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Jazz great Charles Mingus takes on the bootleggers in this amazing self-produced comic strip
11:32 am


Charles Mingus

Around the time that he became an authentic jazz superstar in the mid-1960s, Charles Mingus became obsessed about avoiding exploitation at the hands of “distributors and retailers.” Mingus was unusually DIY for his era, and he made concerted efforts to secure an unusual amount of control over the production and distribution of his music, a process that included setting up an organization called Charles Mingus Enterprises with a Charles Mingus Record Club. Mingus tried to self-distribute his albums via mail order, and to that end hired artists and layout people to make newspaper ads touting his albums.

As Gene Santoro writes in Myself When I Am Real: The Life and Music of Charles Mingus:

Janet Coleman and Susan [Mingus’ fourth and final wife] and assorted others helped with Charles Mingus Enterprises. Some, in the Beat tradition, drew cartoons for ads and the album cover. But Charles and Susan ran it. Mingus wanted to sell only by mail order, so he couldn’t be ripped off by distributors or retailers. He wouldn’t lug stock and collect checks. It would be straightforward. It was his.

He planned to put ads in the burgeoning counterculture papers, many, like the Village Voice, started by Beats. He wanted the ads to look homemade.

However authentic Mingus’ annoyance on this subject, it seems that this phase didn’t last all that long. In this online forum you can read the musings of several Mingus fans reminiscing about the Mingus’ mail-order album Mingus at Monterey, which came out in 1964—it’s noteworthy that they don’t talk about any other mail-order albums, just that one. In commenting on that album, Wikipedia even mentions that it was released on Mingus’s “short-lived mail-order Jazz Workshop label.” And the Internet is not teeming with images of the ads Mingus put out—far from it.

Mingus had a full comic strip put together in a vaguely Dick Tracy-ish style; it appeared in the Village Voice in December of 1966. Its title was “Charles Mingus Fingers the Record Hi-Jackers”—in the strip, a female beatnik named “Chris” goes into a record shop to inquire about getting ahold of some LPs by “Charlie Mingus.” Sure enough, the shop owner does have some, and sells six of them to Chris. In the final two panels (one doubling as a kind of mail-in coupon), Chris meets Mingus on the street and reports to him on the store’s nefarious bootleg trade. Chris says to the jazz great, “That cat dropped six of your albums on me! Do I get to collect that $1000 reward when you turn him in Ming?”

As one can see from the signature at the bottom left, the strip was executed by Gene Bilbrew, an African-American cartoonist whom some credit with creating the first black superhero, the Bronze Bomber. Bilbrew had once been an assistant to comics legend Will Eisner. Later on Bilbrew worked as a fetish artist at Irving Klaw’s bondage-oriented Movie Star News/Nutrix company; Klaw also discovered Bettie Page. 

At the bottom of the strip is a cut-out coupon to enable the reader to order Mingus at Monterey, “the latest Mingus Town Hall 1964 album,” and/or Music Written for Monterey.

Santoro describes it thus:

The plot: a beautiful woman helped him ferret out bootleg record dealers by going into shops and asking for his records, which were going out of print. He appeared with her, to urge readers to buy his stuff only through the mail. He was drawn wearing his khaki army shirt with many pockets and a snapbrim fedora.

In the strip, Chris mentions a $1,000 reward that Mingus is willing to pay. According to Santoro, Mingus included a similar mention in a different advertisement in the Village Voice, which took the form of a “Legal Notice” indicating a “$500.00 Reward for evidence which secures conviction of any person selling these records.”

Read the strip after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Let Charles Mingus help you with your cat poop problems
10:31 am


John Cassavetes
Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus is one of the greatest jazz composers of all time, and he also, it seems, shared some similarities with your typical crazy cat lady. He liked having cats around, and spent a lot of time thinking about the nettlesome issue of feline fecal matter.

On p. 77 of Cassavetes on Cassavetes we find the following anecdote, told by John Cassavetes, about enlisting Mingus to do the soundtrack for his first movie, Shadows. Mingus would only do it if Cassavetes would come over to Mingus’ house and clean up the cat shit—but even that didn’t solve Mingus’ problem:

First we were going to use Miles Davis, but then he signed with Columbia Records and I got so angry I didn’t want to use him. Anyway, someone said there was this great improvisational artist down in the Village who’d cut a few records, so I listened to a couple and oh!—this guy was wonderful! Charlie Mingus. So Charlie said, “Listen, man, would you do me a favor? I’ll do it for you, but you have got to do something for me.” “Sure, sure,” I say. “Listen, I’ve got these cats that are shitting all over the floor. Can you have a couple of your people come up and clean the cat shit? I can’t work; they shit all over my music.” So we went up with scrubbing brushes and cleaned up the thing. Now he says, “I can’t work in this place. It’s so clean. I’ve got to wait for the cats to shit.”

