Bassist and composer Charles Mingus was quite literally a larger-than-life figure in jazz, a hulking physical presence whose personality and musical influence were also outsized. Born in Arizona and raised in the Watts section of Los Angeles, Mingus absorbed a variety of music as a youth, both from church and formal training. Inspired by an early love of Duke Ellington he studied trombone and cello, then took double bass lessons under Herman Reinshagen, principal bassist of the New York Philharmonic. Mingus began composing as a teenager and became established as a bass prodigy, soon touring with some of the leading jazz artists of the day: Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton and Kid Ory. He moved to New York in 1952 and briefly joined Ellington's band the following year (Legend has it that Mingus was the only musician Ellington ever fired). He also performed around this time with saxophonist Charlie Parker. Strong-minded from the start, Mingus aimed to take control of his own recordings. He and drummer Max Roach started their own label, Debut, which released a number of significant bebop sessions-among them a live recording from Toronto's Massey Hall that featured Mingus, Roach, Bud Powell, Parker and Dizzy Gillespie (the latter two playing together for the final time). He also started a flexible group known as the Jazz Workshop, demanding that its members be skilled in challenging, free-form improvisations. Mingus also became known for his sometimes-explosive temper, with occasional verbal outbursts during shows and physical ones backstage. The 1958 album Pithecanthropus Erectus, whose music bridged bebop with the avant-garde, ushered in Mingus' brightest creative period; in the next ten years he would make more than two dozen albums. Highlights from this era include 1959's Mingus Ah Um (which introduced the well-known "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," an elegy for Lester Young), 1960's Blues & Roots, and 1962's The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. The latter, a six-part suite, is seen as Mingus' masterpiece-a work of shifting moods and textures meant to depict the composer's own psyche. His psychiatrist wrote the liner notes. By the late 1960s Mingus was working at a slower pace, but was still quite productive. In 1971 he published his autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, and taught composition at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The next year saw his collaboration with New York's Joffrey Ballet on The Mingus Dances. 1974-75 brought two of his last major works, Changes One and Changes Two, both with strong political subtexts (The first album's opener, "Remember Rockefeller at Attica," condemns the governor's reaction to the prison riots). After Mingus became ill with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis he worked on an album with Joni Mitchell, contributing his final three new pieces. Mitchell's Mingus was released in 1979, the year of his death.