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All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Genius Guide to Jazz

A Mingus Among Us

By Published: August 17, 2005
Mingus remained a productive artist almost to the very end. He spent much of the seventies touring all over the world, and his compositions were used by ballet companies such as the Joffrey Ballet (with choreography by Alvin Ailey, of Alvin and the Chipmunks fame. Or not). In 1977, however, Mingus was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. In early 1979, Mingus died while in Mexico at the age of 56. And the second most unusual thing I came across in my research for this piece was the fact that on the day Mingus died, 56 whales beached themselves in Mexico. This fact would have been even cooler if the whales had've had the forethought to spell out "Goodbye Mingus" as their last act. I worked the logistics, and it would take exactly 56 whales to spell that out (including one to dot the I). But we'll take what we can get.

Like Miles Davis, Mingus volatile personality often overshadowed his musical accomplishments. For each of the great contributions he made to jazz, there is a story about the time he punched so-and-so in the face or tried to slam the piano lid down on some unwitting keyboardist's fingers. Still, Mingus must be remembered today for his intense love of jazz, even if he wasn't always fond of certain jazz musicians. His compositions respectfully encompassed all that jazz had been and fearlessly predicted what it could be, his playing redefined all expectations of what the bass was capable of, and his toilet training manual for cats is a far sillier coda for this piece than anything I could have made up.

Till next month, kids, exit to your right and enjoy the rest of AAJ.

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