A pioneering bassist and composer, Mingus redefined jazz's terrain.
He penned over 300 works spannig 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.; But Mingus got headlines less for his art than for
his volatile and often provocative behaviour, which drew fans who
wanted to watch his temper suddenly flare onstage. 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. Jey 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 interracila 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 decent, 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 improvistation flowing through
the work of Allen Ginsbert, Jackson Pollock, and Charlie Parker.
Indeed, unlike most jazz biographers, Santoro examines Mingus's
etra-musical influences - from Orson Welles to Langston Hughes,
Farwell Taylor, and Timothy Leary - and illuminates his achievement
in the broader cultural context it demands.
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