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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Long after jazz legend Charles Mingus left this earth, his spirit is kept alive onstage by Sue Graham Mingus, who directs "Mingus music" ensembles such as the Mingus Dynasty. In Tonight at Noon, the widow of "jazz's angry man" provides a telling portrait of one of the most idiosyncratic, enigmatic, and significant pioneers of modern jazz.
Tonight at Noon begins in India, where Sue Graham Mingus fulfills her late husband's wish to have his ashes scattered in the Ganges. But from this tranquil image spins a story that charts a tumultuous river of contradictions. When she first met Mingus, Sue Graham was a white midwestern debutante with a staunch upbringing, a Smith College graduate and mother of two in a rapidly deteriorating marriage to an Italian sculptor. Mingus was "a man driven by art and by his appetites," a classically trained musical genius from Watts in Los Angeles with a rabid desire for musical perfection, for whom the line between reality and imagination was nearly invisible. Beginning at a New York jazz club in 1964, the story of their unlikely romance is as gripping, intense, and real as the music that plays throughout it.
Detailing the on-again, off-again relationship that ultimately led to marriage (first in an impromptu ceremony led by Allen Ginsberg, then at City Hall), Tonight at Noon traces the latter part of Mingus's life and career: his notorious onstage rants, his hirings and firings of musicians, and rare backstage glimpses of the fiery personality behind it all. We also witness his battles with insanity; his volcanic temper; his gargantuan appetites for sex, alcohol, and food; and a passionate lovingness that demonstrated the extremes dominating every aspect of his life. A rich portrait of life in New York in the late '60s, Tonight at Noon takes readers from the jazz clubs of Greenwich Village to the politically charged Lower East Side, from the dawn of psychedelics (of which Mingus did not partake) to the rise of rock, fusion, and free jazz (of which Mingus also did not approve). Throughout, the book chronicles the larger-than-life figures who were a part of the Minguses' circle, from Allen Ginsberg to Norman Mailer to Miles Davis to Duke Ellington.
Although Mingus's own autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, and Gene Santoro's Myself When I Am Real detail the life of this jazz legend, Tonight at Noon is ultimately what it claims to be: a love story, sharing the life of Mingus from within the realm of the intense polarities -- his "nonsense and his pain" -- for which he was so famous. "There were times when I wished I could have plunked down my money at the door, heard the extraordinary music, witnessed the prodigious event that was Charles, and drifted onto the street, a free woman," writes Sue Graham Mingus. But for all its trials and contradictions, Tonight at Noon follows the path of their love until Mingus's death in 1979 of Lou Gehrig's disease. Even after his death, Sue Graham Mingus has kept Charles Mingus's spirit and music brilliantly alive, playing to full houses and solidifying his place in music history -- and this book shows us why. (Elise Vogel)