Charles Mingus discusses his book "Beneath The Underdog"
BROADCAST: May. 20, 1971 | DURATION: 00:35:50
Studs Terkel speaks with Charles Mingus about his life and work in the context of his autobiography "Beneath The Underdog".
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel That's Charles Mingus reading the first paragraph, a very moving, very telling, remarkable autobiography, "Beneath the Underdog: His World As Composed by Charles Mingus", who is one of the original talents in the world of jazz. This creative man. It's his bass you heard in the beginning, that was his quartet, and Eric Dolphy, the late Eric Dolphy, at the alto improvising folk forms and so this is both music and it's words, words and music together, Knopf are the publishers of this book, and I'm thinking of what you said, Mr. Mingus, you know, your whole creation, your contribution to jazz is so much. You've always been considered also a volatile figure, a guy who speaks his mind, and here you're talking about your book. There are three people, you say. In this book you use the "I," then you say "he," and you speak of a "Baby," you speak of "Mingus."
Charles Mingus Yeah. I used to talk more than I talk now.
Studs Terkel Yeah?
Charles Mingus Yeah.
Charles Mingus I used to be a fighter. I used to be a fighter.
Studs Terkel You say you used to be a fighter.
Charles Mingus Yeah. The book does it.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Charles Mingus I can't talk as much in person anymore.
Charles Mingus I don't know. I just get lost for words.
Studs Terkel 'Cause you never were at a loss for words, whether before an audience that was not listening, or an audience that was expressing its own kind of contempt for art, or even though they were there. You would tell off people, but what is it? -- The book speaks a great deal for you, but why is it that you feel you talk less?
Charles Mingus I know I do, I just can't think of anything to say. This is not since I wrote the book, either, just some kind of fear I'm going through.
Studs Terkel Well, you talk about fear, as we go, let's go back to the beginning this book. This book -- throughout the book there's your talk to a psychiatrist. There was a breakdown that came later on. After a pretty full and rich and volatile life, but beginnings. You know what impresses me about the book, Charles Mingus, is it's the combination of truth and fantasy. Where is the line that ends it, you know?
Charles Mingus Yeah. Is it where is the line
Studs Terkel Yeah, I mean in your case, not in your case, in the case of all people with great imaginations and talent, because your book, it deals with that very point, doesn't it?
Charles Mingus Yeah, it tries to. That's right.
Studs Terkel It was Watts where you were born.
Charles Mingus Yeah. Well, I wasn't born
Charles Mingus Three months old. Came here.
Studs Terkel Watts, and the early part. Do you recall, you do in the book I'm thinking about the beginning, this area that later on made the headlines. But you saw that, you saw the seeds of the headlines when you were a small boy. Oh, yeah,
Charles Mingus Oh, yeah, Watts was a -- it had to come up with something. It's loaded with hate. It's like the South.
Studs Terkel But there was a guy named Rodia. The old guy who built the towers. That was something different.
Charles Mingus You ever seen that?
Studs Terkel No. No. Now, who is he, he is a guy, an old Italian guy.
Charles Mingus He used to collect stones and glass and marble, he would build these concretes like boat mass and it's beautiful.
Studs Terkel And so there was this work of beauty that was there.
Charles Mingus Yeah, he's the only artist I knew around here.
Studs Terkel Yeah. But you speak of something that's interesting here about your father and your mother, and your father was rough, he'd beat you. But somehow, if I could quote from this right here: [pause in recording]. This is a key problem, isn't it? First of all, the frustrations of a man who could have been something else. So he took that out on those closest to him.
Charles Mingus Yeah. He was a [unintelligible] man. He used to beat my sister so much I couldn't understand it. And the way he beat 'em, the same way with a strap, short strap. He even hit my sister one time going to church. With his fists, she's supposed to sing in church. And she ran, ran out of church. She was a classical vocalist. Classically trained.
Studs Terkel You were telling, though, about you kind of understood in a way later on. Not at the moment.
Charles Mingus I understood him. I [didn't like him? grew to like
Studs Terkel That there was something else he wanted to be.
