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Better Git It in Your Soul: An Interpretive Biography of Charles Mingus

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Charles Mingus is one of the most important—and most mythologized—composers and performers in jazz history. Classically trained and of mixed race, he was an outspoken innovator as well as a bandleader, composer, producer, and record-label owner. His vivid autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, has done much to shape the image of Mingus as something of a wild man: idiosyncrat Charles Mingus is one of the most important—and most mythologized—composers and performers in jazz history. Classically trained and of mixed race, he was an outspoken innovator as well as a bandleader, composer, producer, and record-label owner. His vivid autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, has done much to shape the image of Mingus as something of a wild man: idiosyncratic musical genius with a penchant for skirt-chasing and violent outbursts. But, as the autobiography reveals, he was also a hopeless romantic. After exploring the most important events in Mingus’s life, Krin Gabbard takes a careful look at Mingus as a writer as well as a composer and musician. He digs into how and why Mingus chose to do so much self-analysis, how he worked to craft his racial identity in a world that saw him simply as “black,” and how his mental and physical health problems shaped his career. Gabbard sets aside the myth-making and convincingly argues that Charles Mingus created a unique language of emotions—and not just in music. Capturing many essential moments in jazz history anew, Better Git It in Your Soul will fascinate anyone who cares about jazz, African American history, and the artist’s life.


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Charles Mingus is one of the most important—and most mythologized—composers and performers in jazz history. Classically trained and of mixed race, he was an outspoken innovator as well as a bandleader, composer, producer, and record-label owner. His vivid autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, has done much to shape the image of Mingus as something of a wild man: idiosyncrat Charles Mingus is one of the most important—and most mythologized—composers and performers in jazz history. Classically trained and of mixed race, he was an outspoken innovator as well as a bandleader, composer, producer, and record-label owner. His vivid autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, has done much to shape the image of Mingus as something of a wild man: idiosyncratic musical genius with a penchant for skirt-chasing and violent outbursts. But, as the autobiography reveals, he was also a hopeless romantic. After exploring the most important events in Mingus’s life, Krin Gabbard takes a careful look at Mingus as a writer as well as a composer and musician. He digs into how and why Mingus chose to do so much self-analysis, how he worked to craft his racial identity in a world that saw him simply as “black,” and how his mental and physical health problems shaped his career. Gabbard sets aside the myth-making and convincingly argues that Charles Mingus created a unique language of emotions—and not just in music. Capturing many essential moments in jazz history anew, Better Git It in Your Soul will fascinate anyone who cares about jazz, African American history, and the artist’s life.

47 review for Better Git It in Your Soul: An Interpretive Biography of Charles Mingus

  1. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Gabbard first hear jazz late at night on a transistor radio hidden from his parents after lights out. Developing a taste for jazz, he became fascinated with Mingus, but was only able to see him once before the musician died in 1979. Now, working with interviews with virtually everyone who worked with Mingus, the newly available papers surrounding the publication of his semi-autobiographical memoir (lots of names were changed, and stories with a grain of truth were magnified in some telling ways) Gabbard first hear jazz late at night on a transistor radio hidden from his parents after lights out. Developing a taste for jazz, he became fascinated with Mingus, but was only able to see him once before the musician died in 1979. Now, working with interviews with virtually everyone who worked with Mingus, the newly available papers surrounding the publication of his semi-autobiographical memoir (lots of names were changed, and stories with a grain of truth were magnified in some telling ways), and the music itself, Gabbard offers an impressionistic biography that places Mingus in the context of his times and the jazz world.

  2. 5 out of 5

    David

    An interesting but flawed survey of the life and work of Charles Mingus. Gabbard separates his material into roughly four themes—life events, analysis of Mingus's prose work, Mingus and jazz history, and an exploration of three of his collaborations—with a coda, of sorts, concerning Mignus's music in film. While Gabbard spends a lot of time with the typescript of the semi-autobiographical Beneath the Underdog (the published work sounds unpleasant enough, so the pre-edited draft must have been f An interesting but flawed survey of the life and work of Charles Mingus. Gabbard separates his material into roughly four themes—life events, analysis of Mingus's prose work, Mingus and jazz history, and an exploration of three of his collaborations—with a coda, of sorts, concerning Mignus's music in film. While Gabbard spends a lot of time with the typescript of the semi-autobiographical Beneath the Underdog (the published work sounds unpleasant enough, so the pre-edited draft must have been frightful), elsewhere he doesn't add much new interview material, and his reliance on Wikipedia for a few citations is just lazy. Nevertheless, the creative talents of Mingus, with so much energy (Gabbard speculates about bipolar disorder) that he could not be creatively pigeonholed, and who shared a bandstand or recording date with practically everyone in mid-century jazz, shine through the book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    University of Chicago Magazine

    Krin Gabbard, AB'70 Author From the author: "After exploring the most important events in Charles Mingus’s life, Krin Gabbard takes a careful look at Mingus as a writer as well as a composer and musician. He digs into how and why Mingus chose to do so much self-analysis and how he worked to craft his racial identity in a world that saw him simply as 'black.' Gabbard sets aside the myth-making to argue that Mingus created a unique language of emotions—and not just in music." Krin Gabbard, AB'70 Author From the author: "After exploring the most important events in Charles Mingus’s life, Krin Gabbard takes a careful look at Mingus as a writer as well as a composer and musician. He digs into how and why Mingus chose to do so much self-analysis and how he worked to craft his racial identity in a world that saw him simply as 'black.' Gabbard sets aside the myth-making to argue that Mingus created a unique language of emotions—and not just in music."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Connie

    FTC Disclosure: I received this book free from Goodreads hoping I would review it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Josh

  6. 4 out of 5

    Malcolm

  7. 5 out of 5

    Matthijs

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bob Wratz

  9. 5 out of 5

    Adan Falcon

  10. 4 out of 5

    C. Scott

  11. 4 out of 5

    Shelley

  12. 4 out of 5

    jampa

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chris Jarred

  14. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Falzarano

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jodi Bee

  16. 5 out of 5

    John Gillies

  17. 4 out of 5

    Thiago Nascimento da Silva

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ed Webb

  19. 5 out of 5

    ColumbusReads

  20. 5 out of 5

    Shernell

  21. 4 out of 5

    University of California Press

  22. 5 out of 5

    Brent

  23. 5 out of 5

    Herb

  24. 5 out of 5

    Frederick Rotzien

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stacia Chappell

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    Melinda M

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl Bradley

  28. 5 out of 5

    Louise Carlson Stowell

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rochelle Webb

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Bingham

  31. 4 out of 5

    Emiley Allen Bowes

  32. 5 out of 5

    Zandt McCue

  33. 5 out of 5

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  34. 5 out of 5

    Roxanne

  35. 4 out of 5

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  36. 4 out of 5

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  37. 5 out of 5

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  38. 5 out of 5

    Peter Gladue

  39. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

  40. 4 out of 5

    Joy Yerkie

  41. 5 out of 5

    Linda

  42. 5 out of 5

    Diane

  43. 5 out of 5

    Carla

  44. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

  45. 5 out of 5

    Pam Mooney

  46. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Heare Watts

  47. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Reader

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