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Books

Beneath the Underdog: His World as Composed by Mingus
by Charles Mingus

Beneath the Underdog: His World as Composed by Mingus

A word of warning to those thinking of purchasing this book - It is not what you may think. This is not a linear autobiographical work - it is more along the lines of an exagerrated story of the pimp lifestyle and the struggles of a light skinned African American in early to mid-20th century America.

Pay attention to the 'disclaimer' in the beginning of the book:

“Some names in this book have been changed and some of the characters and incidents are fictitious.“

Therefore, you must not read this book under the assumption that it is a typical jazz autobiography. I view it as more of an artform, just as I would view the music. I find BENEATH THE UNDERDOG to still be an enjoyable read, however, you must know what you are getting yourself into. The stories are all over the place, including wild stories that involve dozens of women in Mexico as well as his later frustrations concerning his time at the Bellevue mental hospital in New York City. Mingus also writes about his youth in Watts, California, specifically the fact that he did not fit in with the whites because he was black, and he did not fit in with the blacks because he was light -skinned. These issues of alienation spill over into other aspects of his life. Additionally, one could argue that the racism and alientation he suffered along with the fame he experienced are strikingly similar to Miles Davis's frustrations in his autobiographical work, MILES.

The writing style in this book is less than professional, to say the least, but it is still an entertaining read. If you would like to explore a much more solid biographical portrayal of Mingus, allow me to recommend his wife's book, TONIGHT AT NOON or the book, MINGUS: A CRITICAL BIOGRAPHY by Brian Priestly.

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