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'Mingus Speaks' For Himself In New Book

Conversations with the legendary jazz bassist and composer come to light after 40 years.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Charles Mingus (Wikimedia Commons)

"There's never been a better interview subject, in my opinion," says writer John F. Goodman about Charles Mingus, the man at the center of his new book, "Mingus Speaks."

Between 1972 and 1974, Goodman spoke at length with the legendary jazz bassist and composer on a number of occasions; first, for a Playboy magazine interview, and later, for a proposed memoir of sorts which never materialized -- until now. 

Now, forty years later and many years after Mingus' death, we talk with Goodman about the hours of tape he recorded during those interviews, and what Mingus reveals about himself through his own words. 

On where Mingus was in his career in the early 1970s: 

Mingus was just coming out of a really bad period for himself. For 6 to 7 years he was withdrawn from everything -- the whole music scene. He had some health problems and in kind of a bad way. But he began to play again, and finally came back around 1972. 

On what Mingus was like as an interview: 

His reputation in many ways preceded him. He was very warm. Very open. A great enormous big man. And I think part of the fact that I wrote for Playboy was sort of a kick for him. He loved to talk about sex and women and all of it. But he was always very approachable, sometimes moody, sometimes there was a lot of dead air, and you'd just sit there and wait until the appropriate time to pick it up again. 

On how Mingus felt about the avant-garde: 

He was suspicious and more than that. He was very critical about some of what he heard.... I think he felt that a lot of these people were taking advantage of the big interest that was rising in so-called free jazz. And they were not really prepared like someone like Eric Dolphy, who knew how to play that music and had training. 

On Mingus's legendary short fuse: 

Sure, he had a terrible temper. There are all kinds of stories. It's undeniable that the man had a fierce temper, which I think as time went along... kind of moderated. I did not hear the kinds of stories about punching people and holding knives on people and the kind of stuff that he did back in the 1950s. 


John F. Goodman

Comments [1]

Dan Heyman from NYC

I think that was the weirdest introduction to Sound Check, or any other show, that I have ever heard. Mr. Schaefer starts talking about the fact that he had never really listened much to Joni Mitchell (no one's perfect, John) and he wanted to be sure he "had one of her disks in his collection". For reasons known only to himself he purchases only her album "Mingus" and plays for us a portion of a cut in which Mingus is heard speaking (no Mitchell music is heard at all). And then, with no further mention of Mitchell, he keeps talking about Mingus and without explanation moves directly into his interview with John Goodman (which was a good interview). But John: I think it would also do you good to listen to some Joni Mitchell one day and to give her and her fans the courtesy of at least one concluding sentence before heading off into what seemed at the time to be left field. I thought it a kind of rude (and quite strange) way to start talking about Charles Mingus.

Jun. 02 2013 09:20 PM

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