Cassavetes had intended for Mingus to improvise the needed music in a single session, but Mingus demanded to compose it properly. Cassavetes ended up using music composed by Mingus’ saxophonist Shafi Hadi. Meanwhile, two years after the first release of Shadows in 1957, Mingus completed his own soundtrack to the movie. According to Cassavetes, those Mingus compositions are “Nostalgia in Times Square” and “Alice’s Wonderland.” 

At some point Charles Mingus figured out the best method of toilet training a cat, and he felt he had to get the word out. He wrote a short pamphlet called “The Charles Mingus CAT-alog for Toilet Training Your Cat.” You could order the “CAT-alog” directly from Mingus, and it also appeared in a publication called Changes that existed between 1968 and 1975 and was run by Mingus’ wife, Sue Graham. (Interestingly, the officiant at their wedding was Allen Ginsberg.) You can read the entirety of Mingus’ “CAT-alog” at this website, which is administered by Graham. Mingus’ main point is to execute the transfer to the toilet very slowly: “The main thing to remember is not to rush or confuse” the cat. Also, don’t use kitty litter: “Be sure to use torn up newspaper, not kitty litter. Stop using kitty litter. (When the time comes you cannot put sand in a toilet.)”

Recently Studio 360 dedicated a segment to Mingus’ kitty program, even enlisting actor Reg E. Cathey, familiar from such TV shows as The Wire and House of Cards, to read Mingus’ pamphlet in its entirety.

Listen to Mingus’ “Pussy Cat Dues,” after the jump…..

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Mingus, Monk and more: Portraits of jazz greats painted on drum skins
08:54 pm


Charles Mingus
Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk drum skin art by Nicole Di Nardo
Thelonious Monk
Twenty-seven-year-old Toronto based artist Nicole Di Nardo says her desire to paint portraiture on drums skins was inspired by “tondos” or “circular” works of art whose origins have been traced as far back to 500 BC in ancient Greece, then were popularized again during the Renaissance in the 14th century and in the 15th century by Sandro Botticelli. Di Nardo gives used drum skins she obtains from the Humber College of Music in Ontario a new life by hand painting images of jazz greats, especially drummers, on skins that have been worn in a way that helps illustrate the musical passion that drove her subjects to create their music. Here’s a little bit more from Di Nardo’s bio on her creative process:

I source skins that are beaten to the point of near uselessness by eager young musicians. I then repurpose the skin by selecting it based on its unique design, which corresponds to the portrait I wish to render. I am interested in painting portraits of musicians who have fire in their bellies, those that reach a transcendental state while performing which is reflected in their expression. During these moments, I believe the tarnish of life fades away and the human spirit is evident most clearly.

Di Nardo’s subjects also include a few rockers like Janis Joplin and Tom Waits, but it’s her portraits of Charles Mingus, legendary percussionist Max Roach, and modern day timekeeper Questlove that really shine. Di Nardo’s works run around $180 dollars each over at her Etsy store.  Images of Di Nardo’s works follow. Dig it, Daddy-O.
Charles Mingus drum art by Nicole Di Nardo
Charles Mingus
Max Roach drum art by Nicole Di Nardo
Max Roach
Elvin Jones drum art by Nicole Di Nardo
Elvin Jones
More after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
Charles Mingus goes to Bellevue
11:46 am


Charles Mingus

And I can hear myself saying, “No, don’t do it,” as I read Charles Mingus begging the guard at Bellevue to let him in.

As he tells it in his autobiography Beneath the Underdog, it’s the late 1950s and Mingus hasn’t slept in three weeks, his brain was like “a crazy TV set flicking picture stories in color and black-and-white.” He was wired, “sped-up,” walked the streets for hours with maybe-thoughts of visiting friends at Birdland but canceled the idea of dropping by to talk to someone anyone, who just might listen and help him unwind.

I decided if I called anybody they’d think I was only trying to get sympathy and attention. I kept walking across town, trying to think what in hell I’d done with my life.

Mingus considered his fifteen albums, the hundreds of recordings, the music he’d written and the music he’d yet to write, but still his brain sped on. Then he reached Bellevue with a big sentry guard standing on the other side of the gates, watching the musician approach. And that’s when I’m thinking, “No Mingus, don’t ask.”

