Table of Contents
Charles Mingus is widely regarded as one of the greatest jazz composers and bassists of all time. His music is known for its complexity, improvisation, and a unique blend of jazz, blues, and classical music. Mingus was not just a musician but also a poet, activist, and bandleader who pushed the boundaries of jazz music in his time. He recorded over 100 albums during his career, leaving behind a legacy that still inspires many musicians today. In this article, we will be exploring the top 10 best Charles Mingus songs of all time. From his groundbreaking album “Mingus Ah Um” to his later works, we will delve into his compositions that showcase his virtuosity and versatility as a musician. Mingus’ songs often featured a rich tapestry of sounds, ranging from intense and frenetic to gentle and melodic, showcasing his dynamic range as a composer. With a unique style that blended blues and jazz, Mingus created a distinctive sound that challenged the norms of his time. Join us as we celebrate the music of Charles Mingus and explore his top 10 best songs of all time.
1. ‘Fables Of Faubus’
“Fables of Faubus” is a bold and politically charged composition by Charles Mingus that critiques Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus’s decision to call in the National Guard to block the integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Mingus’s masterful use of a lumbering bass line and a catchy melody give the song an infectious quality, but the lyrics tell a very different story. Mingus’s lyrics criticize Faubus and his supporters, painting them as fools and bigots who are on the wrong side of history. The song’s extended instrumental sections also give the musicians room to showcase their skills, with Mingus’s bass playing leading the charge. “Fables of Faubus” is a prime example of Mingus’s ability to merge political commentary with his musical craft and is widely considered one of his most important works.
2. ‘Haitian Fight Song’
“Haitian Fight Song” is a powerful and energetic composition by Charles Mingus that showcases his skillful bass playing and his ability to weave multiple musical ideas into one cohesive piece. The song features a driving, syncopated rhythm that is augmented by horns and percussion, creating a frenetic energy that is both intense and thrilling. Mingus was inspired to write this song as a tribute to the Haitian people’s spirit of resistance against colonialism and oppression, and this message is conveyed through the song’s urgent and unrelenting rhythm. The horn solos in the middle of the song add a layer of complexity and emotion to the piece, giving the listener a sense of the struggle and triumph that the Haitian people experienced. Overall, “Haitian Fight Song” is a standout composition in Mingus’s repertoire, showcasing his political and musical genius.
3. ‘Better Get It In Yo’ Soul’
“Better Get It In Yo’ Soul” is one of Charles Mingus’ most recognized and energetic compositions. Released in 1959, it was featured on the album “Mingus Ah Um” and showcases Mingus’ impressive bass playing skills. The song opens with a catchy and upbeat horn melody that sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The arrangement includes multiple instrumental solos that highlight each musician’s talents. Mingus’ bass solo is a standout feature of the song, demonstrating his ability to use the instrument as a lead instrument rather than just a rhythm section element. The catchy chorus of “better get it in yo’ soul” adds to the overall liveliness and intensity of the piece. The song is a prime example of Mingus’ ability to combine different elements of jazz, such as swing, bebop, and gospel, to create a unique and captivating sound. Overall, “Better Get It In Yo’ Soul” is an iconic Mingus composition that continues to be celebrated for its musical prowess and creative energy.
4. ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’
“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” is a poignant jazz instrumental composed by Charles Mingus as a tribute to the legendary saxophonist Lester Young, who was affectionately known as “Pres.” The song features a haunting melody and complex harmonies that showcase Mingus’s skillful composition and arranging abilities. The piece opens with a somber solo on the electric guitar, which sets the mood for the entire composition. Mingus’s double bass provides a steady pulse throughout the piece, while the saxophone and piano take turns delivering emotive solos. The song’s title is a reference to the distinctive pork pie hat that Young was known for wearing, and the lyrics of the song describe the shock and sadness felt by jazz musicians upon learning of his death. “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” has become one of Mingus’s most famous compositions, and it has been covered by numerous jazz musicians over the years.
5. ‘Solo Dancer’
“Solo Dancer” is a standout track from Charles Mingus’ 1963 album “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady”. The song is divided into six parts, each with a unique theme and tempo. The first section, titled “Stop! Look! And Listen, Sinner Jim Whitney!”, begins with a slow, bluesy melody played by the brass section. The tempo then picks up as the song progresses, with Mingus’ bass and Dannie Richmond’s drums driving the rhythm. The horns interject with playful, improvised solos, adding to the chaotic yet controlled nature of the piece. The final section, titled “Group Dancers”, brings the song to a triumphant close with a joyous, uptempo melody that showcases the full band’s virtuosity. Overall, “Solo Dancer” is a dynamic and engaging composition that showcases Mingus’ masterful command of jazz music.
