Beneath The Underdog:  His World As Composed By Mingus
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

Beneath The Underdog: His World As Composed By Mingus

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  1,747 ratings  ·  117 reviews
The legendary jazzman recounts his life and career, from his childhood in Watts and his apprenticeship with jazz musicians, to his recordings with Duke Ellington and others, and more.
Hardcover, First Edition, 366 pages
Published 1971 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Beneath The Underdog, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Beneath The Underdog

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
A book of earnest erotica posing as a jazz memoir, Beneath the Underdog chronicles Mingus' childhood and early career as a lover and a pimp with nary of a mention of the music into which he poured his more worthwhile thoughts. Mingus' book is funny and touching at times, but it's also very repetitive (Who can keep all the women straight? Certainly not Mingus) and often stilted. Mingus' tells his story almost completely through dialogue, and while some of it does a good job at capturing voices (M...more
Mr. Mingus sure passes on some effective bedroom wisdom in this book . . . I always relish the opportunity to respond, when asked where I learned an especially tantalizing "lovemaking" technique, "That little manuever? My dear, I learned that from none other than Charles Mingus." It's not as cheesy as saying I learned it from Chet Baker, not as Q-bert goofball as saying Wynton Marsalis, not as fucked as saying I learned it from the Rashaan Roland Kirk (who could circular breath, play three horns...more
Wes Freeman
Thoroughly complicated autobiography of highly original jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus. Intensely philosophical, the role of jazz in Mingus' life (or at least the parts of it he put in this book) seems to be so all-encompassing that its incidental; like why is a dude gonna waste time talking about air in his autobiography? This ain't a music book, it's a Mingus book, and Mingus was one conflicted dude. Starts with memories of his childhood in Watts, precedes through his psychically des...more
The Mein Kampf of jazz. Graceless male chauvinism, he drank some weird gasoline for breakfast; he claims he fucked and fist-fought his way through the rest of the days of his rejection. His insults deploy with all the weight of blasphemy in a waterfall. He was poison, he was genius, the lost General of brutal tempo changes, extravagant timbres. Psychoacoustics will never be the same with and without him.
This is one of the greatest works of autobiographical fiction I will ever read. Mingus' verbal play is Joycean, his humor Rabelaisian. He is unflinchingly brave when writing about childhood, race, class, sex, creativity, and madness. He is filthily obscene and tenderly naive. This is the kind of candor, self-exhibition and self-delusion that only the most truthful autobiographical fiction achieves.
For all the fictitious elements on the page, Mingus manages to inject his personality directly into the narrative. You never forget for a second who is driving this crazy umbrella; and this book paints a more human, real, and nuanced image of the man in a way that no meticulously researched, cited and cross-referenced academic biography ever could.

Mingus's younger years in particular read like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but set in Watts. Mingus' voice in Beneath the Underdog is con...more
Chris Q. Murphy
Aug 27, 2007 Chris Q. Murphy rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: jazzheads, pimps, americans
i am still on the fence as to whether this text would have been better served in its current form or in the hulking 1000+ page manuscript initially prepared by mingus. as is, it makes for a quick and exciting read, but the music stuff feels cold and obious, and the "pimp" stuff feels trashy. had we seen charles' grandiose vision unfurled, perhaps we'd have a clearer idea not only of how much of this was allegory and how much was fact, but a more complete picture of mingus the man and the musicia...more
This book is maddening. It's at times smooth and wonderful and at others, completely obscuring. You read it and you feel as if you understand Mingus more, and that you know nothing about him all at the same time.

He writes it pretty much as quoted conversation between him and anyone that wanders into his world, from Lady Day to countless 'bitches and whores'. You see it all through Mingus's zany vision, which is elucidating and baffling at the same time. Maybe it's Schroedinger's Cat. It is fabu...more
Charles Mingus is one of the great jazz legends I have ever heard. His music is experimental and groundbreaking, yet he was troubled and plagued by addictions and demons. This is his autobiography and it is not only as out there as his music, but also pretty great too.