I said, “Look, man, I haven’t slept in three weeks,” and he said, “This is no rest home, this place is for the mentally disturbed.”

“Look, man,” I said, “I am mentally disturbed. I’m a musician, I need help, and I once saw a film that said if you need help the first and most difficult task is having the guts to ask for it, so help me, man!”

The gatekeeper said, “I done told you this not where you want to go if you just sleepy. I can see from here you look a little tired, so go home, man, and go to bed. Ain’t crazy or nothing, are you?”

I said, “Maybe I am, maybe I’m not.”

And he said, “Well, take my word for it, you don’t want to come in here. If I was to let you in first thing you’d say when I close that door behind you is “Lemme out, I ain’t crazy!”

Mingus shoulda listened. First thing over the gate, “Here’s that crazy one,” and buttoned-up tight in a strait-jacket—O, America, so this is how you treat genius?

Inside, Mingus can’t sleep, there’s snoring and crying and farting and still no peace. It’s near breakfast and soon the nurses will do their rounds and Mingus will have to get up, eat some food, take his meds, and listen to the blatherings of some racist psycho-doc.

Then I heard him say to another doctor, “Negroes are paranoiac, unrealistic people who believe the whole world is against them.”

I said, “Tell me, doctor, do you mean all Negroes on this earth or only the Negroes in this room?”

He said, “I see I’m getting through to Mingus now,” and I said, “That you are Herr Doktor. Tell me, is this paranoia we all have curable?”

And he said, “Yes, this is what I am so happy to tell you. I can cure this disease with a simple operation on the frontal lobe, called a lobotomy, and then you’ll be all right.”

As soon as he gets out of the interview with Herr Doktor, Mingus looks for a phone. He calls his friend Nat Hentoff and tells him where he is. He can’t talk long, there’s a Nazi doctor, “a prejudiced white cocksucker so high on white supremacy that he’s blowing the whole USA scene on integration singlehanded… Nat I’m scared. You gotta get me out of here!”

Getting in was easy, getting out’s the problem. A lawyer drops by and tells Mingus he’s under supervision for two weeks. They saw needle marks and they don’t believe these are for “reducing the fatty tumor” on his arm. The lawyer tells him to bide his time, get some rest, take it easy—as if these were options.

Mingus goes to the art room, does some painting, finds one by Thelonious Monk (an ax in an apple) and then starts writing down something that might make sense:

I have not vanished or given up music although to many it may seem that I have. For whatever reason, the only albums of my recordings that have been recently made available to the public are at least three years old. I have worked in a few jazz clubs lately but from the people outside New York who have liked my music I have gotten letters wondering where I disappeared to. Before and during this apparent layoff from productivity, however, I have been producing as always and perhaps more because there were few to hear my voice and my need is to express my thoughts and feelings as fully as is humanly possible all the time, I have worked and I have produced music that has not been played and I have written words that have not been read….

Mingus can’t concentrate, too much hubbub, he notices a kid opposite playing chess. A math genius who checkmates him every game. Next day, Mingus writes “Hellview of Bellevue,” a seven point list of what is wrong with the institution and its doctors. He’s had no sleep, but hasn’t lost his sense of humor:

4. Dr. Bonk keeps saying I am a failure. I did not come here to discuss my career or I would have brought a press agent.

He knows it was a mistake to have begged to come in and claims it was a protest over his own psychotherapist, and finishes number seven with: “I have learned my lesson. Let me have my freedom.”

No dice. The next day Mingus writes a song “All the Things You Could Be by Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother,” which he later records. His visitors make him realize what a mistake he has made, but then he thinks, maybe he can use his time in Bellevue to help others. He talks to “Chess,” the kid math genius:

“Why don’t you and me and The Dancer get all these nuts together and start up a school? Look around at these poor bastards, look at all that confusion. Between the three of us we got a university—math, chess, languages, music dancing.”

They dig the idea, the nurses dig the idea and arrange a room and a blackboard, but the cartoon Herr Doktor Bonk raised his eyebrows and said:

“Mr. Mingus is going to organize Bellevue for us. May I comment that compulsive organization is one of the prime traits of paranoia.

You can almost hear the scalpel being sharpened. Mingus leaves the room and keeps his head down for the duration. Days go by, then Mingus finds himself in an office opposite a nurse who tells him he can make a call and have someone collect him.

“We are only trying to help you here at Bellevue.”

Later, when Mingus thought about his naivety in seeking treatment at Bellevue, he wrote:

“All of us who stay sane, stay inside our own cages all the time.”