6. ‘Scenes In The City’
“Scenes in the City” is a standout track from Charles Mingus’ 1960 album “Pre-Bird”. The song is an eight-minute-long masterpiece that showcases Mingus’ virtuosic bass playing and his ability to lead a band in a dynamic and engaging way. The track begins with a brooding, bluesy bassline that sets the tone for the rest of the piece. Mingus is joined by the rest of the ensemble, which includes some of the greatest musicians of the time, including trumpeter Ted Curson, saxophonist Eric Dolphy, and drummer Dannie Richmond.
As the song progresses, Mingus and his bandmates take the listener on a journey through a series of different moods and textures. At times, the music is playful and joyous, while at other times, it is tense and brooding. The piece features several stunning solos, including a powerful saxophone solo from Dolphy and a dynamic trumpet solo from Curson.
Overall, “Scenes in the City” is a testament to Mingus’ abilities as a composer, arranger, and bandleader. The song is a true masterpiece that stands the test of time and continues to inspire musicians and listeners today.
7. ‘Pithecanthropus Erectus’
“Pithecanthropus Erectus” is the title track of Charles Mingus’ 1956 album, and it is widely considered to be one of the most important and influential jazz compositions of the 20th century. The song is a tribute to the evolution of humanity, and the title is a reference to a prehistoric human ancestor whose fossil remains were discovered in Java, Indonesia. The track features a complex and layered arrangement, with multiple instrumental sections that build in intensity and complexity. Mingus’ bass playing is at the forefront of the song, driving the rhythm forward with a powerful and dynamic energy. The horns and drums add to the intensity, with rapid-fire rhythms and intricate harmonies. Mingus’ compositional skill is on full display in “Pithecanthropus Erectus,” with the song demonstrating his ability to combine complex arrangements with a deep emotional resonance. The track has been covered by numerous jazz artists over the years and continues to be recognized as a seminal work in the genre.
8. ‘i X Love’
“I X Love” is a lively and playful jazz composition by Charles Mingus from his 1963 album “Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus.” The song features a dynamic interplay between the horns and the rhythm section, with driving drum beats and catchy horn lines that are typical of Mingus’s style. The piece also incorporates elements of Latin jazz, with its use of syncopated rhythms and clave patterns. The title is a play on words, as “I X Love” sounds like “I Ex-Love,” which suggests a theme of love lost or unrequited, but in fact, the lyrics are nonsensical and have no clear meaning. Mingus was known for his innovative approach to jazz composition, and “I X Love” is a prime example of his unique style, which blended elements of traditional jazz with more experimental and avant-garde elements.
9. ‘Hora Decubitus’
“Hora Decubitus” is a jazz instrumental piece composed by Charles Mingus. The title translates to “the hour of lying down” in Latin, suggesting a sense of rest or repose. The song features a grooving bassline and a lively horn section, showcasing Mingus’s mastery of orchestration and his ability to blend different genres and styles into a cohesive whole. The song’s dynamic shifts and intricate melodies create a sense of tension and release, taking the listener on a journey through different moods and emotions. “Hora Decubitus” was originally recorded in 1957 for the album “The Clown,” and later re-recorded in 1963 for the album “Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus.” It has since become a staple in Mingus’s repertoire and a classic example of his innovative approach to jazz music.
Charles Mingus’ rendition of the classic jazz standard “Summertime” is a stunning interpretation of the original. With Mingus on bass, Booker Ervin on tenor saxophone, and Roland Kirk on flute, the track creates a lush and dreamy atmosphere that perfectly captures the essence of the lazy summer days. Mingus’ bass provides a steady and rhythmic foundation for the haunting and evocative melodies of the saxophone and flute. The interplay between the instruments is intricate and dynamic, creating a rich and vibrant texture. The track builds to a dramatic climax, with Kirk’s soaring flute and Ervin’s powerful saxophone solos soaring over Mingus’ driving bassline. Mingus’ interpretation of “Summertime” is a masterpiece of jazz, showcasing the virtuosity of the musicians and their ability to create a timeless and enchanting sound.