By Kevin Zimmerman
Eric Mingus: A Musical Heir Charts His Own Course
Trying to pigeonhole Eric Mingus isn't easy.
A composer practically from birth with an eclectic musical repertoire covering blues, rock and jazz, Mingus is primarily a stand-up bassist as a performer but also prides himself on his woodworking, carpentry, and cooking. The music he creates, as evidenced on his three albums as leader to date, ranges from Hendrixian rock to bluesy stylings though there's no disputing the influences indicated by his jazz legend father, Charles Mingus.
"I was brought up at a time when you didn't worry about defining who you are," he says. "That was always the record company's job. In Europe, my first album was released as a 'jazz' record, which basically led to its being dismissed. Even when I'm playing in Elliott Sharp's Terraplane, which is usually called 'avant-blues,' it's too far out for the blues crowd and too far in for the avant-garde."
Mingus recently stole the Oct. 4 Carnegie Hall show benefiting anti-AIDS organization (Red) from the likes of U2, Rufus Wainwright, and Lou Reed, not to mention the event's organizer, Gavin Friday.
Then there's the matter of re-releasing his three albums on his own Clockwork Mercury label this year, plus the occasional gig scoring sports documentaries for television. All while touring his unique brand of music.
As a young man continuing to explore music's possibilities, it was natural that he'd try bass. "A lot of people were horrified," he recalls, "telling me things like, 'Do you know how good you're going to have to be?' But I'm not claiming to be the bassist that [Charles] was - and he couldn't sing as well as I do either!" he chortles.
Asked about his choice of PROs, he says, "SESAC is really there for all the smaller and independent guys, in addition to the bigger names. You're never even acknowledged at the other ones unless you start earning at a certain rate. And if you call SESAC up, they'll actually pick up the phone, or at least get back to you. What," he chuckles, "a concept!"
The Mingus name has "absolutely opened some doors for me, but on the other side, the expectations have been much higher," he says. "But my father would have been really disappointed if I'd just gone and joined the Mingus Big Band [the touring and recording ensemble that specializes in playing Charles' music]. He always felt that my true heredity was to speak my own mind."
"I didn't really have a choice about my career," he says, "but my life isn't just music. I love baking bread, I love fooling around with stuff at the house. I'm really grateful for the gift I've been given - it's allowed me to see the world - but ultimately my life is about living life."