Charles Mingus Yeah, well, he was definitely an architect.
Studs Terkel But they had to work in the post office. I'm thinking something else, 'cause you, this comes often, my friend Big Bill the Bru-- Big Bill Broonzy the late, great country blues singer, broke, brought, the matter of caste, the matter of shade of skin, you're light. And that became a problem, too. Sometimes you wish you were very Black so at least you would have a
Charles Mingus [As a policy to?] Miles Davis, who is as black as he was. But the Black race had many, in those days they had prejudices among themselves that needed to be sorted out, too. They just now beginning to try and get together. 'Cause it was very common for a person to call somebody Black and mean the same thing a white man means.
Studs Terkel Did you feel, did you feel superior because you had a light, coffee-colored skin as a
Charles Mingus I felt superior to my father for not being prejudiced. I [unintelligible]. I knew what he was talking about. I felt superior to him because he was, he sounded wrong.
Studs Terkel But as far as the light, the lightness, that didn't
Charles Mingus No. I felt inferior.
Studs Terkel Inferior to someone who is Blacker.
Charles Mingus Yeah. Because at least they were something.
Studs Terkel Because here are you, there is a, who knows who your great grandfather was, I'm, probably was the slave owner who was a -- a, your mother, probably, your great great grandmother probably was a slave possibly, and your great grandfather probably might have been the very respected plantation owner. So you had the feeling of not knowing where you stood. So it comes to music, and so, originally it's the trombone, was it?
Charles Mingus Trombone, yeah, to cello.
Studs Terkel There's one moment you describe here when you were playing in a high school orchestra, they're doing Beethoven's 5th, and you were what, you were you were improvising, is that what? No.
Charles Mingus No. I was reading. They just taking out some bars the kids couldn't play, and I didn't know it, I was sick with smallpox. For that rehearsal, I came back I was -- out there by myself.
Studs Terkel What led you to the bass? Was one of, one of the guys you were musicians, you know into the bass?
Charles Mingus I think I tell it in there, Buddy Collette and those guys talked me into it.
Studs Terkel Yeah. Buddy Collette is a very funny scene, wish we could read it on the air in full. Buddy Collette, a marvelous jazzman, his father, his father was giving you advice on how to deal with women, and there's a funny three or four pages of wild advice, it's great. It's very gamey advice. I imagine Charles Mingus in the book says he followed it quite effectively. But there's something here, and then of course I guess a great moment was your, so Red Callender, who is a good bass man, was one of your teachers,
Charles Mingus Yeah, Red Callender was my first teacher.
Studs Terkel What is it, what is it, since we think of the bass, here's something because of the bass, not a melodic instrument. I mean I as a non-jazz guy don't think of it, a non-music man. But what is it Red Callender taught you about
Charles Mingus -- Fingering. Fingering notation. You have to learn what fingers to put on there, what notes end up making sense. He didn't teaching bowing very much. I learned it from [unintelligible] about bass and how to play in tune or by ear.
Charles Mingus Which is going out. Kids don't play in tune anymore.
Studs Terkel What do you mean?
Charles Mingus They don't have to. Kids, those electric basses, sometimes it's like three notes at once. It is loud.
Studs Terkel So the loudness, this is you're talking now about electrified instruments now, and you feel that there's been a lowering of standards then?
Charles Mingus Oh, definitely. It's gimmicks, their hats and clothes, how they dress, this ain't in the music.
Studs Terkel And so you can, you hear it. You of course would hear it, the idea that there's -- I'm talking to Charles Mingus, the basis of this conversation is
Studs Terkel Hmm?
Studs Terkel Musicians hear it. But what happens to the young audience? Is it just the idea of it's a loudness of it, is that the idea?
Charles Mingus As loud as you can make it.
