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Charles Mingus was one of the most innovative jazz musicians of the 20th Century, and ranks with Ives and Ellington as one of America's greatest composers. By temperament, he was a high-strung and sensitive romantic, a towering figure whose tempestuous personal life found powerfully coherent expression in the ever-shifting textures of his music. Now, acclaimed music critic Charles Mingus was one of the most innovative jazz musicians of the 20th Century, and ranks with Ives and Ellington as one of America's greatest composers. By temperament, he was a high-strung and sensitive romantic, a towering figure whose tempestuous personal life found powerfully coherent expression in the ever-shifting textures of his music. Now, acclaimed music critic Gene Santoro strips away the myths shrouding Jazz's Angry Man, revealing Mingus as more complex than even his lovers and close friends knew. A pioneering bassist and composer, Mingus redefined jazz's terrain. He penned over 300 works spanning gutbucket gospel, Colombian cumbias, orchestral tone poems, multimedia performance, and chamber jazz. By the time he was 35, his growing body of music won increasing attention as it unfolded into one pioneering musical venture after another, from classical-meets-jazz extended pieces to spoken-word and dramatic performances and television and movie soundtracks. Though critics and musicians debated his musical merits and his personality, by the late 1950s he was widely recognized as a major jazz star, a bellwether whose combined grasp of tradition and feel for change poured his inventive creativity into new musical outlets. But Mingus got headlines less for his art than for his volatile and often provocative behavior, which drew fans who wanted to watch his temper suddenly flare onstage. Impromptu outbursts and speeches formed an integral part of his long-running jazz workshop, modeled partly on dramatic models like Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre. Keeping up with the organized chaos of Mingus's art demanded gymnastic improvisational skills and openness from his musicians-which is why some of them called it the Sweatshop. He hired and fired musicians on the bandstand, attacked a few musicians physically and many more verbally, twice threw Lionel Hampton's drummer off the stage, and routinely harangued chattering audiences, once chasing a table of inattentive patrons out of the FIVE SPOT with a meat cleaver. But the musical and mental challenges this volcanic man set his bands also nurtured deep loyalties. Key sidemen stayed with him for years and even decades. In this biography, Santoro probes the sore spots in Mingus's easily wounded nature that helped make him so explosive: his bullying father, his interracial background, his vulnerability to women and distrust of men, his views of political and social issues, his overwhelming need for love and acceptance. Of black, white, and Asian descent, Mingus made race a central issue in his life as well as a crucial aspect of his music, becoming an outspoken (and often misunderstood) critic of racial injustice. Santoro gives us a vivid portrait of Mingus's development, from the racially mixed Watts where he mingled with artists and writers as well as mobsters, union toughs, and pimps to the artistic ferment of postwar Greenwich Village, where he absorbed and extended the radical improvisation flowing through the work of Allen Ginsberg, Jackson Pollock, and Charlie Parker. Indeed, unlike Most jazz biographers, Santoro examines Mingus's extra-musical influences--from Orson Welles to Langston Hughes, Farwell Taylor, and Timothy Leary--and illuminates his achievement in the broader cultural context it demands. Written in a lively, novelistic style, Myself When I Am Real draws on dozens of new interviews and previously untapped letters and archival materials to explore the intricate connections between this extraordinary man and the extraordinary music he made.


