Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Charles Mingus

Composer-bassist-pianist Charles Mingus was born in Nogales, Arizona on this date in 1922.
He was featured on a US postage stamp in 1995. Now, the place of his birth is looking to finally honor their native son:

Nogales finally gets around to honoring jazz great Mingus
by Richard Ruelas - Apr. 17, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Charles Mingus, lauded as one of the most influential and best American jazz composers, was an Arizonan, born in the border town of Nogales, a city that until recently wasn't very aware of its most famous son.
"I have lived all my life here in Nogales, and I didn't know anything about him," said Olivia Ainza-Kramer, president of the city's Chamber of Commerce.
Ainza-Kramer is the vice-chairwoman of the Mingus Project, a group that organizes a music festival in Mingus' honor and is looking to mark the place of his birth. The second annual Mingus festival is being held this weekend.
The city already has become a pilgrimage for Mingus fans, said Ken Tittlebaugh, president of the non-profit Mingus Project. "People come from all over the world knowing he was born here and (they) say, 'There's nothing here.' There's not a street named after him. There's not a plaque. And that's what we're trying to correct."
Mingus didn't stay in his hometown very long. He was 18 months old when his family moved to the Watts section of Los Angeles, where he grew up.
But Tittlebaugh, a retired music teacher, doesn't dwell on the short duration of Mingus' stay.
"He was born here," Tittlebaugh said, laughing, "so we're claiming him."
Mingus' father, Charles Sr., was stationed at Camp Stephen Little in Nogales as part of a Buffalo Soldier unit sent to monitor the Mexican border during that country's revolution. Mingus' mother lived in the camp as well.
There was no hospital, Tittlebaugh said, so Mingus was born on the campgrounds in April 1922.
The grounds now are a park called Camp Little, but there's nothing left of the Army structures. Tittlebaugh said he wants to put a marker at the park to acknowledge Mingus' birthplace.
It's not clear how much of a connection Mingus had with Nogales after he left. Rumor has it that Mingus occasionally played in Nogales, Sonora, the twin city on the other side of "the line," Tittlebaugh said.
Mingus did title one of his albums "Tijuana Moods," but that wasn't out of a yearning for a return to the borderlands of his infancy. Instead, according to a review in Planet Jazz, it came from some debauchery-filled days that Mingus and his drummer spent in Tijuana, Baja California.
Mingus died in 1979 in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he had visited a healer in a futile attempt to cure his Lou Gehrig's disease.
Coincidentally, Mingus' last concert was in Phoenix in 1977. A few days later, his wife wrote in her book, "Tonight at Noon," he was diagnosed with the degenerative muscular disease that made him unable to hold his upright bass and eventually took his life.
Nogales had a Mingus festival in 1993, Tittlebaugh said.
"From then on, there were sporadic little things done," he said, but nothing permanent.
Tittlebaugh has committed himself to the Mingus Foundation, aimed at putting on the cross-border festival.Tittlebaugh said he's not sure why Nogales took so long to honor Mingus.
"Some things just get lost," he said. "And the community isn't heavy on jazz."


May K. Cobb said...

Great post! Happy Birthday, Mingus!

m_kydonieus said...

Mingus was definitely one of the all-time greats. He was able to combine everything from Duke Ellington all the way up to Cecil Taylor and have it make sense.

By the way, Jazzbo Notes is giving way a copy of Mingus' masterpiece, Mingus Ah Um. The link is