Studs Terkel And that's it, so, but on that subject, before I want to ask you about your meeting with Tatum, rehearsing with Art Tatum, very fantastic artist, the piano. Do -- is there an audience today for jazz, the jazz that you represent, the jazz that your friend of other years, Fats Domino
Charles Mingus I think that, that the public is still separated from it. If you just turn a radio and news, one kind of music all the time, anybody end up humming it. They brainwash the country with this one kind of music. One side of music. [Heard?] Billy Eckstine and Sammy Davis gonna sue the radio stations.
Studs Terkel Why?
Studs Terkel Who are not playing enough of their works?
Charles Mingus That's what they said.
Studs Terkel That's interesting. Here are two established performers, but they are being bypassed because the perhaps of another age group.
Charles Mingus Another kind of [unintelligible].
Studs Terkel But jazz never was part of what they call the mainstream of American life, was it? It's a tragic
Studs Terkel And yet there it was, I mean
Charles Mingus -- There's a thousand people listen, though. The festivals proved that.
Studs Terkel The festivals came because of jazz, yeah. The very rock festivals and the folk festivals we have. Come back to the time you met Tatum. Tatum recognized in you a certain musician.
Charles Mingus [Unintelligible] God. Tatum was too much.
Studs Terkel What was it about Tatum's approach to the piano that attracted you, that threw you?
Charles Mingus His voicings, his harmonics, [chordal?] voicings. His left hand. Anything he do with his left, he do with his right.
Studs Terkel You know, as we're thinking about that, I think his, what he do with his left hand, with his right, his voicings. Suppose we hear, Mingus, this is part of a record. There's a recording, by the way, of many recordings of Mingus, but the one we're playing from is with Eric Dolphy, who is a remarkable, died much too young, remarkable alto man. It's a Mingus Quartet and a mutual friend of ours, Nat Hentoff, was the producer of it, and this is the -- Barnaby is the label. And we hear something called original -- could we hear -- it's tragic to do this, because these are extended pieces in which a great deal of improvisation occurring, but original "Faubus Fables" [sic - "Fables of Faubus"]. How'd you get that title? Original
Charles Mingus Just reading the newspapers. And thinking of people who I don't like.
Studs Terkel So we'll hear, who's on this? Yourself on the
Charles Mingus Eric Dolphy, on alto, Dannie Richmond on drums, Ted Curson on
Studs Terkel Ted Curson on trumpet. So we hear -- now how would you describe this? I mean, this is an elementary question I'm asking, a work of, a performance of this sort. You start, you have a -- you have a theme.
Charles Mingus Yeah. They play a theme first.
Studs Terkel And then, then the guys
Charles Mingus -- Improvise.
Studs Terkel Improvise. So we hear original "Faubus Fables" [sic - "Fables of Faubus"], the Charles Mingus Quartet. I was thinking, in listening to just the few passages, the fragments here from the work of Charles Mingus and his colleagues, the late Eric Dolphy and Eric -- and Curson at the, at the trumpet, Richmond at the drums. The humor, the byplay back and forth, too. You were singing here, it's a -- in a way is the give and take. Is that what you calling it in church "call and response."
Charles Mingus Yeah, 'cause we, we never say anything about the singing, the words grew as we played around with it.
Studs Terkel You'd improvise and the words would come around, you didn't write anything down. No.
Charles Mingus No.
Studs Terkel The words came at that moment as you're talking to Dolphy or to one of the other guys. And so [a bit of?] the humor comes out. I'm thinking in this book of, this book of Charles Mingus, that Knopf are the publishers, "Beneath the Underdog", in the very title itself, under the underdog is what is composed by Mingus, the way you did it. It was, it is composed in a way. This words, some of this is dialogue. Some writing, some I take it, into a tape recorder?
Charles Mingus I told something tape recorder, yeah. My wife [tacked it off?].
Studs Terkel And some as a conversation with the doctor, too. The combination. So it's a going back and forth, isn't it? Talking about your father, your mother -- your mother a very religious woman. So you have a combination here of a guy who is frustrated and furious and a devout mother. Well, how do you figure in this? How'd you, then how was it affecting you?
Charles Mingus It's mixed up. Yeah. With all -- like witchcraft, me.