Bellevue’s had its fair share of talents behind its doors: Eugene O’Neill, William Burroughs, Norman Mailer, Malcolm Lowry and Charles Mingus. They were all lucky, they got out, and some say “Chess” the math genius was Bobby Fischer.

Charles Mingus performing in Belgium, Norway and Sweden, with Eric Dolphy (sax,bass clarinet and flute), Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Jaki Byard (piano), Dannie Richmond (drums) and Johnny Coles (trumpet). Tracks: “So Long Eric,” “Peggy’s Blue Skylight,” “Meditations On Integration,” “Orange Was The Colour Of Her Dress,Then Blue Silk,” “Parkeriana,” “Take The ‘A’ Train.”

Previously on Dangerous Minds
‘Mingus’: Powerful and heartbreaking documentary portrait of the Jazz giant

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Mingus’: Powerful and heartbreaking documentary portrait of the Jazz giant
09:53 am


Charles Mingus

Tuesday, November 22nd, 1966, jazz musician Charlie Mingus waited with his five-year-old daughter Carolyn, to be evicted from his studio at 22 Great Jones Street, New York. Mingus had planned to open a music school and jazz workshop at this Lower East Side loft, but he had been frustrated in his intentions and had fallen behind in the rent.

As he waited for the NYPD and the Sanitation Department to arrive and remove his belongings, filmmaker Thomas Reichman recorded an intimate portrait of one of the jazz music’s greatest composers and performers. In the film, Mingus is seen moving distractedly amongst his boxed possessions, showing great affection for his daughter, recalling happier times living on Fifth Avenue, and acknowledging the inherent racism in America by offering his own Pledge of Allegiance:.

”I pledge allegiance to the flag—the white flag. I pledge allegiance to the flag of America. When they say Black or Negro, it means you’re not an American. I pledge allegiance to your flag. Not that I have to, but just for the hell of it I pledge allegiance. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. The white flag, with no stripes, no stars. It is a prestige badge worn by a profitable minority.”

Reichman’s verite film is intercut with Mingus performing “All the Things You Are,” Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Secret Love,” at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike in Peabody, Massachusetts. The film ends with Mingus being arrested for possession of a rifle and a box of hypodermic needles. Outside on the street, an NBC news reporter asked Mingus:

”Do you deny taking the heroin?”

It’s the sort of low level kick-you-when-you’re-down question, that reveals everything about the interrogator and nothing about Mingus. The needles were legitimate, and were used by the musician for his Vitamin-B injections.

The following day, Mingus reclaimed the gun and needles from the police, after presenting them with all the relevant paperwork. Outside the station he quipped to reporters:

”It isn’t every day you see a Negro walk out of a police station with a box of hypodermic needles and a shotgun.”

Reichman’s film Mingus is a powerful and heartbreaking portrait of one of Jazz music’s most important artists. 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Mingus’: 1968 documentary on the high priest of the upright bass
03:25 pm


Charles Mingus

Mingus directed by Thomas Reichman in 1968 is a film that is much more than a music documentary about Charles Mingus. It digs deep into what was like to be Black, a genius, broke and living in America in the Sixties.

On the music tip, there’s plenty of terrific footage of Mingus playing that bass. And there’s plenty of substance in Mingus who had an incredible mind and who refused to shut up in the face of a culture designed to keep him in his place or deny him any place at all.

Mingus has been available in segments on YouTube. Here it is in uninterrupted form.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Brubeck in context: The BBC’s ‘1959: The Year That Changed Jazz’

Pianist Dave Brubeck’s shedding of his mortal coil yesterday reminds us how important it is to view a figure like him in relation to his time.

Luckily we have BBC4’s 2009 documentary, 1959: The Year That Changed Jazz to do just that. Produced by documentarian Paul Bernays and UK jazz DJ Jez Nelson, 1959 scrutinizes the impact of Brubeck’s classic Time Out album alongside three others from that year: Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, Charles Mingus’s Ah Um and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape Of Jazz To Come.

The main Brubeck segment starts 12 minutes in, and the doc explores both the racial politics inherent in the Brubeck phenomenon, and the influence of his band’s groundbreaking 1959 tour of the Soviet Bloc, Mideast and South Asia on Time Out. But the whole hour is worth watching, if only for the compelling close-readings of masterpieces like Davis’s iconic “So What,” Coleman’s intense “Lonely Woman,” Mingus’s firey “Fables of Faubus.” The doc’s juxtaposition of Brubeck’s ascendance to Mr. Cool-ness against Coleman’s Cold War-tinged urgency is also a nice touch.

With an interview roster that includes Hal Wilner, Lou Reed, Stanley Crouch, Charlie Haden, Sue Mingus, Herbie Hancock and Nat Hentoff, 1959 offers up some crucial background as to what made Brubeck and his contemporaries what they were.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Dave Brubeck Quartet: In Concert, Germany 1966


Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
D.A. Pennebaker shoots Timothy Leary’s wedding, 1964

A few days ago, I posted here about disco singer Monti Rock III, the first queen I ever saw on TV when I was a kid, and I mentioned that he had not really crossed my mind in a very long time… then coincidentally, yesterday, Robert Coddington, Nelson Sullivan’s archivist (who I wrote about here), gave me a copy of a short film by D.A. Pennebaker titled You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You. Who should turn up in this obscurity? Well, Monti Rock III, that’s who, then working as a celebrity hair stylist (he did the bridal party’s hair). A young Richard Alpert (AKA Ram Dass) and jazz great Charles Mingus also turn up in the film.

And Mrs. TImothy Leary? Well, after divorcing the High Priest of LSD—their marriage lasted about a year—the high fashion model then known as Nena von Schlebrügge married Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman. Their daughter, actress Uma Thurman, was born in 1970.

Here’s how Pennebaker describes the Leary nuptials:

This movie is something of a mystery. Timothy Leary was getting married to a model named Nena Von Schlebrugge up in Millbrook, New York at the Hitchcock house, where Leary had been carrying on his hallucinogenic revelries for the past year or so after leaving Harvard. It was rumored that this was going to be the wedding of the season, the wedding of Mr. And Mrs. Swing as Cab Calloway put it.  Blackwood took me downtown to meet Monte Rock III who was singing at Trudy Heller’s but who was also a very pricey and off-the-wall hairdresser and was in fact going to be doing the bride’s hair.  Nena’s brother, Bjorn, known as the “Baron” was a friend of the Hitchcock’s, as was I, and the idea of going along and filming the wedding seemed not unwarranted. I’ve always wanted to film someone getting married.

So we drove up in Monte Rock’s ancient Buick, Diane Arbus, an editor from Vogue whose name I can no longer remember, and of course Monte Rock, his fingers covered in rings. Close behind, Proferes and Desmond filmed us as we drove, up the Taconic and through the gates of the Hitchcock mansion.

There were Hitchcocks and friends and relations of Hitchcocks, the Baron and his court, a score of models, and Charles Mingus playing a lonely piano. Even Susan Leary fresh out of jail.  It was indeed an amazing wedding, and for all I know, an amazing marriage, although someone later told me it was over before I’d even finished editing the film.

After Nena divorced Leary she married a Tibetan scholar, Dr. Robert Thurman and her daughter Uma is Uma the actress.  Dick Alpert became his own guru, Baba Ram Dass and achieved a sainthood of his own.  Monte Rock III left Trudy Heller’s and went out to Hollywood and became famous for his line in the John Travolta movie, Saturday Night Fever, when as the disco DJ he exclaims, “I love that polyester look.” Charles Mingus got thrown out of his loft and sadly perished, and in time the Hitchcock house itself burned down, or so I’ve been told.  The mystery is that we never filmed anyone actually getting married.

D A Pennebaker, 1964, 12 min., b&w


Part II after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Mingus: Charlie Mingus
04:36 pm


Charles Mingus
Beneath The Underdog

Along with Miles Davis‘s Kind of Blue and John Coltrane‘s A Love Supreme, is there a finer “gateway drug” to the world of jazz than Charles Mingusmassively addictive, Mingus Ah Um?  In terms of sheer buoyancy, how many pieces of music rival that of Ah Um’s lead-off track, Better Git It In Your Soul?  The answer to both questions, in my opinion?  Not fucking many.

Throughout his all-too-brief 57 years as a composer, conductor and activist, Charles Mingus fell into that category of life commonly defined as “larger than.”  You can read about it in the absolutely essential Mingus autobiography, Beneath the Underdog: His World as Composed by Mingus, a book that’s as entertaining as it is sorta, maybe exaggerated.

My random discovery of today, though, serves up another fascinating look at the jazz great.  Fresh to YouTube, and otherwise hard to find, it’s Thomas Reichman’s 1968 documentary, Mingus: Charlie Mingus.  Part I follows, with links to the rest below:

Mingus: Charlie Mingus, Part II, III, IV, V


Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment