One of the most important figures in 20th-century American music, CHARLES MINGUS was a virtuoso bass player, accomplished pianist, bandleader, and composer. Born in Arizona and raised in Watts, California, he studied double bass and composition in a formal way (five years with H. Rheinshagen, principal bassist of the New York Philharmonic, and compositional techniques with the legendary Lloyd Reese) while absorbing vernacular music from the great jazz masters, first-hand. His early professional experience, in the '40s, found him touring with bands like Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, and Lionel Hampton and brought him to New York where he played and recorded with the leading musicians of the 1950s - Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Art Tatum, and Duke Ellington. One of the few bassists to do so, Mingus quickly developed as a leader of musicians, and recorded over a hundred albums and wrote over three hundred scores.
After his death in 1979 from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, the National Endowment for the Arts provided grants for a Mingus foundation called "Let My Children Hear Music," which catalogued all of Mingus' works. The microfilms of these works were then given to the Music Division of the New York Public Library, where they are currently available for study and scholarship. The Library of Congress acquired the complete Mingus Collection between 1993 and 1997, including original manuscripts, recordings, photographs, and personal memorabilia. The New Yorker wrote: "For sheer melodic and rhythmic and structural originality, his compositions may equal anything written in western music in the 20th century."
Since Charles Mingus' death in 1979, SUE MINGUS has created and continues to direct repertory ensembles to carry on the music of her late husband. The most well-known is the Mingus Big Band, a New York institution that performs weekly to packed crowds at the Iridium nightclub. In 1989, she produced the premiere of Mingus' Epitaph at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. Other bands include the Mingus Dynasty, the original, seven-piece ensemble founded shortly after Mingus' death, and the Orchestra, a ten-piece ensemble with more classical instrumentation. She has produced numerous Grammy-nominated recordings with all three repertory bands as well as several legacy recordings, including a previously unavailable concert Charles Mingus performed with Eric Dolphy at Cornell University in 1964, available this summer on Blue Note.
Sue's memoir of her life with Mingus, Tonight At Noon, is available in paperback from DaCapo press and has been translated into several languages.