Charles Mingus, the great jazz composer, remembered Regarded as one of the most important figures in jazz, tributes are planned across the world to honor the legacy of bassist, bandleader and pioneer Charles Mingus.

How the late jazz great Charles Mingus is being remembered 100 years later

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Charles Mingus, one of the foremost jazz composers of the 20th century. People will be paying tribute to his work from New England to California. Tom Vitale looks back at the life and work of the musician nicknamed the Angry Man of Jazz.

TOM VITALE, BYLINE: In his compositions, Charles Mingus drew on a range of musical styles from ragtime...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES MINGUS' "JELLY ROLL")

VITALE: ...To the avant-garde.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES MINGUS' "MEDITATIONS ON INTEGRATION")

VITALE: In 1962, Mingus told record producer Nesuhi Ertegun the reason his music was so varied is it reflected who he was.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHARLES MINGUS: I could play a sad thing. You recognize it 'cause you used to that. I could play angry - (vocalizing).

NEHUSI ERTEGUN: Yeah.

MINGUS: I could play happy little ditties like I do for my baby, you know? There's all kinds of emotions to play. But the one I'm trying to play is very difficult because I'm trying to play the truth of what I am. And the reason why it's difficult is because I'm changing all the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES MINGUS' "GOODBYE PORKPIE HAT")

VITALE: Mingus had a difficult childhood. He was born to mixed race parents in Nogales, Ariz., and raised in Los Angeles. His mother died when he was four months old. He was light-skinned, and he said he didn't fit in with the Black, white or Mexican kids at school. He played the cello but switched to bass as a teenager because at the time, it was impossible for a Black man to find work playing classical music. He said his father never loved him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MINGUS: I never had any idea of a father image. Anything - he knocked it down, you know? I never felt any love in my family. I had no way to say, well, what am I supposed to be like? He never even told me that the world was like it was. He never said about Black or white. He never told me anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES MINGUS' "BETTER GET IT IN YOUR SOUL")

WYNTON MARSALIS: Mingus is one of our most important thinkers and composers, and he realized a lot of the jazz continuum.

VITALE: Wynton Marsalis will lead the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra this weekend in a Charles Mingus centennial celebration.

MARSALIS: Charles Mingus' music is important because he touched on many of the foundations of jazz and American music, from the roots to the more sophisticated forms. And he gave us a very important, contemporary understanding of what the music was and is capable of.

VITALE: Mingus was an outspoken advocate for racial equality, and he used his music to make statements. He said his 1956 song "Pithecanthropus Erectus" was about the first man to stand erect, who pounded his chest then looked to enslave others.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES MINGUS' "PITHECANTHROPUS ERECTUS")

VITALE: Charles Mingus was called The Angry Man of Jazz. On the bandstand, he demanded perfection. He fired sidemen in the middle of a gig. He once punched his trombonist. Another time, he shattered his $2,000 bass when he tossed it off the stage in anger. In 1958, he checked himself into Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital. But biographer Gene Santoro says Mingus wasn't crazy. He simply liked to stir things up.

GENE SANTORO: If the set went really well, like, there wasn't places for him to break in and start yelling at people and doing things, he came off the bandstand upset. It's like he'd rather have the set break down or have himself break it down somewhere and turn into a performance with the unexpected.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES MINGUS' "HAITIAN FIGHT SONG")

VITALE: Mingus' music, with its shifting forms and varied time signatures, is difficult to play. But Wynton Marsalis says it should be played because the music and the message are important.

MARSALIS: Charles Mingus had a lofty vision of the future, and he just always wanted our country and the world to live up to the promises of equality that - our country was one of the first to actually lay down and mean it for a majority of people. And we still struggle with it because it's not easy to believe in other people's freedom.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEDOM")

MINGUS: (Singing) Freedom for your brothers and sisters but no freedom for me.

VITALE: Charles Mingus died in 1979 from Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 56 years old. His ashes were scattered in the Ganges River. For NPR News, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES MINGUS SONG, "FREEDOM")

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