Art and Soul of Jazz, The Mingus Dynasty Unveiled At Last!


Just before her death in December of 2005, my mother, Vivian Alicia Mingus Myles, the oldest sister of Charles Mingus, Jr., handed me two plastic bags of letters, cards, and other documents.  She did not comment on their contents. I took the bags home, briefly reviewed their contents, and put them in a place for safekeeping. 

It wasn’t until after her death that I closely reviewed my mother’s treasures.  On reading the personal letters from her family, I knew that part of my life’s work was cut out for me.  Letters from her father, Charles Mingus, Sr, her birth mother, Harriett, her brother, the iconic bassist Charles Mingus, Jr., her sister Grace and her stepmother, Mamie, cut deeply into the Mingus dynamic, and created a vehicle to share that dynamic with the world. 

Through the letters, events that helped shape Charles Mingus, Jr. emerged. The letters were markers along his way to fame. Written during Mingus’s lifetime, by family members and Mingus himself, the letters take us inside the heads of their writers where we can embrace their emotions, challenges, hopes and fears.

Section One of The Art and Soul of Jazz, a tribute to Charles Mingus, Jr. focuses on the Mingus Dynasty, how it evolved, and who influenced it. It deals with the blatant racism surrounding its main characters and illustrates how roadblocks can speed the creative instincts of gifted visionaries whose genius exceeds societal boundaries. Its three chapters take the reader through Mingus’s early childhood, from his musical beginnings under the reign of a militarily trained father, to his success as a jazz pioneer. Letters written by Uncle Charles are key to understanding the complexities of the man.

Section Two features 94 biographical profiles, prose and original portraits of important jazz artists. The profiles are concise, chronologically sequenced and reflect the featured artist’s Mingus connection and jazz contribution(s). Each original portrait—paintings and drawings--by my sister, Carol Bowie, an award winning California Central Coast artist, was completed while Carol listened to and drew inspiration from the featured artist. Each profile was similarly crafted, as I, too, channeled each artist through his or her music. In this edition, I have taken the liberty of inserting a couple of my own illustrations.  

Section Two also divides jazz eras.  Sequentially categorized, it includes jazz nobilities, starting with Jazz, The Beginning:  Eubie Blake to Sidney Bechet; From Swing to Bebop: Fletcher Henderson to Gerald Wilson; Progressive Jazz: Art Blakey to Chet Baker; and Fusion and Beyond: Ornette Coleman to Wynton Marsalis.  Significantly, each profile provides important details about the artist, and include birth and, if appiicable, death dates, awards, and legacy.  The book is ideally suited as a reference for universities, libraries, and booksellers.

Finally, the epilogue features additional insights, including musical families, child prodigies, trail blazers, and jazz geographics, citing similarities between the featured jazz artists.

As featured jazz artist Clint Eastwood said in his Second Edition Foreword: “This book is destined to become a staple for all serious jazz fans.”