him. Mingus couldn't play was nervous, and Tizol said that he knew that niggas cant read. This made Mingus really mad. Charles said that he was going to get Tizol. Mingus pushed Tizol out of the way, and Mingus played with Duke. Eddie Bert remembers that Mingus said that they carried on like it was a dance routine. Duke fired Tixol and hired Mingus the same day.

Mingus sat in with a group to San Francisco and played.

Slide Hamp Slide Lionel Hampton and his orchestra Mingus liked Lionel Hampton. His wife walked over to the piano at the San Francisco club and said I thought you played bass.

Mingus had an intuitive sense of his life.

After Mingus discovered Duke Ellington, and classical music, he just needed another step up with the crazy be-bop music.

The Massey Hall Concert with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillepie, Bud Powell, and Max Roach in Toronto in may of 1953 Mingus worked with Parker.

Mingus was one of the first artists that had an artist-run record company. Mingus's wife helped pack records started on a shoe string

Don Butterfeild, who is a tuba payer that performed with both Toscanini and Mingus, comments that Mingus wanted certain things to do, but ran into certain roadblocks. Eddie Bert states that Mingus had a connection with the audience.

Mingus would not play without his drummer Donny Richman. Donny first drum lesson was from Mingus. when Donny and Mingus finally talked, Mingus said that playing an instrument is like having a conversation.

When Jimmy Knepper first joined Mingus with the Trombone, he did a phrase.

Schuller states that the music was every kind of singing, hollering, just every kind of vocal activity that you could imagine.

Mingus writes parts that sound good for the instrument would play, but they would be extremely hard.

Don Butterfield on the tuba was always challenged by Mingus every day.

Better Get it in Your Soul originally recorded in May 1959.

Mingus had so many ideas that he couldn't express each of them. Mingus had an idea that he could have a concert that showed the audience how the musicians recorded music. Jimmy Knepper states that because he was a copyist and a trombone player, he could copy the arrangements that Mingus was doing. Knepper went to Mingus' apartment to write backgrounds for his music, Jimmy refused an Mingus swung at him. The concert was not ready, the music was still being copied. The concert was rushed and chaotic. Mingus was very bitter towards the concert. it was not a success. Eric Dolphy was an icon that never stopped practicing. Eric and Mingus worked together. Eric went to Germany and when he went, he died. Mingus was distraught for days over Eric's death in Germany. musicologist:Andrew Homzy IT almost as if Mingus knew that whenever traveling across borders of place and space we risk comfort for adventure.[2] Mingus felt he was being cheated with the major record company. So he started his own company called Charles Mingus Enterprises, this was one of his first real successes. They put out four albums. Weird Nightmare

When jazz was really peaking, Mingus would be night after night performing for about six months at a time. Then in the late 1960s, the music world realized how much money could be made from rock music. When Mingus realized this, he went crazy and spent two months a psych ward.[citation needed] After he got out, he completely dropped out of music.[citation needed] He got a gig as a photographer but went crazy. He threw scenes at bars. When he did the documentary, he was in an anguished time. He was thrown out of his apartment that he just rented. It was a sad, difficult time for Mingus.

A tribute to Duke took him out of it, was a tribute to Duke. they wanted Mingus to go it. Duke Ellington introducing "The Clown" at UCB in September 1969; after that event, Mingus started playing music again. Concerts allowed Mingus to play in a way he wanted. George Adams would come to work and the fifth wheel would sometimes be gone.

"Sue's Changes" was written for his wife Sue in July 1975 and first recorded in 1974. Mingus found himself more in demand. "Goodbye Porkpie Hat", originally recorded in 1959 as a tribute to the recently deceased saxophonist Lester Young.

Things were going wrong with Mingus. He finally went to the doctors and they said he has ALS, which is amiotropic lateral sclerosis. Which is also called Lou Gehrig's Disease. The doctors said he had only a little while to live.

Randy and Micheal Brecker made an album called me, myself, and I. Mingus looked it over. He oversaw it in a way that no one could oversee.[citation needed]

Something Like a Bird rehearsed in January 1978.

When he was paralyzed, he sang with what was left into a tape recorder. Chair in the Sky originally recorded by Joni Mitchel in 1798.

He went to the White House. Dorian Mingus is the son of Charles and Celia. Mingus told his son that he had no color.

