He was sometimes called “Jazz’s Angry Man.” Perhaps it’s better to think of him in comparison with Beethoven: tempestuous, capable of roiling, grandiose passions and tender delicacies in equal measure. Yet in another sense, Charles Mingus, who would have turned 100 years old this month, compares to no one. He is one of the greatest bassists jazz has ever seen, a virtuoso whose violent touch on the instrument is immediately recognizable. The same might be said of his composer’s touch: often violent, instantly recognizable. Mingus was probably the music’s most important long-form composer, and one of the most important short-form ones too. His personality is so powerful that it comes through in his compositions … but there’s always something missing when he himself isn’t present. (Remember that when it comes to the last entry on this list, which is ordered chronologically, not by rank.)
No list of 10 selections can do justice to such a complicated, eclectic artist, and there are far too many holes in what I’ve assembled here. (It’s heavy on those long-form pieces, for one thing, but they’re just too indispensable to who he was.) Proceed with caution—but you will not proceed with disappointment.
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Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring all the songs in this JazzTimes 10: