REVIEWS

  • as of December 20, 2013

Georgia Review puts the book number two in their Favorite Reads of 2013, Assistant Editor David Ingle’s choice. The Review is a highly respected literary quarterly that has been publishing since 1947 at the University of Georgia.

  • as of December 4, 2013

jazzconclass imageExtended interview with me regarding Mingus and more, thanks to Jose Reyes of jazzconclass.com. Here’s a piece of it:

The blues will never go away—until, as Mingus said, the conditions that cause the blues go away. He was talking about racism and the “I’m so sad, lost my job, he stole my woman” kind of blues, but Mingus knew well that the blues in jazz can be a lot more than that. See his Blues & Roots for examples. I like the distinction Albert Murray makes between folk blues and urban (or jazz) blues, and his book Stomping the Blues, with its wonderful photos, is the best introduction to the subject you can read.

There are good-time blues, swinging blues, Monk, Basie, Charlie Parker blues and, as you note, the classic jazz versions of blues in every flavor. The blues is much more than a musical form (12-bar, 8-bar, ABAA, etc.). It’s a way of thinking and feeling, singing, playing and dancing, and you can’t fake it. The reason the blues have always been popular, no matter what style or tone or emotion they cover, is their sincerity.

MOJO Magazine (UK), reviewed by Michael Simmons
Mingus Speaks, 4 stars, John F Goodman, University Of California Press

“There were many Minguses,” explains John F Goodman and we meet the musical giant’s multitudes in interviews conducted by the author in 1972-74. Known for mind-gaming journalists, Mingus is open, voluble and very funny here, clearly due to his trust for the interlocutor. Praise flows (Ellington, Monk, Bird, Dolphy), as does disdain (Ornette Coleman and free jazz) and awe (“Bach is how buildings got taller”). There are fascinating, if unverifiable, claims ranging from Brian Epstein’s plan to manage Mingus to the bassist/composer’s invention of the water pick. Additional interviewees include producer Teo Macero and wife Sue Mingus, among others, giving fresh perspectives. Like a tasteful musician, Goodman lays out until the improvisational repartee calls for him. Charles Mingus detested bullshit, but was known to dish it out and yet group member Bobby Jones notes “he was the easiest person to love”—an observation the reader will share.

  • as of October 15, 2013

Eastern Michigan University radio (npr), WEMU 89.1, offers book as a premium, http://bit.ly/18j7uD4:
. . . The book, written by John F. Goodman, features in-depth interviews conducted several years before Charles died. The stories capture the composer’s spirit and voice. This book can be yours for a pledge of  $120 dollars to WEMU.

  • excerpts as of September 20, 2013

Adam Shatz in The Nation, http://bit.ly/1ew4EOX:
The NationYet he continued to feel underappreciated and unfulfilled. He complained at garrulous length to Goodman about the avant-garde, sore as ever about being overshadowed in the eyes of the critical establishment. He was still striving and struggling, even from the wheelchair to which he was confined in his last few years. “I still haven’t written the music I want to write,” he told Goodman; he had three, four symphonies in him. A part of him had always felt that jazz had been a detour, and an imposed one at that.

Ian Patterson in All About Jazz, http://bit.ly/1ew3Zx9:
allaboutjazzThe Mingus interviews—at least the ones with the subject—are many layered; heady streams of consciousness that flow with an uncommon rhythmic vitality. Multiple ideas tussle and converge in a strangely compelling cacophony. The blues runs through much of the narrative and it’s always emotionally charged. In short, much like Mingus’ music.

Library Journal, http://bit.ly/1ew4png;
Library JournalMingus’s candid intelligence shines through in these interviews as the discussion ranges through all aspects of jazz, from composition to performance to history and more, and on to matters of American culture, politics, and race. Goodman provides just enough ancillary content to give the reader context for their conversations, plus a little additional reflection born of his own acquaintance with Mingus and love and knowledge of jazz, as well as comments from ten of Mingus’s closest friends and associates, including his wife, Sue. . . .  fans of Mingus will definitely want to get their hands on this book, not to mention jazz scholars looking for primary sources.

  • as of September 7, 2013:

Interview with John Goodman, author of Mingus Speaks
by Joe Maita, Jerry Jazz Musician, September 6, 2013
Excerpt:

JJM  What’s clear in the reading of your interviews is that you seemed to have a genuine “like” for one another. Given his hatred of critics, how did he come to respect you?

JG  I think partly because I always did try to be straight with him and talk in such a way that would not raise any controversial issues I knew would set him off. My whole goal was to develop a relationship with him. I’ve done a couple of books of interviews and know that interviewing someone goes beyond just asking questions and getting answers. The goal is to have some kind of real conversation with the person. I don’t think we always got to that because Mingus was a very moody guy, and I am too, in a sense, but we often had lengthy conversations and those were very exciting and wonderful.

JJM  At times he came across as being argumentative and even contentious with you. Did you ever find him to be intimidating?

JG  Yes, but not often. Occasionally when we would get into discussions like the one on avant-garde jazz, I would wonder how far I could push my point of view before he would react, and mostly it seemed to work. But yes, he had his contentious side, and some of the stuff that he wrote—for example, the letter he wrote challenging the criticism of New York Times writer John Wilson—was a classic Mingus vituperation. He just really let it all out there.

  • as of July 30, 2013:

JJA News review (Jazz Journalists Association)
by Renetta DeBlase, July 27, 2013

By publishing Mingus Speaks, John Goodman has made a valuable contribution to 20th century jazz history, which should find a place as a reference in university music departments and African-American studies departments.

Unlike a standard biography in which the author relies on previously published articles and books about an artist, Goodman used a tape recorder. Forty years ago, while sitting in jazz clubs, bars, restaurants and even Mingus’ home, he asked the artist a series of questions about his personal life, musical training, views on black music, the true definition of “jazz” and much more. The interviews took place between 1972 and 1974, when Mingus had just made a musical comeback after being away from performing for about six years because of personal difficulties and a long struggle with depression. Up until then Mingus had been stereotyped as “an angry black man”; his own words portray his genius, his complexities and troubles. . . .

Stupefaction (July 30, 2013)
Tim Broun

A couple of months back, I was lucky enough to come across a brand new book on Charles Mingus entitled Mingus Speaks by John Goodman. Between 1972 and 1974 (only five years before the composer’s death), Goodman (at the time the music writer for Playboy magazine) spent quite a bit of time with Mingus, and taped many extended discussions. If you’ve ever read any interviews with Mingus, you know he had a lot to say about many, many things. I’ve since read the book, and I’m very happy to report that it did not disappoint. This book is a rare one (especially for a jazz book, especially with an artist of Mingus’ stature) in that, the artist gets to speak for himself. And much more than music is covered—politics, sex, race, spirituality. It makes for fascinating reading whether you’re a Mingus expert, or just discovering his music, and is a rare, in-depth view into the mind of a musical genius.

I asked Mr. Goodman for a list of his favorite Mingus recordings for this week’s edition of the Stupefied Playlist, and here are the wonderful results. I huge “thank you” goes out to him. Now, go and check this book out!

Click for the WPFW-FM (Washington, DC) podcast.

The Jazz Bookshelf: Cannonball, Mingus, And Doctor Jazz
Michael Steinman, June 16, 2013

MINGUS SPEAKS, taken from 1972-74 interviews conducted by John F. Goodman, is an invaluable book. But the experience of reading it is entirely different from what one encounters in WALK TALL [biography of Cannonball Adderley].

Reading MINGUS SPEAKS is rather like being dropped into hours of uninhibited monologue by Mingus on every subject that appeals to him, including race, the Mafia, Charlie Parker, sex, his own music, contemporary social politics, the avant-garde movement in jazz, Mingus’ colleagues on the bandstand and off, his emotional relations with Sue Mingus, theology, philosophy, his own fictionalized selves, and more. . . .

Journalist Goodman has done jazz history an immense service; would that there had been people with tape recorders following other heroes around with such energy and devotion.  I find it odd, however, that he is credited as the book’s author, not its editor: he asked the questions and recorded the responses, had Mingus’ words transcribed . . . but this is a book by Mingus, even posthumously.

  • as of July 12, 2013:

‘Mingus Speaks’, We Listen
By Sean Murphy, PopMatters, 11 July 2013

In these collected interviews, mostly conducted in the early ‘70s when Mingus was rebounding from years of turmoil, we get everything we’d expect: tall tales, candid insights, score settling, and the full range of topics that fascinated and inspired him. We get, in short, Mingus’s side of the story. . . .

For people like myself, who can never get enough of Mingus, much of this book is an exhilarating ride, an essential addition to our understanding of what made him such a unique and enduring iconoclast. He accounts for his proficiency, and the decades of practice, false starts, frustration and triumphs. He also takes every opportunity to discuss the men who encouraged him, ranging from obscure or unheard of to acknowledged masters like Fats Navarro and Charlie Parker. His theories (some fascinating; some preposterous) on everything from the Watts Riots to his controversial eviction from his loft (in 1968) are like many of his compositions: breathless, all-encompassing, unswerving. His consummate abilities (as a bassist, songwriter, jazz ambassador) are acknowledged by everyone who speaks of him.

. . . John Goodman deserves credit and praise for his work here. For starters, most of the interviews (with Mingus; with others) were conducted when he was a jazz critic for Playboy, and the intent was to compile them for a book. For a variety of factors, it was not meant to be, but Goodman was never able to stop thinking about it. The result, finally, provides something for everyone: it contains the history of Mingus, a history of jazz (which can also be found in his discography), astute reflections on American culture—from Mingus; from others, especially Goodman himself—and yet another testament to a titan who looms ever larger. Perhaps in the final analysis, this difficult project, an obvious labor of love, further sets the record straight and stands as something Mingus himself would undoubtedly endorse.

  • as of June 9, 2013:

Here is the Soundcheck page (WNYC, New York) with excerpts from my interview. Listen to the podcast there.

The interview got a nice plug from no treble, a bass player website.

The Telegraph in the UK gave the book somewhat of an Angry Man of Jazz approach that typified reviews when Mingus was alive.

And I did a live on-air talk with Sean Moncrieff on Dublin’s Newstalk radio in Ireland, May 24.

  • for May 20 release: From mercurial to mentally unstable, interviews highlight legendary composer’s Vesuvian stream-of-consciousness conversation.

James Joyce’s mastery of the written word might have an equal in Charles Mingus’ skill with conversation.

Charles Mingus? The legendary jazz bassist and composer? You bet, and in former Playboy music critic John F. Goodman’s penetrating biography, you’ll meet a consummate musician who loved to talk and could be in turn erudite, street sassy, and cruel. Mingus called this “spontaneous composition” in his music; it was the same in his words.

Mingus Speaks covers interviews by Goodman, in the years 1972 to 1974, with Mingus and some of his fellow musicians and associates. Mingus was at the very top of his game musically, but beginning to notice and fear the shadows of an illness that would kill him only five years later.

Goodman crafts the many interviews so that readers are initially introduced to the encyclopedic mind of Mingus, whose knowledge of music and musicians was outstanding. His Vesuvian stream of consciousness conversation was part hipster, part genius, and, occasionally, off-putting. He would weave Charlie Parker, the cellist Janos Starker, and generous dollops of the N-word in the same sentence. It can be shocking, which was Mingus’ intent.

Goodman moves us from the musical genius to a man whose praise could be high, but whose distaste for a whole host of musicians (Ornette Coleman, Bob Dylan, the Beatles) could be withering. Each chapter moves us further from the music and into uncharted waters, such as the Watts riots (which Mingus thought had been faked), the Mafia taking over the music business, and, finally, suspicions and perceived betrayals by those who worked beside him.

Goodman never comes right out and says it, but it is clear that Mingus was moving from mercurial to mentally unstable. He could be a teddy bear and a viper, sometimes within minutes. In the words of his long-time lover, Sue Graham, “He will infuriate people, humiliate them,insult them, beg them, love them, hate them … he gets musicians playing at the top of their ability, sometimes out of sheer fury, or of love.” It is almost incomprehensible to think that the man making such intricate and beautiful improvisations on “Let My Children Hear Music” is the same man holding a knife to the chest of Village Vanguard founder Max Gordon, but it’s true, and it makes for fascinating reading.
Jack Shakely, ForeWord 

  • for April 15 release: 

Long-time jazz writer Goodman . . . had long contemplated publishing a book, which, after several transformations, has evolved into this oddly organized but invaluable volume. The tempestuous (iconoclastic, contentious, contradictory, infuriating) Mingus was sui generis as a musician and as an individual. His speaking style, presented here in as-good-as-it’s-possible-to- get transcriptions, was as singular as his musical voice, and jazz lovers have not heretofore been able to “hear” it this purely. Mingus’ own memoir, Beneath the Underdog (1971), though a staple, is famously unreliable, making this present addition to the jazz library, including Mingus on the history and theory of music, the business, the so-called avant-garde, race, sex, and his forerunners and contemporaries, all the more essential.
Mark Levine, Booklist

I was privileged to be a close friend of the magnetically original composer, bassist, and leader Charles Mingus, whose deeply energizing music has never left me and many, many others around the world. The multidimensional inner Mingus, who created what he called not jazz—jazz, he said to me once, was too limited a description—he created what he called ‘Mingus music . . . ’ Much of the material here, in the book, has never been available before. A book unlike any I’ve seen on the history of jazz.
—Nat Hentoff, author of At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene

In words as in music, Mingus could erupt like a geyser speaking in tongues. These interviews let you experience his volatile, high-pressure flow of acute insights and outrageous conjectures.
—Gene Santoro, author of Myself When I Am Real: The Life and Music of Charles Mingus 

____________

“How extraordinary was Mingus’s ability to ascend and descend through the various roots and branches of the jazz family tree. Then again, Mingus had the advantage of learning these styles firsthand—he was among a select group who could boast of having worked as sideman for Armstrong, Ellington, and Parker, the three towering giants of the first half-century of jazz, not to mention having served alongside Tatum and Powell, Norvo and Hampton, Dolphy and Getz, Eldridge and Gillespie. This was jazz history of a different sort, imbibed directly and not learned in a school or from a recording. Perhaps because of this training, perhaps merely due to his sheer force of personality, Mingus managed not only to embrace a world of music but to engulf it in an overpowering bear hug. Despite these many linkages to jazz history, his music sounded neither derivative nor imitative. Whether playing a down-home blues, a silky ballad, an abstract tone poem, a New Orleans two-step, or a freewheeling jam, his work was immediately identifiable, bearing the unique imprimatur of Charles Mingus.”
— from The History of Jazz by Ted Gioia published by Oxford University Press, Inc. © 2011 Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition.