Charles "Charlie" Mingus, Jr. (April 22, 1922 â€“ January 5, 1979) was an American jazz bassist, composer, bandleader, and pianist. He was also known for his activism against racial injustice.
Mingus is considered one of the most important composers and performers of jazz, and he recorded many highly regarded albums. Dozens of musicians passed through his bands and later went on to impressive careers. His tunesâ€”though melodic and distinctiveâ€”are not often re-recorded, in part because of their unconventional nature. Mingus was also influential and creative as a band leader, recruiting talented and sometimes little-known artists whom he assembled into unconventional and revealing configurations.
Nearly as well known as his ambitious music was Mingus' often fearsome temperament, which earned him the nickname "The Angry Man of Jazz." His refusal to compromise his musical integrity led to many on-stage eruptions. Mingus was prone to depression. He tended to have brief periods of extreme creative activity, intermixed with fairly long periods of greatly decreased output.
Most of Mingus's music retained the hot and soulful feel of hard bop and drew heavily from black gospel music while sometimes drawing on elements of Third Stream, free jazz, and even classical music. Yet Mingus avoided categorization, forging his own brand of music that fused tradition with unique and unexplored realms of jazz. Mingus focused on collective improvisation, similar to the old New Orleans Jazz parades, paying particular attention to how each band member interacted with the group as a whole. In creating his bands, Mingus looked not only at the skills of the available musicians, but also their personalities. He strove to create unique music to be played by unique musicians.
Due to his brilliant writing for mid-size ensemblesâ€”and his catering to and emphasizing the strengths of the musicians in his groupsâ€”Mingus is often considered the heir apparent to Duke Ellington, for whom he expressed unqualified admiration. Indeed, Dizzy Gillespie had once claimed Mingus reminded him "of a young Duke", citing their shared "organizational genius."