Studs Terkel So here is, you're sore at your father and your mother is trying to explain him, and then she says to you, the -- do you want to read this thing, or?
Studs Terkel You want me to read it? Okay. And so here then the beginnings of it, also the beginnings of the different shade, too. The light skin. Since obviously some of your ancestors were raised in the big house, rather than in the fields.
Charles Mingus The [unintelligible] jazz came from the big house, not from the whorehouses. Jackie, you know Jackie Bye?
Studs Terkel No. Is that what he said?
Charles Mingus Yeah, he said, he was trying to straighten the history out. Everybody's trying to say that jazz came from the whorehouses. He said he think it came from the big houses, the masters let those guys play the pianos and things.
Studs Terkel Hey, that's, yeah. Could we just stick with this for a minute, this is something, all the time there's a kind of a stereotype of jazz, that it came from a certain kind of place, whether it be a sporting house or whether it be a gambling dive. No doubt there was jazz, a form, blues, played there, but you're saying that because the slave was in the house, he got to the instrument.
Charles Mingus Yeah. He got -- it's free, it was, that was his way of freeing himself.
Studs Terkel And so it was a combination then, it was a combination. The one of the, one of the outstanding feelings you have in reading Charles Mingus' very, very singular autobiography is a life of a jazz musician. How there is no set place ever, is there?
Charles Mingus No. So I get into all kinds of trouble. Seeing how figure out make a living. Get tempted to do everything.
Studs Terkel So aside from traveling, different things you have to do, like the, that is the things that you yourself did at one time or another, how easy it is to fall into that. So isn't the question just of traveling and playing jazz, at times you were pimping, too.
Charles Mingus Well, I never would call myself a pimp. I was put in that position with some prostitutes. But I know what it, I was a pimp. I couldn't stand it.
Studs Terkel But you, you were caught
Charles Mingus I fancied being a pimp, because I was, it might be as a kid, a pimp was like a president of the United States, like a hero. Had that Cadillacs, the fancy cars. I always want to be as good as they did, but I couldn't fancy the work of being [a piles of a?] woman. I'd generally give 'em the money back.
Studs Terkel But this thing you just said, as a little kid in a Black community, this is, this is the important. Who is the hero? A certain kind of guy who made it in this society. And because this pimp in a way was also imitating the man who made it, the big guy.
Charles Mingus More than them, he has a big Cadillac, fancy clothes, long diamond chain, watch chain.
Charles Mingus Twirl on the corner.
Studs Terkel So the heroes then were those, would be the pimp and the hustler.
Charles Mingus Yeah.
Charles Mingus I felt sorry for the hustlers. I know that. That was my thing.
Studs Terkel You couldn't, you couldn't -- you describe this scene, by the way, incredibly vividly and tragic. We also, humorously too.
Charles Mingus I fell in love with one of the girls very much, which I didn't want her to hustle. It was her idea.
Studs Terkel And then I'm thinking about the musicians you met. And one was Fats Navarro, Fats, Fat Girl.
Charles Mingus Another one of the gods.
Studs Terkel What was his -- what is it about Fats that attracted you?
Charles Mingus I don't know. He came on Lionel Hampton's band, and he stood and played -- Lionel featured him. And when was a solo, he played, he had such a big sound.
Studs Terkel With Hampton, yeah. But in [it says?] Fats. You want me to read this, too? Or you want to read this.
Studs Terkel All right. This is, this is Charlie Mingus's writing. And he meets Fats, a young Cuban, heavy guy who is ill, who died -- how old was he? Twenty seven?
Studs Terkel He died of TB. [pause in recording] And this is when Fats Navarro and [himself?] was telling you the facts of life. This is a part, isn't the matter of the syndicate. We haven't talked about this much, is in -- the hoods who take over some of the places.
Charles Mingus They do take over, man. They take over record companies, you know, and run them themselves.
Studs Terkel This
Charles Mingus Steal a record [right clean?]. Nothing you can do about it.
Studs Terkel What do you mean they steal records?
Charles Mingus They take and press your same record and sell it on the market.