Charles Mingus was born on April 22, 1922 and died on January 5, 1979. His wife Sue scattered his ashes. The end of the documentary, the Mingus Dynasty Band is playing "Sue Changes". Jack Walrath George Adams Craig Handy

Andrew Homzy states that he had the great pleasure of cataloging Charles Mingus' compositions.

the feelings of panic come from playing his masterpiece, Epitaph The people who were preparing the parts for the play were running late, and musicians didn't. The dress rehearsal on Saturday. The Children's Hour of the Dream Jack Walrath Wynton Marsalis Randy Brecker Brittwoodman George Adams were the artists that played his masterpiece. It took over fifty years for parts of the performance to be heard. He wrote some of its pieces when he was seventeen.



Charles Mingus:played by himself;jazz musician, composer, bandleader, andcivil rights activist. narrates. Gunther Schuller:played by himself;composer, conductor, horn player, author, historian, and jazz musician. narrates.


The website Culture vulture states that "Director Don McGlynn, who has directed documentaries about such American musical icons as Art Pepper, the Mills Brothers and Spike Jones, has given us a rich and many layered story with Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog. The documentary is grainy, as was Mingus (1922-1979) himself: a tangled, mercurial and often misunderstood musical genius who is known today primarily as a seminal bass player, but whose compositions are the primary focus of this film.

You won't leave the theater whistling. You don't hum back a Mingus tune. The music is exciting but convoluted, and may be beyond the attention span of many film audiences. But you cannot help reacting sympathetically to Mingus himself, a photogenic, funny, and hard-hitting man who always told it, and played it, as he saw it.

The documentary opens with a close-up of Mingus playing bass as a tuba player arrives late to the gig. The look Mingus gives this man, as he tries to sneak in and get set up in a hurry, is a classic. We know right away that Charles Mingus is not a man to fool around with. In case we weren't sure, next we hear Mingus's version of Shortenin' Bread:

    "Mama's little baby loves shortenin' bread. 
    That's just a lie some American white man said." 

Mingus was always a misfit. He had the fortune, or misfortune, to be forever between worlds: part black, Swedish, Chinese and German. He grew up in Watts and turned to music as a release. A gifted bassist, he was also an intellectual. In the 1930s he was studying the classics, not only Bach but also the avant-garde Schoenberg, father of the 12-tone scale. Mingus's idol was Duke Ellington, and he played for awhile in Ellington's band. We hear the story of how saxophonist Juan Tizol and Mingus got into a fight and Duke was forced to fire Mingus. He then hooked up with saxophonist Eric Dolphy (there is fabulous footage of Dolphy and Mingus playing duets), and we see how he was shattered at Dolphy's sudden death (unexplained here) in Germany.

We also experience first-hand one of the eternal themes of art: the unrecognized masterpiece. Mingus's jazz symphony, Epitaph, was a complete disaster the one and only time it was ever performed in his lifetime. But after Mingus's death, the score to Epitaph was rediscovered, and his longtime associate Gunther Schuller put together an all-star orchestra to play this very demanding piece of music. As trumpeter Wynton Marsalis puts it, "You'll find Epitaph in the Etude Book, under Hard." The concert, at New York's Town Hall in 1989, was a triumph, if ten years too late for Charles Mingus to enjoy it.

There are interesting comments and interviews with Mingus's two wives, Celia Mingus Zaentz and Sue Mingus (who refer to their late husband only as "Mingus," no nicknames, not even Charlie or Charles), as well as with one of his sons, Dorian Mingus. There is a wealth of wonderful performances of Mingus tunes by jazz luminaries such as Charlie Parker, Clifford Jordan, Gerry Mulligan, Lionel Hampton, Bud Powell and Duke Ellington.

But above all there is the sense of this man's life. McGlynn has not put a gloss on it. We feel all the components of the music, particularly in the wonderful footage of the Epitaph Concert. Listening to this abstract but spellbinding work we understand better some of what Charles Mingus was trying to say. This segment alone is worth the price of admission to the film.

McGlynn's documentary captures beautifully the complex and cryptic nature that at times nurtured and other times overcame Mingus. But the music survives. That's what the world will remember."

Movie Information


Director: Don McGlynn

Producers: Don McGlynn & Sue Mingus


  1. ^ Earle, Jonathan (2000). The Routledge Atlas Of African American History. Great Britain: Routledge. pp. 122. ISBN 075910929X. 
  2. ^ Alexander, Bryant Keith (2006). Performing Black Masculinity: Race, Culture, and Queer Identity. United Kingdom: Altamira Press. pp. 3. ISBN 075910929X. 

External links

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