Sue Mingus, author of Tonight at Noon: A Love Story

July 24th, 2002

 

Sue Mingus,

author of

Tonight at Noon:  A Love Story

*

In Tonight at Noon, Sue Graham Mingus gives us an elegant and unsparingly honest memoir of a romance between American opposites: she, a product of privilege, a former midwestern WASP debutante and Smith College graduate who worked as a journalist in Europe and in New York; he (Charles Mingus), an authentic jazz titan, a brilliant, eccentric, difficult artist, a scion of Watts, Los Angeles, who would become one of America’s foremost composers.*

Sue Mingus answers a few questions about Charles and their relationship in our Jerry Jazz Musician interview…

Interview by Paul Hallaman

 

 

___________________________

We walked for a few blocks and caught a cab in front of the Plaza Hotel, where he said it was easier to find a driver who overlooked the color of your skin in favor of the green inside your wallet.  In the middle of our ride, Mingus changed his mind about dinner and said there was something important he needed to show me first.  He ordered the driver instead to Grand Central Station.  When we arrived, he jumped out of the cab and swiftly led me downstairs, hurrying through the halls and corridors until we reached a corner that echoed our voices along a wall.  I waited at one end of the long wall while he spoke in a low whisper from the other side, unexpected words of tenderness that roared across the room, shy words of love that slid along the grimy walls of Grand Central Station as distant and unreal as the graffiti they swept past.

     “I love you,” he was saying.  “I want you to be my woman.”  I laughed off his words.  They were sounds in a station from a man I hardly knew.  Still, I went on listening.    

– From Tonight at Noon, by Sue Mingus

*

Charles Mingus

photo by Lee Tanner

___________________________

JJM  How did you come to write the book at this point in time?

SM  My initial intent was to write about the experience of Charles dying in Mexico, because it so magnificently exposed many sides of Charles that the public is not familiar with — his spirituality, his great humor, his heroism and courage — and I wanted to write about this. What got press for Charles, of course, was the side that hired and fired musicians on stage, and yelled at bartenders and insulted the audience — all of which were perfectly true — but that was just one side of Charles. There were so many others. There was Charles, for example, at the piano composing, where he spent eight hours a day most every day. This is something people didn’t know. I was going to call the book “A Portrait of the Artist as a Dying Man,” and people starting talking to me about the project in quite personal ways, so, it turned out to be a much more personal memoir than I had intended it to be. That was the genesis of the book.

JJM  The period in the book that focuses on his final months is an eloquent and beautiful description of Charles and your family dealing with the struggle to live and to try and conquer illness.  Did you kept a journal during this period?

SM  I did keep a journal when we were in Mexico. It was a way of hanging on, and a way of living those moments over and over. There are a lot of reasons why people write, and part of it is certainly to hang on and to record and remember. That part of this story could have been the whole book as far as I was concerned, but there are readers who find the other historical part interesting because it shines some light on Charles that is a bit different and probably kinder to him than he was to himself.

JJM  Yes, it’s a very different portrait than the one he paints of himself in Beneath the Underdog.

SM  Part of that book was bravado. My understanding is that someone told Charles to put a lot of sex in it and it would sell! He had lots of anger to tell the world about that the world wasn’t quite ready to hear at that time. He had plans to do another book just on music, because music was prominently missing from Beneath the Underdog. I have all kinds of material of Charles’ — probably ten or fifteen tapes where he discusses music, musicians, composition and the record industry. One day I hope to put this work out, just “Mingus on Mingus and music.”  That was an element that was sorely missing in Beneath the Underdog, as interesting as it was on its own terms. Charles had so many sides that to do him justice will require a great biographer.

JJM  I read an article by Owen McNally from the Hartford Courant that describes the book in cinematic terms. Have you been contacted by studios for film treatment?

SM  I have been, but nothing has happened so far.

JJM  If a film were made, who would you see in the leading roles?

SM  I have thought about this through the years, from James Earl Jones about twenty years ago to Denzel Washington today. There have to be many capable actors out there that I don’t know about.

JJM Who would play Sue Graham?

SM  Who knows? Time goes by. I don’t remember who I thought of initially, but I can imagine Sissy Spacek, maybe Jodie Foster, and probably hundreds of others we don’t know about.

JJM  Your background was very different than Charles’. He grew up in Watts, and you are from Milwaukee…Did these differences raise issues in your relationship?

SM  I had already left Milwaukee long before meeting Charles. I went to school in the east and lived in Paris and Rome. I married an Italian who I had two children with. Then I moved to New York. My life already expanded beyond Lake Michigan so it wasn’t totally new, but living in New York and being involved in bohemian, artistic, cultural surroundings was somewhat different from the way I grew up. Charles, of course, was unlike anything else I had experienced. He was a very unique individual.

JJM  You weren’t a jazz fan when you met?

SM  That’s right. I knew nothing about jazz when we met. I grew up in a classical music environment. My mother played the harp and the piano, and my father was a “wanna-be” opera singer. We listened to opera and classical music all the time, and I played piano for about fifteen years. I liked a number of things that were jazz, for instance I loved Billie Holiday and had a number of her records, but I didn’t really know about jazz. Jazz and Charles came as quite a surprise.

JJM What are your favorite recordings of his?

SM  It’s really hard to say because he left such a diverse legacy. His music includes pieces that are European classically oriented, that are bebop, that are drenched in the blues and gospel, even dixieland and latin. There is almost everything. Part of the genius of Charles was that he assembled all of these diverse musical genres, and they came out magically Mingus. His sound was so distinctive. You hear three or four notes and you know it is his work, the same way you hear two or three notes of Miles Davis on his horn and you know it’s him.

JJM  Who did Charles Mingus most admire in jazz?

SM  Well, Duke Ellington, but he admired Bach, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Jelly Roll Morton, Charlie Parker, and many other musicians.

JJM  When Charles recorded for Impulse Records, their logo included the phrase “The New Wave of Jazz is on Impulse!”  He objected to that phrase and had them change it on his album Mingus Mingus Mingus to something like “The New Wave in Ethnic Folk Music” is on Impulse! Do you remember that?

SM  Well, there was a time when he said jazz means “nigger music” and wanted to call it something like “jazzical.” Charles confronted just about everything and then went on to the next thing. There were times when he said he didn’t like music that was written out because he felt it lost its spontaneity. He said he didn’t like “pencil composers,” and then five years later he was writing these gigantic scores that spilled over the lecterns when the musicians were playing them. Cumbia and Jazz Fusion is at least ten or fifteen pages long for each part. So, he never pretended to be consistent, and he certainly confronted everything in his path.

 

 

 

*

Editors note: In the 23 years since Charles Mingus’ death, Sue Mingus has devoted herself to exposing his music through the Mingus Big Band. For information on these recordings, visit Dreyfus Records.

 

 

 

___________________________

 

 

Tonight at Noon: A Love Story

by

Sue Mingus

_______________________________

Charles Mingus products at Amazon.com

_______________________________

This interview took place on July 24, 2002

 

_______________________________

 

*

If you enjoyed this interview, you may want to read our interview with Miles Davis historian Gerald Early.

 

*

Other Jerry Jazz Musician interviews

* text from the book jacket

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

painting of Clifford Brown by Paul Lovering
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Spring/Summer, 2024 Edition...In this, the 17th major collection of jazz poetry published on Jerry Jazz Musician, 50 poets from all over the world again demonstrate the ongoing influence the music and its associated culture has on their creative lives.

(featuring the art of Paul Lovering)

Publisher’s Notes

photo by Rhonda Dorsett
On turning 70, and contemplating the future of Jerry Jazz Musician...

The Sunday Poem

Tom Beetz, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
”When Sonny Gets Gray” by John Menaghan...

Click here to read previous editions of The Sunday Poem

Poetry

“Revival” © Kent Ambler.
If You Want to Go to Heaven, Follow a Songbird – Mary K O’Melveny’s album of poetry and music...While consuming Mary K O’Melveny’s remarkable work in this digital album of poetry, readings and music, readers will discover that she is moved by the mastery of legendary musicians, the wings of a monarch butterfly, the climate and political crisis, the mysteries of space exploration, and by the freedom of jazz music that can lead to what she calls “the magic of the unknown.” (with art by Kent Ambler)

Interview

The Marvelettes/via Wikimedia Commons
Interview with Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz, authors of But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?: An Oral History of the 60’s Girl Groups...Little is known of the lives and challenges many of the young Black women who made up the Girl Groups of the ‘60’s faced while performing during an era rife with racism, sexism, and music industry corruption. The authors discuss their book’s mission to provide the artists an opportunity to voice their experiences so crucial to the evolution of popular music.

Book Excerpt

An excerpt from Emily Jon Tobias’ MONARCH: Stories, and a reflection on our friendship

In Memoriam

photo via Wikimedia Commons
A few words about Willie Mays...Thoughts about the impact Willie Mays had on baseball, and on my life.

Poetry

photo of Earl Hines by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Pianists and Poets – 13 poems devoted to the keys...From “Fatha” Hines to Brad Mehldau, poets open themselves up to their experiences with and reverence for great jazz pianists

Art

photo of Archie Shepp by Giovanni Piesco
The Photographs of Giovanni Piesco: Archie Shepp...photos of the legendary saxophonist (and his rhythm section for the evening), taken at Amsterdam's Bimhuis on May 13, 2001.

Poetry

CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
“On Coltrane: 4th of July Reflections” – a poem by Connie Johnson

Click here to read more poetry published in Jerry Jazz Musician

Calling All Poets!

