Charles Mingus and Civil Rights

1572 WordsDec 21, 20087 Pages
Charles Mingus was one of the most influential and groundbreaking jazz musicians and composers of the 1950s and 1960s. The virtuoso bassist gained fame in the 1940s and 1950s working with such jazz greats as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, and many others. His compositions pushed harmonic barriers, combining Western-European classical styles with African-American roots music. While examining his career is valuable from musical standpoint, his career also provides a powerful view of the attitudes of African-American jazz musicians (and Black America as a whole) towards the racial inequalities in America during that time. In addition to being a successful musician, Mingus was a very outspoken social commentator.…show more content…
The arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1st, 1955 was one of the most critical moments in the Civil Rights Movement. It might not be such a coincidence that Mingus releases his most socially relevant album only 2 months later. Pithecanthropus Erectus was Mingus’s first album with Atlantic records as a band leader. The title track on this album is meant to be a commentary on race relations in the US during that time. It is also the beginning of Mingus’s shift towards Black-Nationalism.It is a metaphor for the African-American struggle for equality. The structure of the tune was very experimental for the time. The piece alternates from structured material and chaotic improvisation. The tune is broken into 3 sections; A, B, and C. The A section features composed melodies, played in unison, and it follows classical European harmonization. The B section breaks from this structured idea and goes into a collective improvisation and brings out blues inspired inflections. The C section goes into complete chaos with wild, atonal improve meant to mimic human screams and animal calls. The A section is meant to represent a tyrant oppressor and his attempts to suppress his enslaved subjects. The B section represents the empowerment of the enslaved and their attempts at freedom. The chaos of the C section is meant to imply the destruction of the oppressor by the no free slaves. The premise behind this tune goes in line with the political consciousness of the jazz

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