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Charles Mingus (1922-1979)

Charles Mingus was one of the most distinguished and colorful personalities in jazz. He is a virtuoso of the bass who is credited with expanding the instrument's melodic function. When New Orleans jazz moved indoors, the bass replaced the tuba and helped hold down the rhythm of a musical piece. In a revolutionary move, Mingus treated the bass more like a guitar, leaving the drum to provide the percussive accent. Mingus always played slightly "out in front of" the beat, rather than "on" it or "behind" it r la Miles Davis. From this, Mingus discerned what he called the "core" of the music - not simply its rhythmic center, but rather the center of a sound in its entirety. It was for this reason that some critics found his music to be dissonant. Leonard Feather noted that "more conservative listeners" found his experiments "hard to appreciate at first." Mingus was nothing if not a meticulous composer. And yet, he composed his songs around a core that was not to be found on the beat, nor simply in a single key - Mingus' core was a kind of feeling, an affect, or a mood. Mingus' compositions usually involve various movements, which express their own mood. From ecstasy to playfulness to melancholy, the moods in his songs travel along an emotive progression. They evolve through a series of rhythms and keys, each of which is determined by the emotive "core" Mingus sought to evoke. His work on "Revelations" has been described as "a powerful piece which begins with an almost Wagnerian, brooding-like intensity." Such developments are typical of Mingus. His "Pithecanthropus Erectus" even has a narrative quality to it; the album chronicles the various stages in the evolution of man. He seems to have been the first to integrate a classical mode of composition into the framework of jazz. Before Mingus, jazz had plenty of soul, but it had not yet achieved a subtlety of mood. Mingus gave it such subtlety; he combined technical virtuosity with an entire range of emotive contrasts.

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