110 | LAPHAM’S QUARTERLY
California. He tried to buck it on his own with
nobody but his old lady to help him beat the sys-
tem. Mingus, that’s the biggest gun in the world
to stick in a man’s ribs—hunger. So he sold out
again. Now he’s got a club named after him, but
it ain’t his. Oh, it’s a hard wrinkle, Mingus. Haw
haw! I’m thinking when Peggy Lee be appear-
ing in some eastside club. Her biggest applause
come when she says, ‘Now I’m going to do the
great Billie Holiday,’ and Billie be out on the
street, and they all be saying she’s a junkie. They
had Billie so hung up, they wouldn’t pay the
right way, they just put a little money in her hand
every night after work, just enough so she come
back tomorrow. They drives ya to it, Mingus.
They got you down and they don’t let you up.”
“I thought you had some children, Mingus.
Don’t they need no ends out there in California?”
“I’m going to write a book, and when I
sell it I’m not gonna play anymore for money.
I’ll compose and now and then rent a ball-
room and throw a party and pay some great
musicians to play a couple of things and im-
provise all night long. That’s what jazz origi-
nally was, getting away from the usual tiddy,
the hime, the gig.”
“But Mingus, how about them crumb
crushers of yours when their little stomachs get
to poppin’ and there ain’t nothin’ in their jaws
but their gums, teeth, and tongue, what you
gonna do? Play for money or be a pimp?”
“I tried being a pimp, Fats. I didn’t like it.”
“Then you gonna play for money.”
Charles Mingus, from Beneath the Underdog.
Raised in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles,
the jazz bassist toured with Louis Armstrong,
Lionel Hampton, Charlie Parker, and others before
releasing in 1956 his debut studio album,
Pithecanthropus Erectus, which would influence the
freejazz movement of the 1960s. Three years after
this scene from Mingus’ autobiography took place,
trumpet player Fats Navarro died of tuberculosis
in New York City. Mingus died in 1979; his wife
spread his ashes in the Ganges River.
Dancing Lesson, the “Mazurka”, by Karl Karlovitz Bulla, c. 1915.