Studs Terkel And the artist gets nothing.
Charles Mingus Nothing. I had a record Massey Hall, my record, "Jazz at Massey Hall", with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell, well, my wife left me, I took the record off the market, I was going to make a collector's item out of it, a guy called me from Eighth Street in New York, and said he wanted the record, I told him it wasn't for sale. He went to Europe and bought the record, came back and sold it all over America.
Studs Terkel So it was your record, you and these, here's a record now -- Mingus is now talking about a remarkable recording with some of the great, the titans of jazz. You mentioned Parker, and who else was in it with you?
Charles Mingus Dizzy
Studs Terkel And Dizzy Gillespie.
Studs Terkel And Max Roach. Now we have, if ever there were major leaguers
Charles Mingus The company was our own company, we was supposed to split the money up.
Studs Terkel It was your company, and a hood comes along and takes it. What if you -- but you couldn't sue because
Charles Mingus Probably could have, but I, he's thinking what's the use?
Studs Terkel It would take so long in the courts and the lawyer fees. This -- once upon a time Big Bill once was describing an agent as "a man with dollar signs for eyes." This is what you've seen pretty often.
Studs Terkel There's a phrase here that caught me that Fats Navarro used in talking to you, to Charles Mingus, my guest. "But if you behave, boy, you'll get booked except for less than the white cats that copy your playing and likely [even?] the aging owner will pocket the difference." I can't help but think of singers and artists, certain songs sung by Peggy Lee that were smashes, and yet they were the songs of Billie Holiday.
Charles Mingus Yeah. Oh, I [unintelligible] breaking it up. Stan Getz is in a hotel across the street from Birdland when -- I mean, Lester Young was in the hotel. I forgot the name of the hotel. Earl? Think it's the Earl. Across from Birdland.
Studs Terkel You know, for those who don't follow jazz, this is Charles Mingus is giving us a key to so much right now. Stan Getz, brilliant.
Studs Terkel Tenor saxophone.
Charles Mingus George Wein said that Stan Getz was just going to take the records that Lester made and be practicing for new solos.
Studs Terkel Getz, white tenor sax man, following the style of a great colleague and a friend of Billie Holiday's, worked with Basie's band, who revolutionized the tenor sax. Lester Young. So Young was out on the street, and Getz
Charles Mingus Yeah.
Studs Terkel Who follow the style.
Charles Mingus Yeah.
Charles Mingus Doing big business.
Studs Terkel Is this -- this this pattern repeated itself continuously.
Charles Mingus Many times, yeah.
Studs Terkel Think of singers, and of course you mentioned Billie. What is it about, before we hear her own "God Bless the Child", you worked with her, I know.
Charles Mingus Yeah.
Studs Terkel What is it about Billie that you remember her, her, her work. What is it about her?
Charles Mingus This is soul, man, I'm feeling it. She's singing for real. She's not just singing for the public. She's singing -- she means it. I fell in -- everything, I fell in love with everything she does. Even when she grew older, she changed her style. She didn't try to sound like a young little girl. She sang a mature woman.
Studs Terkel As you say, again a memory in my mind, I've said this a number of times [when I?], there was a little place, it was called the Budland, not Birdland, little place on the South Side in a Black area of Chicago, I was the only white person there, only were but ten people there. It was the last days of Billie Holiday, the thing that Mingus just said, Charles Mingus, that even as she grew older, something was happening, she wasn't going down. There was a change. And she sang "Willow, Weep for Me", only [made?] ten people in the whole house, you know? But I never heard ever sung that way before or since.
Studs Terkel But it's the way she was, and there was no mask.
Charles Mingus Her philosophy is in that song that you got over there, what's "God Bless the Child Got His Own".
Studs Terkel Lady Day she was known as, Billie Holiday, "God Bless the Child", "Mama may have, Papa may have, but God bless the child that's got his own." That's the way she felt about life, you got to be pretty much on her own because
Studs Terkel Open the wound. Now she was, I suppose Billie was so vulnerable, always
Charles Mingus -- A very sensitive person.
