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Sue Graham Mingus: All the Things You Could Be By Now If Charles' Wife Was Your Flamekeeper

By Published: November 5, 2007
She has also changed her opinion on the bootlegging of music. For years, Sue Mingus was known for her stance against pirating music, adamant that musicians need to get their royalties. She was known to go into record stores in the city and grab Mingus albums she knew were unauthorized and walk out. But she's done a 180-degree turn. The reason: technological advances that make it impossible to monitor.

"You can't fight Sidney Hall, as Charles used to say, says Mingus. "You can't fight something that's a fact of life. Everybody can copy. There are musicians who've told me they haven't bought a CD in eight years. Everybody burns copies for one another. If that possibility is there, you have to embrace it. The government is going to have to find a way to subsidize artists. Artists have to have some way of making money. If they're not going to be able to make money selling their music when everybody can copy it, I don't know. You have to have rewards for creativity. If the minute you create something it's absorbed by everyone else and it no longer is yours and you can't make money off it and pay the rent, then what's going to happen to out creative imaginations? Who knows? I'm sure we'll work our way through, but I have no idea how we're going to do that.

"If you're able to copy everything, you won't go back. So the first question is: What kind of copyright protection can anybody have when everything belongs to everybody? There's another wonderful (DVD) compilation that Jazz Icons is releasing which includes some Mingus concerts—one in a television studio in Belgium and two live concerts, one in Sweden and one in Oslo. A lot of this material has already appeared on YouTube. My attorney called me up and said—as did Jazz Icons—did they want me to force them to take it off. I said absolutely not. It's wonderful publicity. It's reaching people who otherwise wouldn't hear Mingus music, probably. I don't see it at all as competitive to their release. Their release is not muddy and unclear. These [on YouTube] aren't great renditions of the music, nor are they visual masterpieces. But it's information. I think it's wonderful.

"I've come full circle. I had a record company called Revenge Records and I went after pirates. I used to walk into music stores and just take all the pirated material that I saw of Mingus. People come to the club. We used to ask them not to film, not to take photographs. But now I say: be my guest. Everybody on the face of the earth can take pictures or record.

So Sue Mingus continues on, working to keep the brilliant music of her husband circulating the globe. In the meantime, she has never taken her hands away from writing, and says another book on Charles Mingus is in the works and could find its way to shelves in a couple of years.

Charles Mingus "Actually, the original reason I wanted to write the book was simply to write about the astonishing period in Mexico when Mingus was dying and lived up to everything that he ever shouted on stage, with such grace and heroism. It was an amazing experience for me to see this struggle and the bravery. I really just wanted to write about that one time. Then I was asked who I was, who was the voice, what was my background and how did I meet Charles and all that. I really had not intended to get into that at all. That was the hard part, revealing all the personal things, which were not really what I was interested in writing about. I had to dredge up all sorts of things in order to balance the book for the editors, who did not want just one aspect of this time.

Writing, she says, "is a way of living something again and examining it again, enriching it, deepening it. Circling the wagons, so to speak. You can take events and see them from many different perspectives that you didn't at the time. It's a fascinating procedure. It's something worthy in itself. It isn't for any ends. It more for clarification and, I would say, pleasure. Reliving something.

For jazz aficionados, more releases spearheaded by Sue Mingus will allow them to relive as well.

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