The bassist plays classical and jazz music and studies the brain
Isaac Mingus originally wanted to follow his father and study the clarinet as a child. But his director of the Pine View Orchestra told him that with a name like Mingus – as in the great jazz Charlie Mingus – he had only to take the double bass.
That’s why audiences can now see the 23-year-old perform for singer Carole J. Bufford in Florida Studio Theater’s cabaret show “Vintage POP!” or listen to him (when the live music returns) perform with the Venice Symphony Orchestra and other orchestras.
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Pine View director Christopher Mink “taught me for free for six years out of the goodness of my heart, so I owe all the skills I have to public education entirely,” Mingus said in a recent Zoom chat.
The young student and musician is much more than an instrument or a cabaret show could indicate. He picked up the cello — or little bass, as he calls it — when he showed up at State College of Florida and found there were nine basses but only two cellos. He brings his cello with him to certain services and programs at Siesta Key Chapel, where he is acting music director.
He also plays jazz with other musicians in the state and performs as a contract player with The Venice Symphony, and as a freelancer or substitute with the Ocala Symphony, Space Coast Symphony and others. In 2015, he was part of a trio with jazz legend Dick Hyman at the world premiere of Hyman’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Venice Symphony Orchestra.
“I missed a call during the pandemic with the Florida Orchestra, which I really regret, and hope to work with them at some point,” he said.
Mingus is involved in a chamber band at New College and he sometimes has to work switching between cello and bass, which requires adjustments in his bow and other techniques.
He’s doing all of these things alongside his workload as a full-time student at New College of Florida, where he’s embarking on a career path that sounds far removed from music.
He plans to become a clinical neuropsychologist, a physician who focuses on the relationship between the physical brain and behavior.
“The best way to describe it is to say you’re studying the dysfunction,” he said. “I want to help people, fill a niche. There is a shortage of neuropsychologists and they are going to become invaluable and even rarer, and I want to fill that gap.
He said music will always be a part of his life, but it “will be a vocation, a paid hobby”. And he finds a way to connect music to his scientific studies.
His thesis will “probably encircle whether there are salient differences in cortical activity between monophonic instrumentalists, such as trumpeters and clarinetists, and polyphonic instrumentalists, such as guitarists and pianists.” He said he hoped to find a way that could help patients heal their memory.
On monophonic instruments, musicians can only play one tone at a time, unlike on a piano or guitar, where multiple notes can be played simultaneously.
“Music therapy is a proven intervention in the care of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.
As if his studies weren’t demanding enough, he also took lessons in Chinese, which he describes as a “very musical language. It’s one of the most widely spoken languages in the world and I thought it would be beneficial to understand at least some of it, if I can,” he said. “I discovered that it’s very musical, even if it’s difficult to learn, especially for someone who has only touched Latin or Romance languages.
All of this is part of a “mesh of cultures” that fascinates him. “There’s a lot of music to learn from East Asian cultures that we don’t bring more. There’s more research to do once I understand Mandarin.
The challenges are nothing new for Mingus, who dropped out of high school after his father died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“It was a tough time and I couldn’t keep up with the rigor of school,” he said. He earned a GED in 2014 which allowed him to start college.
As a freshman in high school, he was on the rowing team.
“I have a weird quote from that year. They named me Student Athlete of the Week or something and before I rowed I said I preferred the solitary life with cats. I don’t know what that means.
For tickets to “Vintage POP!” at the Florida Studio Theater, call 941-366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.
Jay Handelman, arts editor and theater critic, has been an editor and writer at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune since 1984. Read more of his arts and entertainment stories. And please support local journalism by subscribing to the Herald-Tribune.