Studs Terkel And you have a whole sequence here dealing with the vulnerability. Charles Mingus my guest, "Beneath the Underdog", it's a book, his biography is composed by him using different techniques and about the nature of drugs, and why it is guys particularly who are musicians and artists at that time when you say took to
Charles Mingus Yeah.
Studs Terkel What is it that you and Fats Navarro?
Charles Mingus Well, drugs -- [unintelligible] food and drugs, drugs is a, like [a whiff?], could, I have a cup of coffee with somebody, you get tricked into it, just by trying to be friends with somebody. You do it with a guy you like very much. I never do it with Fats, but I was tempted to try drugs. Just when it was introduced to you. Or with a woman, a woman that uses drug.
Studs Terkel Social.
Charles Mingus Yeah, being sociable.
Studs Terkel Yeah. In a way like drinking, too, in a way. It was sociable. In this one spot here, Fats spoke of religion a lot, and God, and he spoke of also the hypocrisy of it. But he says here he was, you were, when you and he and Max Roach are working together with Hampton.
Charles Mingus Yeah.
Studs Terkel And somewhere, and Max Roach was saying references here to the Bible, too. And then Fats was talking to you, he called you "Ming." So we're talk of another kind of slavery, aren't
Charles Mingus Oh, definitely of slavery. I'm very lucky I didn't get caught in that. I feel
Studs Terkel I'm thinking about you because the book also deals with the artist, and that's Mingus and his music. So, your adventures outside the club where you worked in a recording studio, you and the and the bass and here -- how often? Was music the key to your life?
Charles Mingus The key to happiness for me. If something was going wrong, I always write music.
Studs Terkel You would always -- that would be your out, would it? You'd be there. Would you be -- when you were writing music, would there's -- would you do it on a certain schedule or would just when it hit you?
Charles Mingus No, I write sometimes, didn't stop two or three days. My mother used to give me coffee, keep me, when I was -- in kid, training and studying. I'd stay up and write all night long.
Studs Terkel You could write for two, three, maybe you, you could write in 48 hours.
Charles Mingus Sure.
Studs Terkel Straight
Charles Mingus In Drawn out happiness band, I wrote about ten arrangements in about three or four days. "Mingus Fingers" is one of 'em. And I wrote several ballads. Knew it without sleep, my mother was there helping me stay awake because she didn't want to [do the music?].
Studs Terkel Your mother, by the way, this is interesting because lately you had the big difficulty with your mother, but later on when you became the musician, then did she begin to understand you?
Charles Mingus She always liked hillbilly music. She really
Studs Terkel Oh, your mother did, yeah?
Charles Mingus Yeah. She didn't go for jazz. She, I don't think she even knew today that I was famous.
Charles Mingus No, She knew about Lionel Hampton's band, but Lionel Hampton didn't mean anything to her.
Studs Terkel But she liked country and western music.
Charles Mingus Yeah.
Studs Terkel I see, how'd she feel about the blues?
Charles Mingus Strange woman. Church music's all she liked. Church music and country and western.
Studs Terkel Is that so? Well, did your mother -- you think your mother didn't want to
Charles Mingus Actually, she, though, maybe she didn't know too much about the radio, 'cause she just turned on those stations.
Studs Terkel Yeah. The radio stations.
Charles Mingus Yeah. And country and western. 'Cause, there was [unintelligible] mostly religious stations ['cause she was in church most of the time?].
Studs Terkel That's very funny. Did she, did your mother feel funny about being Black?
Studs Terkel Your stepmother.
Charles Mingus Yeah. She was prejudiced, too. She felt she could pass for Mexican.
Studs Terkel Oh, she would pass for Mexican.
Charles Mingus She had chiseled nose, small feet. She's always bragging that that's not colored characteristics.
Studs Terkel It's funny, some would, some don't want to pass for Indian.
Charles Mingus Yeah.
Studs Terkel In this case Mexican. But she didn't know about you. By the way, and there are very funny sequences involved here, one is with you and Juan Tizol when you were with for a short time with Duke Ellington.