Told in the third person, Mingus talks to his therapist about his life up from his crazy family and upbringing in California to his meteoric rise in the jazz world. It's raw, its honest and it's weird. But the book works. A must-re...more
Andrew Ludke
This is a fierce, bragging, smart, autobiography that's full of tall tales and simple truths. Written in a very straightforward language that's full of colloquialisms slang and street smarts. It reminded me of the anger evident in the Miles Davis biography, but it's more matter of fact about it. I recently read this for the second time and it was just as good as i remember it.
Hmm, gotta be honest, I think his music works better as an autobiography for the man. He definitely have better literary works like The Clown, Freedom or Colloquial Dreams. For the fans, it's just a bunch of cool anectodes because many would know all this stuff from his music. So it might help the fans to articulate about Mingus more clearly (i.e. his cello background told here sums up his view on jazz - orchestral stuff really well imho) but it is not a masterpiece.

Moreover it has vital flaws...more
Gregory Malcolm
One of my favorite books to read. Mingus shares with us the wild ride (some true, some liberties taken) that was his life. He is one of the few artist that I relate to (as well as inspired by) in my journey so I find a sort of relief while reading this book.
Dave Naz
People have strong opinions about this book. I think it's a masterpiece. One of my favorite (exaggerated) autobiographies. Less music, more mental institutions and pimping. I love his music and his writing.
Christopher Costabile
Charles Mingus was possibly the best jazz composer ever, and one of the best Twentieth Century composers, period. This is his story, as told by the man himself, in manic, beat-style prose.
Eric Stone
One of the great, weird, wild, probably largely made up but who cares, autobiographies of all time by one of the greatest musicians of all time.
It's nuts...mostly lies but an autobiograpy all the same. Mingus thought this stuff happened.
Oliver Danni
The first 1/4 of this book was pretty good, and seemed like it was really going somewhere interesting. But after that, it just didn't do anything for me. I felt less and less like I understood why the author was choosing to portray himself the way he was as the book went on. I didn't feel a sense of connection to him or to his story by the end of the book. I wanted to hear about his journey as a musician, and instead I just learned way more than I wanted to about his sex life and his frustration...more
M.R. Dowsing
Well, the beginning was pretty good... I thought the approach of writing about himself as if he was writing about someone else worked well, liked the style, the part about his childhood was interesting and well done... but then the graphic sex stuff begins. I don't necessarily have anything against that in itself, but the problem is, it just goes on and on. Mingus claims to have had sex with 26 Mexican whores in one night, he becomes a pimp. Every beautiful woman he meets falls instantly in love...more
Alvin Horn
Review by Christopher Calabrese

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."

Mark Field
I guess I read music biography about my favorite musicians from a vicarious viewpoint ... I so wanted to be there! In reality it is more about the music, the influences, the evolution and the story of the creativity that draws me to the books. Mingus, along with Coltrane, Davis and Coleman are my Jazz heroes.

Written from a stream of consciousness perspective this is a sprawling and probably exaggerated view of Mingus life, with an over emphasis on his sexual exploits (whether real or imagined),...more
Phew! Not really about the music was it? Some of the (dated) hep-speak was nice (daddyo) and the erotica was occasionally mildly arousing,
Special mention must be made of Billy the Pimp - deserving of his own title; surely one of the most disgusting characters in (presumably) fiction. He who gets his "old lady" to eat horse shit, to prove she would do anything for him! He who urinates all over a school teacher (and who luckily happens to have a donkey penis in his bag - don't we all?) Billy the...more
This is filled with "stink", and for that I loved it. It wasn't a stylized, self aggrandizing version of himself.. it was as honest as he knew how to be. Of course I'd have loved it if he told more stories about Duke, or whatever, but it's him telling me what he thought was important to know. Turns out most of that was about pimping and fucking, but there was also a fair amount about being honest with yourself about who you are, and where you come from, and what god is to you. I don't know if I...more
Well I'm not sure if I didn't like this as much as I was expecting to because it wasn't as good as I hoped, or because it didn't discuss what I wanted to hear?