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Charles Mingus was one of the most innovative jazz musicians of the 20th Century, and ranks with Ives and Ellington as one of America's greatest composers. By temperament, he was a high-strung and sensitive romantic, a towering figure whose tempestuous personal life found powerfully coherent expression in the ever-shifting textures of his music. Now, acclaimed music critic Charles Mingus was one of the most innovative jazz musicians of the 20th Century, and ranks with Ives and Ellington as one of America's greatest composers. By temperament, he was a high-strung and sensitive romantic, a towering figure whose tempestuous personal life found powerfully coherent expression in the ever-shifting textures of his music. Now, acclaimed music critic Gene Santoro strips away the myths shrouding Jazz's Angry Man, revealing Mingus as more complex than even his lovers and close friends knew. A pioneering bassist and composer, Mingus redefined jazz's terrain. He penned over 300 works spanning gutbucket gospel, Colombian cumbias, orchestral tone poems, multimedia performance, and chamber jazz. By the time he was 35, his growing body of music won increasing attention as it unfolded into one pioneering musical venture after another, from classical-meets-jazz extended pieces to spoken-word and dramatic performances and television and movie soundtracks. Though critics and musicians debated his musical merits and his personality, by the late 1950s he was widely recognized as a major jazz star, a bellwether whose combined grasp of tradition and feel for change poured his inventive creativity into new musical outlets. But Mingus got headlines less for his art than for his volatile and often provocative behavior, which drew fans who wanted to watch his temper suddenly flare onstage. Impromptu outbursts and speeches formed an integral part of his long-running jazz workshop, modeled partly on dramatic models like Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre. Keeping up with the organized chaos of Mingus's art demanded gymnastic improvisational skills and openness from his musicians-which is why some of them called it the Sweatshop. He hired and fired musicians on the bandstand, attacked a few musicians physically and many more verbally, twice threw Lionel Hampton's drummer off the stage, and routinely harangued chattering audiences, once chasing a table of inattentive patrons out of the FIVE SPOT with a meat cleaver. But the musical and mental challenges this volcanic man set his bands also nurtured deep loyalties. Key sidemen stayed with him for years and even decades. In this biography, Santoro probes the sore spots in Mingus's easily wounded nature that helped make him so explosive: his bullying father, his interracial background, his vulnerability to women and distrust of men, his views of political and social issues, his overwhelming need for love and acceptance. Of black, white, and Asian descent, Mingus made race a central issue in his life as well as a crucial aspect of his music, becoming an outspoken (and often misunderstood) critic of racial injustice. Santoro gives us a vivid portrait of Mingus's development, from the racially mixed Watts where he mingled with artists and writers as well as mobsters, union toughs, and pimps to the artistic ferment of postwar Greenwich Village, where he absorbed and extended the radical improvisation flowing through the work of Allen Ginsberg, Jackson Pollock, and Charlie Parker. Indeed, unlike Most jazz biographers, Santoro examines Mingus's extra-musical influences--from Orson Welles to Langston Hughes, Farwell Taylor, and Timothy Leary--and illuminates his achievement in the broader cultural context it demands. Written in a lively, novelistic style, Myself When I Am Real draws on dozens of new interviews and previously untapped letters and archival materials to explore the intricate connections between this extraordinary man and the extraordinary music he made.

30 review for Myself When I Am Real: The Life and Music of Charles Mingus

  1. 4 out of 5

    Grant

    very disappointing. writing is horrible. that it was extensively researched is its one winning quality. and that i am a fan of the mingus.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Al Maki

    I should start by saying that Mingus composed and organized the bands that played some of my favourite music. The book gave me insight into where he came from and the environment he worked in. I found his struggles to keep creating jazz as the economics of the music industry shifted were particularly interesting. It seems to me that Santoro also proposes that the beat movement of the post war era drew a lot of its style by appropriating the African American styles of the time. I find this an int I should start by saying that Mingus composed and organized the bands that played some of my favourite music. The book gave me insight into where he came from and the environment he worked in. I found his struggles to keep creating jazz as the economics of the music industry shifted were particularly interesting. It seems to me that Santoro also proposes that the beat movement of the post war era drew a lot of its style by appropriating the African American styles of the time. I find this an interesting idea.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tom Burdge