Charles Mingus Yeah, Duke fired me very pretty.
Studs Terkel Duke has a good way, I think we ought to read this thing, it's a very funny scene. Juan Tizol is a very tempestuous trombone and player with the Duke and a composer, what is, what happened here? You were doing something?
Charles Mingus I was practicing downstairs in the basement, and he came down and he wrote some music and asked me to play it. I was studying classical bass at the time so I raised it an octave higher and played it in composition. He says, "You niggers can't read." Says "None of the niggers in this band can read." Says "I gave you something to play, and you play the octave, and you ain't play it." So I didn't know that he wasn't, that he didn't consider -- consider himself as Negro. I said, "Well, aren't you Negro, man? What are you calling about nigger?" He said, "No, I'm Cuban." Or Puerto Rican, one word, I think he said Puerto Rican. Yeah, "I'm Puerto Rican." So I ran him upstairs, I [chased?] him out of the room. I said, "Well, you better get away from calling people nigger." Next time he comes back, we gonna, Duke's going onstage, here comes the guy with a knife this long, man.
Charles Mingus So I ran, I ran and got a fire ax. That's what the scene
Studs Terkel And you got an ax?
Charles Mingus I had a ax [unintelligible]. And then Duke des-- Duke describes
Studs Terkel And so Duke, so naturally Juan Tizeo had been with the Duke for quite a while, and Mingus was, and so you're having a scene here. Mingus in his book describes -- was it the Apollo Theater? Yeah, because the Apollo Theater, and in comes Tizol, you know, with the bolo knife. The rest you remember Duke's own words, and that's why he's called Edward Ellington Kenny is called Duke, because there's an elegance about him, so he fires Mingus, but I got to read this, [wait?].
Charles Mingus Yeah, you got him. That's Duke.
Studs Terkel And you say the charming way he says it, it's like he's paying you a comp-- feeling honored, you shake hands and resign. So that's the Duke.
Charles Mingus Yeah. He's a beautiful man.
Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] So then it was a question of playing different gigs and forming different groups and playing with different guys.
Charles Mingus Yeah.
Studs Terkel There's a remarkable description here of a nightclub you worked with and the wife of the owner of the club was a tough -- she liked you very much and you had quite a bit of doings with her. But there are certain kinds of women, though, aren't there? They're attractive but they're tough, aren't they? Survival! They got to survive, is that it?
Charles Mingus Yeah, she was really a tough chick.
Studs Terkel But white or Black, I mean this question of the, certain kind of woman has that survival need, isn't that it? Now when, and then in and out comes this conversation you have with the psychiatrist. When did you feel you were cracking?
Charles Mingus My, no, I had mentioned it, but around the time [unintelligible] was married, my wife said, "Go to a psychiatrist." So I tried going to a psychiatrist way back. The whole book was like that in the original book, is jump back and forth to a psychiatrist. But it -- they changed the form around to make it simpler.
Studs Terkel And so throughout we have this, the talking to the doctor, yourself remembering childhood and in a way out of it comes a revelation, not just about Charles Mingus but about a way of life too, about jazzmen who were creative, and about a certain time, too, in our society and the way it behaves toward artists, too. And I'm thinking about more of the music you do and the people visiting you also, the critics who sit at the tables and ask for advice, but somehow I think we should hear just a bit more of Mingus more than music since we're talking, as you say yourself you talk less now than -- you used to talk a great deal.
Charles Mingus Yeah, I used to talk a lot. Too much.
Studs Terkel No, it wasn't too much. You'd get in trouble a lot, but it was you, you were speaking your mind. You always spoke
Charles Mingus I talked very fast and too much.
Studs Terkel When did, when did you -- when did the barrier come, when
Charles Mingus I don't know, I just noticed it. I just -- I went to the hospital, I went outside of Bellevue, I went to Mount Sinai, so after I came I couldn't, I didn't feel like talking.
Studs Terkel But you're putting it in writing, though now. Are you still composing, you still playing?
