Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog

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Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog
Charles Mingus - Triumph of the Underdog.jpg
DVD cover
Directed by Don McGlynn
Produced by Don McGlynn
Sue Mingus
Written by Don McGlynn
Starring Charles Mingus
Gunther Schuller
Wynton Marsalis
Music by Charles Mingus
Cinematography Michael Spiller
Edited by Don McGlynn
Christian Moltke-Leth
Jazz Workshop
Distributed by Shanachie
Release date
  • 1997 (1997)
Running time
78 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog is a documentary film about the life of jazz musician Charles Mingus.[1][2]


Charles Mingus narrates pieces of his own story. Born from a half-black/half-Swedish father and a half-black/half-Chinese mother (later having a half-black/half-Indian step-mother), Mingus tried to be all types of races but found he was a misfit that didn't belong anywhere; so he says he's just a negro. He sums this up stating: "In a society which sends messages that are racists capitalists, and have Judaeo-Christian ethic roots, the transmission of these messages to Black people can lead to socializing of their young with non-complementary values." He plays the cello.

Although he was a celebrated jazz musician, he was not always able to make a living. Gunther Schuller, a composer/conductor/historian, states that Charles Mingus is high up with American composers. Mingus's work is compared by Schuller to Duke Ellington and he notes that Mingus studied composers like Stravinsky. Mingus is more known as a bass leader than as a composer. Mingus as a composer, is not highly recognized for how great he was. Mingus states that in relation to race, "one day he will pledge allegiance to see that some day (America) will look to its own promises, to the victims that they call citizens".

John Handy and Sue Mingus describe Mingus as individual, volatile, strong, supremely honest, uncompromising, and having a very dynamic personality that ran like the color spectrum; testing people to see how far he could go. Wynton Marsalis describes him as never victimized by a style and that he was always relating his music to something human.

Jerome Richardson says Mingus was aware of what was going in regards to race and never backed down from it. John Handy says he did what most others could not, mainly because he was conscious of the race issue. his music portrayed dramatized events, past and present maybe even futuristic. He also notes that Mingus was writing compositions when everyone else was writing tunes. Gunther Schuller adds that all of his variety of his personality comes out in Mingus's music, and not only that it is the widest range of music composed by one single human being. It covers the entire range of human emotions, conditions. so he reflected who he was through his music. In addition, Schuller states that anything that was music, Mingus absorbed, and he absorbed it fast.

In a television broadcast from the early 1970s, Mingus is asked by Chris Albertson how Mingus feels about the term music, or jazz, Mingus replied with its like someone is using a substitute name for music.

Randy Brecker notes that the willingness to expose yourself, is something that Mingus did.

He was a bass player that studied avant garde music in the 1930s.

Snooky Young says that there were many clubs on Central Avenue, Los Angeles back then, and that they would have random jazz sessions. Mingus was just one of the guys.

Britt Woodman, who played trombone with Duke Ellington, recalls that Mingus really liked Duke Ellington emerged in 1920s as one of the greatest composers of all time, perfectly encapsulating jazz music's innovative creativity.[3] Juan Tizol asked Mingus to play for him. Mingus couldn't play, as he was nervous, and Tizol said that he knew that niggas can't read. This made Mingus really mad. Charles said that he was going to get Tizol. Mingus pushed Tizol out of the way, and Mingus played with Duke. Eddie Bert remembers that Mingus said that they carried on like it was a dance routine.

Duke fired Tizol and hired Mingus the same day.

After Mingus discovered Duke Ellington, and classical music, he just needed another step up with the crazy be-bop music.

Mingus was one of the first artists that had an artist-run record company (see Debut Records). Mingus's wife helped pack records started on a shoe string.

Mingus would not play without his drummer Dannie Richmond. Dannie first drum lesson was from Mingus. when Dannie and Mingus finally talked, Mingus said that playing an instrument is like having a conversation. Mingus felt he was being cheated with the major record company. So he started his own company called Charles Mingus Enterprises, this was one of his first real successes. They put out four albums.

A tribute to Duke took him out of it, was a tribute to Duke. they wanted Mingus to attend. After that event, Mingus started playing music again. Concerts allowed Mingus to play in a way he wanted. George Adams would come to work and the fifth wheel would sometimes be gone.

Things were going wrong with Mingus. He finally went to the doctors and they said he has amiotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig's Disease. The doctors said he had only a little while to live.

Randy and Michael Brecker made an album called me, myself, and I. Mingus looked it over. He oversaw it in a way that no one could oversee.[citation needed]

Song clips[edit]

  • "Started Melody" rehearsed by The Mingus Big Band at the Time Cafe (1997); intercut with the Town Hall performance of the same song (October 1962).
  • "Epitaph" (which includes "Started Melody") at the Lincoln Center/Alice Tully Hall (June 1989).
  • "This Subdues My Passion" by Boron Mingus and his Octet (May 1946).
  • "Caravan" by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (composer Juan Tizol)
  • "Slide Hamp Slide" by Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra.
  • The Massey Hall Concert with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillepie, Bud Powell, and Max Roach in Toronto in (May 1953).
  • "Pithecanthropus Erectus" performed October 1970 (January 1956).
  • "Better Get it in Your Soul" (May 1959).
  • "Weird Nightmare"
  • "The Clown" introduced by Duke Ellington at UCB (September 1969).
  • "Sue's Changes" (July 1975).
  • "Celia" (August 1957).
  • "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" (1959).
  • "Something Like a Bird" rehearsal (January 1978).
  • "Chair in the Sky" written by Joni Mitchel (1978).
  • "Sue Changes" by The Mingus Dynasty Band.
  • "The Children's Hour of the Dream"



  1. ^ "Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog". Culture Venture. Retrieved 21 December 2017. 
  2. ^ "CHARLES MINGUS: TRIUMPH OF THE UNDERDOG (1997)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 21 December 2017. 
  3. ^ Earle, Jonathan (2000). The Routledge Atlas Of African American History. Great Britain: Routledge. p. 122. ISBN 0-7591-0929-X. 

External links[edit]