News about a Jerry Jazz Musician printed jazz poetry anthology, and information about submitting your poetry for consideration

Short Fiction

pickpik.com
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #65 — “Ballad” by Lúcia Leão...The author’s award-winning story is about the power of connections – between father and child, music and art, and the past, present and future.

Click here to read more short fiction published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Interview

photo of Louis Jordan by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Interview with Tad Richards, author of Jazz With a Beat: Small Group Swing, 1940 – 1960...Richards makes the case that small group swing players like Illinois Jacquet, Louis Jordan (pictured) and Big Jay McNeely played a legitimate jazz that was a more pleasing listening experience to the Black community than the bebop of Parker, Dizzy, and Monk. It is a fascinating era, filled with major figures and events, and centered on a rigorous debate that continues to this day – is small group swing “real jazz?”

Playlist

photo of Coleman Hawkins by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
“The Naked Jazz Musician” – A playlist by Bob Hecht...As Sonny Rollins has said, “Jazz is about taking risks, pushing boundaries, and challenging the status quo.” Could there be anything riskier—or more boundary-pushing—than to stand naked and perform with nowhere to hide? Bob’s extensive playlist is comprised of such perilous undertakings by an array of notable woodwind and brass masters who have had the confidence and courage (some might say even the exhibitionism) to expose themselves so completely by playing….alone.

Feature

Excerpts from David Rife’s Jazz Fiction: Take Two – Vol. 3: “Louis Armstrong”...A substantial number of novels and stories with jazz music as a component of the story have been published over the years, and the scholar David J. Rife has written short essay/reviews of them. In this third edition featuring excerpts from his book, Rife writes about four novels/short fiction that include stories involving Louis Armstrong.

Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

The cover of Wayne Shorter's 2018 Blue Note album "Emanon"
Trading Fours, with Douglas Cole, No. 20: “Notes on Genius...This edition of the writer’s poetic interpretations of jazz recordings and film is written in response to the music of Wayne Shorter.

Click here to read previous editions of Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

In Memoriam

Hans Bernhard (Schnobby), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
“Remembering Joe Pass: Versatile Jazz Guitar Virtuoso” – by Kenneth Parsons...On the 30th anniversary of the guitarist Joe Pass’ death, Kenneth Parsons reminds readers of his brilliant career

Book Excerpt

Book excerpt from Jazz with a Beat: Small Group Swing 1940 – 1960, by Tad Richards

Click here to read more book excerpts published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Jazz History Quiz #172

photo of Teddy Wilson by William Gottlieb
Teddy Wilson once said this about a fellow jazz pianist:

“That man had the most phenomenal musical gifts I’ve ever heard. He was miraculous. It’s like someone hitting a home run every time he picks up a bat. We became such fast friends that I was allowed to interrupt him anytime he was playing at the house parties in Toledo we used to make every night. When I asked him, he would stop and replay a passage very slowly, showing me the fingering on some of those runs of his. You just couldn’t figure them out by ear at the tempo he played them.”

Who is the pianist he is describing?

Community

photo via Picryl.com
.“Community Bookshelf, #2"...a twice-yearly space where writers who have been published on Jerry Jazz Musician can share news about their recently authored books. This edition includes information about books published within the last six months or so…

Contributing Writers

Click the image to view the writers, poets and artists whose work has been published on Jerry Jazz Musician, and find links to their work

Coming Soon

An interview with Larry Tye, author of The Jazzmen: How Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie Transformed America; an interview with James Kaplan, author of 3 Shades of Blue: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and the Lost Empire of Cool; A new collection of jazz poetry; a collection of jazz haiku; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction; poetry; photography; interviews; playlists; and lots more in the works...

Interview Archive

Ella Fitzgerald/IISG, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Click to view the complete 25-year archive of Jerry Jazz Musician interviews, including those recently published with Judith Tick on Ella Fitzgerald (pictured),; Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz on the Girl Groups of the 60's; Tad Richards on Small Group Swing; Stephanie Stein Crease on Chick Webb; Brent Hayes Edwards on Henry Threadgill; Richard Koloda on Albert Ayler; Glenn Mott on Stanley Crouch; Richard Carlin and Ken Bloom on Eubie Blake; Richard Brent Turner on jazz and Islam; Alyn Shipton on the art of jazz; Shawn Levy on the original queens of standup comedy; Travis Atria on the expatriate trumpeter Arthur Briggs; Kitt Shapiro on her life with her mother, Eartha Kitt; Will Friedwald on Nat King Cole; Wayne Enstice on the drummer Dottie Dodgion; the drummer Joe La Barbera on Bill Evans; Philip Clark on Dave Brubeck; Nicholas Buccola on James Baldwin and William F. Buckley; Ricky Riccardi on Louis Armstrong; Dan Morgenstern and Christian Sands on Erroll Garner; Maria Golia on Ornette Coleman.

Site Archive