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…..