Charles Mingus Yeah, I still write, I got, I'm doing a, the Joffrey Ballet, they gonna do a few things of mine this June, July, I [see? say?]. What's this month?
Studs Terkel This is, we're in May now, end
Charles Mingus May, June, end of June.
Studs Terkel The Joffrey Ballet is? Arpino is going choreograph
Charles Mingus No, there's another guy. I can't think of his name.
Studs Terkel But Joffrey Ballet is in the works for a work with yours. You're writing specifically for them now. So you are in the midst of creating, right at this moment. Suppose we hear part of, what is it? It's -- by the way, this album -- we're talking about the book of Mingus primarily, Alfred Knopf the publishers, and it's called "Beneath the Underdog", it's a work composed by Mingus, but there's also the album, we also have a musical album here, perhaps we can just part, again it's, this is ridiculous to play passages because the music builds and there are variations, but what love, we hear this with again Eric Dolphy as one of his colleagues. [pause in recording] Again we [fail?], the music of Mingus and his colleagues, I can't help but think of imagination that is there, in the byplay and the ensemble work and a certain freedom and a doctor, there are doctors and doctors, and there's one scene that Mingus describes when he went to Bellevue, he calls this man Dr. [Bonk?], and there's absolutely no, no, no connection here between him and you, or between him and this other world. Reading from the book. [pause in recording] Hence, of course you heard about him, you knew what a lobotomy was. He wanted -- he wanted to cut that out of you right away, didn't he?
Charles Mingus He was a Nazi, man. I know he was a Nazi. He's the way he is. All Negroes aren't paranoid. I mean, some of the world is against them, you know. The world is -- is not for us.
Studs Terkel You know, as Charles Mingus is talking, I read this piece, and you go on to say, you're telling this story to someone, and you go on to say [pause in recording]. The very thing that makes creative guy!
Charles Mingus Yeah.
Studs Terkel That chaos or the turbulence that makes you Mingus here is what the guy wants to cut out. So therefore you could be a zombie.
Charles Mingus That's right. Well, that's about what they did to Bud. He got hospital shock treatment. I'm not sure how, but I think he had a frontal lobotomy.
Studs Terkel This is Bud Powell. He was in, he had
Charles Mingus He was -- I [know?] he had shock treatments and all that.
Studs Terkel He had shock treatment. What finally happened to Bud when he came out?
Charles Mingus This was -- like a zombie.
Charles Mingus Yeah.
Charles Mingus He could play, but that's all.
Studs Terkel But that's, so with that mental unrest was gone -- that unrest they want
Charles Mingus He wasn't alive anymore. He was like a dead man.
Studs Terkel You know "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"? A book called "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"? Want to read that, it's about this [scene? thing?] we're talking about. So you describe this scene, this is right out of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". But this is a way in which they can really get the artist, can't they?
Charles Mingus Yeah.
Studs Terkel By cut out that mental unrest. The book of Mingus, this autobiography ends with remembering the dialogue with your friend Fats Navarro again before he died, the last time and then he asked you about God at the very end.
Charles Mingus Yeah, this -- even though I kept believing, though, he didn't believe.
Studs Terkel You were believing.
Charles Mingus Yeah.
Studs Terkel And he was not believing. Why did you believe?
Charles Mingus Well, it's not like what my parents had taught me, but it's -- there had to be something better than man [just over himself?]. It just so natural that there was a God.
Studs Terkel Fats no longer believed it.
Charles Mingus No, he didn't -- he cursed God.
Studs Terkel So at the end, perhaps this last part, he was known as [unintelligible] a girl, he's known as "Fat Girl." This is Fats Navarro, who died at 26 27. And the book ends with this dialogue between Charles Mingus my guest and Fats Navarro. [pause in recording] And so the book ends of Charles Mingus my guest, Alfred Knopf the publishers, "Beneath the Underdog", it's a beautiful book and a remarkable artist my guest, and we'll end with music, your music as I say goodbye to you now.
Charles Mingus Okay.
Studs Terkel Thank you very much.