    “The boon companions [Mingus and his friend J C Suares] greeted each other by bumping their protruding bellies together. Once, Mingus went to a Suares show in Paris, saw J. C. bump bellies with a stout French artist, and left. Susan [Mingus’ wife] called Suares the next day. “Mingus is very upset,” she said. “He thought he was the only person you bumped stomachs with” p. 330-31 I’d say, overall, the above passage encapsulates the loudest messages in the book. It contains countless anecdotes of Mi “The boon companions [Mingus and his friend J C Suares] greeted each other by bumping their protruding bellies together. Once, Mingus went to a Suares show in Paris, saw J. C. bump bellies with a stout French artist, and left. Susan [Mingus’ wife] called Suares the next day. “Mingus is very upset,” she said. “He thought he was the only person you bumped stomachs with” p. 330-31 I’d say, overall, the above passage encapsulates the loudest messages in the book. It contains countless anecdotes of Mingus’ eccentricity, his extreme jealousy, rage, and paranoia, and often draws attention to how amusingly absurd they are. It is a funny anecdote, but plays it puts him into the freak show than appreciates him. Furthermore, constantly acknowledging Mingus’ paranoia quite often understates the racism Mingus did actually experience. Quite often you only hear the story of Mingus’ explosive response to the racist incident, rather than the event itself. The book does have redeeming elements, where Santori talks about Mingus’ music, the volatile relationships with his band members, and the hidden stories of his songs and albums. I particularly enjoyed learning about Mingus’ Vedanta beliefs, which I hadn’t known about; Mingus’ reflections on death, motivated by his understanding of Vedanta, and his song The Chill of Death were a great help in prompting reflections on an essay I was writing about death this semester. I certainly learnt much about Mingus’ musical progression from the book. But, unfortunately, I think for the most part this is another work which remembers Mingus as The Clown (go listen to that song on the album of the same name, it’s brilliant and I’m convinced a direct inspiration for the film Birdman). Santori’s writing is also quite obnoxious at times. I cringed more each time the author repeated “Mingus was feeling the Zeitgest again”. Santori’s constant mentions of the Beat Generation poets is far too much also. While its clear Ginsberg, Kerouac and others were his good friends for a period, they were much smaller a part of Mingus’ life than Santori allocates them. Overall, I’m happy I read the book because I love Mingus and his music, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really want to learn more about Mingus’ life.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Blair

    This is a very fun biography. Mingus was a very volatile talent, both in his musical style and his personal life. He had a bad temper, didn't take shit form anyone. Santoro writes with almost a prose-like style to basically fit that fury into the lines, and it works well. It's a bit too long, but worth the read. It's almost like Mingus was a character in a Scorsese movie, chasing at people with knives, his anger a character bigger than his self at times. As a result there are some very memorable This is a very fun biography. Mingus was a very volatile talent, both in his musical style and his personal life. He had a bad temper, didn't take shit form anyone. Santoro writes with almost a prose-like style to basically fit that fury into the lines, and it works well. It's a bit too long, but worth the read. It's almost like Mingus was a character in a Scorsese movie, chasing at people with knives, his anger a character bigger than his self at times. As a result there are some very memorable anecdotes.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Peter Sims

    A biography on one of my heroes that didn't blow me away yet completely disappoint me. Most likely the best biography written on him, but doesn't hold a candle to Lewis Porter's Coltrane, the best jazz biography I've seen. A biography on one of my heroes that didn't blow me away yet completely disappoint me. Most likely the best biography written on him, but doesn't hold a candle to Lewis Porter's Coltrane, the best jazz biography I've seen.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Joel D

    The story is just not told in an interesting way. It's too detail heavy, without a strong narrative or emotional connection. Very choppy. It reads like Santoro was determined to include every single scrap of information regardless of how they contributed value . The story is just not told in an interesting way. It's too detail heavy, without a strong narrative or emotional connection. Very choppy. It reads like Santoro was determined to include every single scrap of information regardless of how they contributed value .

  7. 5 out of 5

    Will

    Sought this out because I had heard several crazy stories about Mingus (e.g., rehearsing his band during performances, punching out his trombone player) and have always gotten a kick out of his quirky music. Fairly well written biography about a very eccentric guy.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Qa'id

    A slowish read at times, but it's always enlightening to learn about the details of the lives of folks who transcend the boundaries of "ordinary" creative capabilities. A slowish read at times, but it's always enlightening to learn about the details of the lives of folks who transcend the boundaries of "ordinary" creative capabilities.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Fernando Pestana da Costa

