The following class presentation was made by Maria C, Kynza K and Amina H:

Charles Mingus Presentation

Charles Mingus Biography:

  • Born in Nogales, Arizona in 1922 and grew up in Watts, California
  • Considered one of the most important figures for American music of the 20th century
  • Accomplished bassist, pianist, composer, and bandleader
  • Had some controversies for bad temper
  • Diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS)
  • He died in Cuernavaca, Mexico in 1979 at the age of 56

Musical Background

  • Many years of experience, starting as a child
  • Learned bass at 16 years old
  • Inspired by Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, African American gospel music, Mexican folk music, and classical and jazz styles
  • Renowned soloist
  • Played with famous artists such as Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis
  • Created his own record label
  • Preferred elaborate pieces with complicated rhythms, dissonant harmonies, and some improvisation

Meditations on Integration & Fables of Faubus


  • Sextet that was first recorded live in April 1964 Paris, France
  • Not officially released until 1996
  • Included:
    • Charles Mingus – bass
    • Johnny Coles – trumpet
    • Eric Dolphy – flute, bass, clarinet
    • Clifford Jordan – tenor saxophone
    • Jaki Byard – piano
    • Dannie Richmond – drums, vocals

Album Components:

  • Peggy’s Blue Skylight (12:53)
    • “medium-swing” tempo, light, easy-going
  • Orange Was the Color of Her Dress Then Blue Silk (11:38)
    • Characterized by a lively trumpet solo
  • Meditations on Integration (22:40)
  • Fables of Faubus (24:55)
  • So Long Eric (28:50)
    • Written as a temporary goodbye to the woodwind player (Eric Dolphy), who decided to leave the band and stay in Europe
    • Fell into a coma and passed away a few months later
  • Parkeriana (24:16)
    • Homage to alto sax Charlie Parker
    • AKA Dedicated to A Genius

Meditations on Integration:

  • Called the “centerpiece” of the entire album
  • Opens with bass and flute→ haunting effect
  • Exhibits Mingus’s emotional rage at the lack of integration
  • Extreme parts are meant to sound like “organized chaos”
    • Told musicians to imagine sounds the slave ships must’ve made during the Middle Passage
  • Multiple components throughout the piece:
    • Beginning highlights the flute solo (0:13- 0:53)
    • Sad, adagio portion: piano, bass, and flute (1:45-2:04)
    • Horn section escalates again (2:04)
    • Highlights bass part (6:48-7:53)
    • Piano solo→ haunting (15:22-16:50)

Fables of Faubus

  • One of his most explicitly political songs
  • Written as a protest against Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus
    • Sent National Guard to prevent the integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1957
  • Included vocals
    • Call and response between Mingus and Richmond
  • “I just write tunes and put political titles on them. Fables of Faubuswas different, though–I wrote that because I wanted to.”

Oh, Lord, don’t let ’emshoot us!
Oh, Lord, don’t let ’emstab us!
Oh, Lord, don’t let ’emtar and feather us!
Oh, Lord, no more swastikas!
Oh, Lord, no more Ku Klux Klan!
Name me someone who’s ridiculous, Dannie.
Governor Faubus!
Why is he so sick and ridiculous?
He won’t permit integrated schools.
Then he’s a fool!
Boo! Nazi Fascist supremacists!
Boo! Ku Klux Klan (with your Jim Crow plan)
Name me a handful that’s ridiculous, Dannie Richmond.
Why are they so sick and ridiculous?
Two, four, six, eight: They brainwash and teach you hate.

Prayer for Passive Resistance

  • Prayer for Passive Resistanceis a song from the live album Mingus in Antibesthat was recorded in France on July 13, 1960
  • Both the song and album feature Charles Mingus on bass, Ted Cursonon trumpet, Eric Dolphy on alto sax, Booker Ervin on tenor sax, and Dannie Richmond on drums
  • Passive resistance is defined as “nonviolent opposition to authority”
  • About peaceful sit-ins and is Mingus’s denunciation of violent protesting
  • Follows typical pattern of difficult rhythms
  • Starts off fairly slow with a steady beat and the bass
  • Saxophone picks up, more voices come in → desperation, a cry

(0-2:15, 4:15-5:00)


“Remember Rockefeller at Attica” & “Free Cell Block F, ‘TisNazi U.S.A.”

Changes One (1975)

Four tracks:

  1. “Remember Rockefeller at Attica”
  2. “Sue’s Changes”
  3. “Devil’s Blues”
  4. “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love”


  • Jack Walrath– Trumpet
  • George Adams – Tenor Saxophone
  • Don Pullen – Piano
  • Charles Mingus – Bass
  • Dannie Richmond – Drums

“Remember Rockefeller at Attica”

  • Dedicated to Attica Prison Riot in 1971
  • Prisoner uprising: took hostages and control of prison
  • Demanded better living conditions and political rights
  • Riot lasted four days
  • Tear gas released on prison
  • 28 demands accepted
  • Governor of NY (Rockefeller) refused amnesty for prisoners
  • Opening track
  • Originally called  “Just for Laughs, Saps”
  • Song wasn’t composed with political connection in mind
  • Upbeat, light feeling

Changes Two (1975)

Five tracks:

  1. “Free Cell Block F, ‘TisNazi U.S.A.”
  2. “Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Silk Blue”
  3. “Black Bats and Poles”
  4. “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love”
  5. “For Harry Carney”
  • Charles Mingus – bass
  • Jack Walrath– trumpet
  • George Adams – tenor saxophone
  • Don Pullen – piano
  • Dannie Richmond – drums

Featured on “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love”

  • Marcus Belgrave – trumpet
  • Jackie Paris – vocals
  • Sy Johnson – arranger

“Free Cell Block F, ‘TisNazi U.S.A.”

  • Continues with connection to prisoner rights’ movements
  • “Free Cell Block F ‘Tis Nazi USA refers to a particular cell block in the deep South in the Seventies, but it could just as easily apply to cell blocks in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib today”
  • Opening track
  • 5/4 time
  • “Tumbling triplets”
  • BossaNova rhythm
  • Clashing tonalities
    • Chaotic nature could reflect chaos inside prisons/during riots

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was Mingus’s intention when choosing to have politically outspoken pieces such as “Meditations on Integration” and “Fables of Faubus” as well as more easy-going pieces, such as “Peggy’s Blue Skylight” on the same album?
  2. How do you think this impacted how the album was perceived by the public?
  3. How does the use of complex rhythms add meaning to Mingus’s compositions?
  4. Does Mingus’ decision to connect a piece to a political issue after composing it make it more or less meaningful/impactful than a piece originally composed with a political issue in mind?




  • https://books.google.com/books?id=5qtzCgAAQBAJ&pg=PA3&lpg=PA3&dq=charles+mingus+free+cell+block+f+context&source=bl&ots=-Xoq3rcVmy&sig=Pqh4iEEixyPEd12TPIGiwZx8yi4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjA8ZeCrK7eAhUPTN8KHephBsYQ6AEwEXoECAEQAQ#v=onepage&q=free%20cell%20block%20f%20&f=false
  • http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=


Comments are closed.