Black History Month Spotlight: Jazz Legend Charles Mingus Made the Complicated Simple

Every weekday this month, we’re profiling fascinating figures from L.A.’s Black history

For a running list of all our 2021 Black History Month profiles, click here.

Raised in Watts, Charles Mingus (1922- 1979) discovered his love of music in the Black church choirs of his youth. As a young musician he toured with L.A. legend Lionel Hampton and Louis Armstrong before becoming a recording dynamo playing with Miles Davis, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, and his childhood hero Duke Ellington.

A multi-talented musical theorist, by the late 1950s Mingus was hailed as a pioneering band leader, composer, bassist, and pianist. “For sheer melodic and rhythmic and structural originality, his compositions may equal anything written in western music in the twentieth century,” The New Yorker noted. He became famous for his avant-garde jazz works and recorded over 100 albums, including his masterpiece Epitaph.

“Creativity is more than just being different,” he once said. “Anybody can play weird— that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple complicated is commonplace—making the complicated simple, awesomely simple—that’s creativity.”

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