Mingus Speaks, by John F. Goodman (UC Press, 2013)

Mingus SpeaksDid this book get enough attention? I think it’s a major contribution to the literature. Goodman was a jazz critic for Playboy, reviewed Mingus’s 1972 so-called “comeback” concert, and began interviewing Mingus, first for an article, then for a book. And only forty years later, here’s that book! At the time, Mingus was in high spirits, and he and Goodman seemed to have a rapport.

There are so many brilliant observations, witticisms, polemics, and word improvisations here! Some of my favorites:

     Charlie Parker didn’t bullshit. He played beautiful music within those structured chords. He was a composer, man, that was a composer. It’s like Bach. Bach is still the most difficult music written, fugues and all. Stravinsky is nice, but Bach is how buildings got taller. It’s how we got to the moon, through Bach, through that kind of mind that made that music up. That’s the most progressive mind. It didn’t take primitive minds or religious minds to build buildings. They tend to go on luck and feeling and emotion and goof. (They also led us to sell goof.) (p.25)

      …it’s very sad that Bud Powell played in F all the time. I remember him playing in Db once, and in Bb, but the key he always chose was F. If he played in bands, the tunes Bird played, he played ’em, but if he chose it, it was always in F. (p.26)

If I’m a surgeon, am I going to cut you open “by heart”, just free-form it, you know?
We’re on an island and you say, “Look man, use a book.”
“No, I don’t need no book, I’ll just ad-lib it.”
“Well look, Mingus, we’re out here by ourselves, it’s dangerous, and I don’t want you to make no mistakes, so just look in the book.”
“I can’t read, man, I don’t read no music, but I’m going to cut you open and take out your appendix ‘cause it’s bursting.”

Take John Coltrane: he went back to Indian-type pedal-point music, but he got in a streak [rut]. Why couldn’t he do other things too? Why do guys have to stylize themselves? Don’t they know that in the summertime your wear thin clothes and straw hats and in the winter time, you know, you got a right to play a different tune? You don’t have to be stylized. A preacher preaches a different sermon every Sunday. They turn a different page, and I’m turning pages all the time, because there’s a special page I want to get to, and if I’d thrown that page open many years ago, I’d have never even got this far. (p.27) 

on his hookup with Dannie Richmond:

I said “Danny, first you got to understand what I’m doing.”

He said, “Man, I’m not a drummer so I’m not going to understand anything you say.”

I say: “Well. you start like this: [describes building polyrhythms on the drum set]

He says, “You’re crazy.”

I say, “Well, that’s your first lesson.”

So he went home, came back, and we got all our shit together and we’re playing in one tempo, and I look at him a certain way and that meant double tempo, and another meant one-half slower, another, go back to where you were, and another meant go into three. We had all that shit down, and people thought we were doing it like magic, and pretty soon we didn’t even have to do this [facial gesture]. I’d just think it and he’d be there.

Goodman:Why? How?

Mingus: I don’t know, man, it made me start to believe in God.     

and finally this sharp edged gem:

Mingus: Berklee and those places, they’re teaching Jazz, eh?

Goodman:Yeah, what do you think about that? 

Mingus: Ah, the White guys got enough things. Why don’t they let me build my school? 

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