    Bass player and composer Charles Mingus is one of the gargantuan personalities in the jazz pantheon. Widely known in his lifetime for his violent outbursts, "jazz's angry man" was one of the most important jazz composers ever, responsible for an incredibly large number of recordings that became classics and milestones in the evolution of the music, like the albums "New Tijuana Moods" (1957), "Blues and Roots" (1959), "Mingus Ah Um"(1959), "Mingus Dinasty" (1959), "Charles Mingus Presents Charles Bass player and composer Charles Mingus is one of the gargantuan personalities in the jazz pantheon. Widely known in his lifetime for his violent outbursts, "jazz's angry man" was one of the most important jazz composers ever, responsible for an incredibly large number of recordings that became classics and milestones in the evolution of the music, like the albums "New Tijuana Moods" (1957), "Blues and Roots" (1959), "Mingus Ah Um"(1959), "Mingus Dinasty" (1959), "Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus" (1960), and the masterpiece "The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady" (1963). His different groups, all known as the "jazz workshop", became legendary, and included, at one time or another, some of the most adventurous and creative jazz musicians, like Eric Dolphy, Jackie McLean, Booker Ervin, Mal Waldron, Jaki Byard, Jimmy Kneeper, and Dannie Richmond, among others. This book is a biography of Mingus that do him justice and is commensurate with his genius: it follows his life from the early years in Los Angeles, and the beginning of his professional life in the West Coast, to consecration in New York; his lifelong struggle against racism and discrimination, as well as his, at times violent and paranoid, behavior towards his family, musicians and acquaintances. Not a black-and-white type of biography, this rich portrait of a complicated and troubled, but genial, personality is a must to everyone hooked up by his hauntingly beautiful music.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Peterson

    Richly researched, poorly (if at all) edited, deeply disappointing. Couldn't finish it fast enough. Most annoyingly, the book is rife with non-sequiturs, some lengthy, that neither advance the narrative of Mingus' "life and music" or provide a shred of helpful context. Santoro's approach to biography, clearly, is: "I found this anecdote, so it goes in." To quote Missus: "Maybe just because someone's a Fulbright Scholar doesn't mean they can write." Too bad because I'd otherwise give this 4 stars Richly researched, poorly (if at all) edited, deeply disappointing. Couldn't finish it fast enough. Most annoyingly, the book is rife with non-sequiturs, some lengthy, that neither advance the narrative of Mingus' "life and music" or provide a shred of helpful context. Santoro's approach to biography, clearly, is: "I found this anecdote, so it goes in." To quote Missus: "Maybe just because someone's a Fulbright Scholar doesn't mean they can write." Too bad because I'd otherwise give this 4 stars for all I learned about a fascinating, restless artist and innovator I didn't know enough about.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Marco Frey

    Such a pretty cover betrays the book's writing quality which often falls onto the page as if taken from a set of notes roughly organized in chronological order. I'm sure writing a biography (especially of a man with many myths) is a tough task. It's worth reading to better understand Mingus and his many periods and does offer some insight into his creative process. Mingus' greatest strength was in selecting the right musicians (rarely virtuosos but with a unique voice) and then writing for them. Such a pretty cover betrays the book's writing quality which often falls onto the page as if taken from a set of notes roughly organized in chronological order. I'm sure writing a biography (especially of a man with many myths) is a tough task. It's worth reading to better understand Mingus and his many periods and does offer some insight into his creative process. Mingus' greatest strength was in selecting the right musicians (rarely virtuosos but with a unique voice) and then writing for them. Although it always sounds like Mingus--his groups were raw, the opposite of a for-hire classical quartet. Instead of watering down the elements, he blended some vivid spices.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    I wanted to love this like I love Mingus' music, but I found the format distracting and ultimately found this book lacking cohesion. I wanted to love this like I love Mingus' music, but I found the format distracting and ultimately found this book lacking cohesion.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Craig Turner

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joe

  15. 5 out of 5

    Billthebassist

  16. 4 out of 5

    Philly Aesthete

  17. 4 out of 5

    EchosMyron

  18. 4 out of 5

    David Strassman

  19. 4 out of 5

    William Hepple

  20. 4 out of 5

    Zafra

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cem Kurosman

  22. 5 out of 5

    Steve Leach

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nigel Gillett

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dagmar Morgan-Sinclair

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  26. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

  27. 4 out of 5

    Blake

  28. 4 out of 5

    Liz Bankhead

  29. 5 out of 5

    E Sebastian

  30. 4 out of 5

    Leonora Rafua

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