Charles Mingus Use of Bass Guitar

Charles Mingus, a man who had made many contributions to the jazz world, which had included the introduction of the stand-up-bass as a lead instrument where it normally was used to keep time. He is known for composing the second largest amount of pieces just second to Duke Ellington2. He had mainly focused on collective organization when writing is charts that were similar to old school New Orleans street jazz bands, and his peers had once called him an organizational genius for this.
Mingus’s pieces are known to be very temperamental meaning the music would go from very loud at times, to soft soothing sections, which got him the nickname “the angry man of jazz”. Mingus was born on April 22nd, 1922 and raised in Watts, California to a very religious family1. He had started out his musical career by learning to play the piano from his mother, which led him to playing at his local church1 as his musical wisdom began to expand. For most of his childhood he was only aloud to listen to worship music, seeing how at the time since jazz was viewed as music of the devil due to its association with booze, and drugs.
But at times he would sneak away from his studies in religious music and listen to his idol the world renowned Duke Ellington. He made his transition from the piano to the standup bass when he moved to New York and studied with H. Rheinhagen and the principal bassist Lloyd Reese from the New York Philharmonic School1. Mingus’s music was a mixture of Avant-Garde with an incorporation of Gospel, which left him room for breakthroughs in his music. During the 1940s, when Mingus had made the most progress in his work he had wrote such works that were covered by Lionel Hampton, specifically the album Mingus Fingers.

In that album Mingus had used the bass as a lead instrument. People during this time period found it strange that a bass took lead, since it was standard for the bass to keep time, but Mingus revolutionized it with his ability to improvise within his solos, which he learned from Ornette Coleman. An excellent example of this would be his soloing in the song “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”. Lester Young had inspired Mingus to record this song since their sounds were so different from each other’s. Despite his success he still minimal reviews from his record company and was not making nough money to support himself. Towards the beginning of the early 50s Mingus had migrated east to New York City to pursue a career to help make him some money to live on. He became a postal worker delivering mail in 1949 and through this job he met what would be his long time drummer Max Roach. Mingus had scored his first concert since his move from L. A. In 1952 Roach scored a gig at Massey Hall in Toronto where many of the greats would be playing such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Roach himself.
This jumpstarted Mingus’s career again and segued him into bebop. Although Mingus viewed bebop as a very straight forward beat (from a bassists perspective) and didn’t like the thought of playing such a simple beat when asked to solo like most bassists of the time which was described as a “boom boom boom…”4 feel to it, this is where he developed the usage of playing with three fingers instead of the customary two3 which became part of his signature sound.
Mingus’s masterwork, which is called “Epitaph”, would take two hours to perform with the 4000 measures that it covered over the course of time. This work of art was discovered while his music was being processed into CD’s at the time3. Even the New York Times had marked it as the most memorable of jazz pieces of all time5. His chart was also known as the best composition since the times of Duke Ellington making him again even more like his idol3.
When the music had finally come to and end on January 5, 1979 when Mingus passed away he had left this world with many new sounds for us to appreciate and to learn from. His sound had changed as he aged and so did his style to adapt to the times. He had revolutionized an instrument at one point only thought to keep time and he added the idea of playing with more than two fingers paving the way for many new bass players to learn from. Mingus was in fact an extraordinary musician and had ever-changed jazz for the better.

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