From the get go this is a strange one, and unlike any other autobiography I've read (not told from a personal point of view or a conceited third person's weird and i don't want to spoil it). Throughout the book his music is almost a secondary concern merely referring to milestones in his career. I wonder was this done in...more
He was done for--his head split wide open on the corner of a Goodwill-store old fashioned second-hand-me-down white-folks' bedroom-set dresser. I hadn't realized how important the little fellow was. Everybody got so upset. I found myself outside him for the first time since he was born, standing beside him with Mama and his older sisters, Grace and Vivian. Grace was screaming, "Baby's dead! Baby's dead! Oh, lord Jesus! My baby brother's gone!"
Here comes Daddy! He's looking down at poor, unconsci...more
Stay away from Big Ego Artists Auto-biography; this is an uninspiring, pretentious "stream of consciousness" novel that fails to leave any durable impression beyond a sore taste. Fortunately Mingus music is the opposite; full of originality, emotion, swing; most of all, dignity.
So here there is an over the top tale of the sexual adventures and pimping of the phenomenal composer and virtuoso bass player. Unfortunately, the music doesn't seem to have a lot of space. Interesting aspects of his lif...more
John Newcomb
Here is a guy that the US recognised as being so great, they stuck him on a stamp. He played with Armstrong, Ellington, Hampton Bird and Billie and reinvented bass playing and its role in Jazz. Most of this is passed over or very briefly referred to. The book is a catalogue of graphic sexual conquests written in the third person stream of consciousness. Not what I had expected but not without interest.
James R. C.  Baker
Very enlightening view of rhythm. "There once was a word used--swing. Swing went in one direction, it was linear, and everything had to be played with an obvious pulse and that's very restrictive. But I use the term 'rotary perception.' If you get a mental picture of the beat existing within a circle you're more free to improvise. People used to think that the notes had to fall on the center of the beats in the bar at intervals like a metronome, with three or four men in the rhythm section accen...more
Tim Weakley
What appealed to me the most about this bio was the aspect of Kerouac that played out in the prose. It was a story that just refused to end. Mingus manages to write the single most unmusical story involving a legion of jazz legends that I could conceive of. What really didn't appeal to me was his nonstop abuse of the women in his life. He was a pimp, and a con man of the worst sort. How do you reconcile that with the music he manages to create during his career? At least we don't have to within...more
Michael Oliver
Jan 22, 2008 Michael Oliver rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jazz lovers
Charles Mingus may very well be the world's greatest jazz composer. His music inspires me and entertains me. I can't get enough of it- but his autobiography is a pile of junk. As he tried to (seemingly) impress me with his carousing nature, his habit of cheating on every wife he ever had, his blatant disrespect for other musicians, his swollen ego, and his abhorrent temper- it drew me further and further away from his music. I could have easily finished the book, but decided against it so as to...more
A very eccentric book, deeply felt, full of either strange facts or strange inventions Mingus claims to have had sex with 20+ plus women in a night, to have been married to two women at the same time, and to have tried to convince a junk-ravaged Fats Navarro that Jesus loves him. All told in the third person, as though it were a book about somebody else (for reasons explained in the narrative). A lot of it is obviously made up, but it all obviously comes from a real place, and is obviously the p...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Bird Lives!: The High Life & Hard Times of Charlie (Yardbird) Parker
  • Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original
  • Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra
  • Music is My Mistress
  • John Coltrane: His Life and Music
  • Straight Life: The Story Of Art Pepper
  • A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album
  • Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn
  • Miles: The Autobiography
  • Improvisation: Its Nature And Practice In Music
  • Blues People: Negro Music in White America
  • I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone
  • The History of Jazz
  • Innocent When You Dream: The Tom Waits Reader
  • Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta
  • Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds
  • Searching for Robert Johnson: The Life and Legend of the "King of the Delta Blues Singers"
  • Divided Soul: The Life Of Marvin Gaye
Charles Mingus - More Than a Fake Book Epitaph (Complete - Full Score) Charles Mingus: Easy Piano Solos Passions of a Man, Charles Mingus: The Complete Atlantic Recordings, 1956-1961 Thirteen Pictures: Charles Mingus Anthology

Share This Book

“So he must use what time he has creating now for the future and utilize the past only to help the future, not as a razor strop for guilts and fears that inhibit his very being. Or like it said at the end of a labor song I liked a lot when I was a kid: what I mean is, take it easy, but take it.” 0 likes
More quotes…