Charles Mingus, along with Israel "Cachao" Lopez and William Parker, are my two favorite bassists of all time. Add that Mingus is one of the greatest composers to ever walk the planet and his notoriously prickly personality and you have a genuine one-of-a-kind icon of insane genius. Deeply bluesy, gospel-inspired, funky and experimental, his music brought "jazz" to a whole 'nother level. As with Duke Ellington, he wrote compositions for specific players in mind, while engaging every member of the band. His music was also deeply politicized.
Coming from Watts, he grew up poor but still learned the cello. He started writing progressive music pretty early in his career. He joined Buddy Collette's band a bassist and quickly got his chops. He played early on with Louis Armstrong, Chico Hamilton, Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo, even playing for a minute in the Ellington band before the Duke fired him. He then hooked up with Charlie Parker, one of his major influences.
In 1952 Mingus and Max Roach started one of the earliest musician-run record companies, Debut Records. While that label was short-lived (although highly influential) he recorded his music for a variety of bigger labels, including some prime '50s material on Atlantic and Columbia, as well as '60s classics on Candid and Impulse.
His bands nurtured talent and some top dudes played with Mingus, such as Eric Dolphy, Jackie McLean, Jaki Byard and his longtime drummer Dannie Richmond, who was a saxophonist before linking with Charles! Despite slowing a little bit in the '70s, due to physical ailments, he did continue to write and produce amazing music right til the end. His last album was supposed to be a collaboration with Joni Mitchell, whom Mingus commissioned, but he died during the making of it and she had to finish it without him.