In Depth

Mingus on Mingus is the journey of a grandson through the lore and legends of jazz history to find his grandfather. It is a search behind the shadows, beyond the myth and fable, into the struggle for identity, the complexities of race, and ambitions of creative freedom within the legacy of one of the most prolific artists of our time, Charles Mingus.

This documentary leads us through a new Mingus, a Mingus made of more than the famous jazz musician “Charles Mingus.” A man whose musical vision and genius left a profound influence on many, but was unknown to his own grandson, Kevin Ellington Mingus (KEM), until his teenage years.

Like his grandfather, KEM plays the contra-bass and comes from a diverse cultural background. He is the child of Mingus’ second son but was raised by a single mother in a Jewish home without substantial contact to his father’s side of the family. He had switched to contra-bass from guitar before knowing his grandfather was a musician who played the bass as well.  Self-taught and studying classical music, his relationship with the instrument was well under way when he would come to know of his grandfather’s spectacular musical legacy.

As the grandson of one of the towering figures of 20th century jazz in the United States, KEM’s perspective as filmmaker is unique. With his collaborators, KEM explores the personal themes of Mingus as a family member along with forms of collective perception. These contrasts, through an experimental approach to storytelling, overlaying interviews, music and intimate reflections, promise to make this a vital and important project, which pays tribute to this overlooked and under-documented aspect of jazz history.

The documentary interweaves narration, interviews and music to form a cohesive vision.The narration is guided by the introspection of the director sharing his thoughts and feelings while he lives the process of approach to his grandfather’s family. Interviews of Charles Mingus’ collaborators, family members and friends help in shaping this new portrait.

Music will be layered over sequences accompanying KEM while he explores physical locations related to the Mingus family. The contra-bass, an instrument which links both generations, will steadily develop its presence, transforming into a narrative device that intensifies emotions unique to the language of music. Along with archival material from Charles Mingus, the solo bass improvisations of KEM will be partner and witness to his journey.