Charles Mingus was an internationally acclaimed jazz bassist and composer who was known for his soulful jazz performances. His music was highly influenced by African-American gospel music but he often used the idioms of bebop and classical music. His style was highly improvisational. In selected members for his band, he considered not only the musical ability of those whom he selected, but also the various aspects of their personalities.
He was born in Nogales, Arizona, and was raised primarily in the Watts section of Los Angeles. His mother was of English Chinese heritage and his father was the offspring of a Black-American farmhand and his Swedish employer’s white granddaughter. He studied trombone and cello, later turning to playing bass.
His first major professional job was playing with former Duke Ellington clarinetist Barney Bigard. He toured with Louis Armstrong and later recorded with a band led by Russell Jacquet. He also played with Lionel Hampton’s band. In the 1950s, he would earn even greater fame as a bandleader and for playing gigs with Charlie Parker.
Mingus was widely viewed as a bass prodigy. Gunther Schuller, the conductor, music historian and composer, once stated that Mingus should be ranked among the most important American composers either in jazz or any other area.
Mingus died in in 1979 at the age of 56 in Cuernavaca, Mexico, after suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
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(Photo: John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images)