Charles Mingus holding his cat
The Hidden Genius of Charles Mingus

Perhaps the inspiration to toilet train a cat is indicative of an expansive mind that was willing to experiment and take risks

Charles Mingus, the supremely talented and mercurial jazz bassist and composer, was one of the titans of his era and is widely considered one of the greatest jazz musicians ever. His layered compositions are expansive and dissonant without being discordant. He encouraged his players to improvise over a theme and explore the nooks and crannies of the tune, building off of each other and creating unpredictable pieces dense with texture. He was a true musical genius. He also published a pamphlet on how to toilet-train a housecat.

In 1954, The Charles Mingus CAT-alog For Toilet Training Your Cat became available through mail-order advertised in magazines and at his shows. It’s a step-by-step instruction manual for how to get a cat to use a human toilet, using his own cat, Nightlife, as an example. The method boils down to a few basic steps. First, place a cardboard box with newspaper on top of the toilet to get your cat used to hopping up on the bowl to do its business. You then cut a hole in the middle, small at first, gradually widening it until it approximates the shape of the bowl. The idea is to get the cat used to perching on the rim. He reports in the manual that the process took him about four weeks. He also notes that your cat may also succeed in flushing the result. Sadly, there is no instruction on achieving this consistently; that is entirely up to the cat’s whim. The entirety of the pamphlet is available here.

The pamphlet was re-published in 2021 by Topos Press, a Queens-based micro-press publishing company, reigniting interest in this oft-overlooked work, and is available for purchase in finer bookstores on both coasts. The method is not foolproof; Mingus notes dryly that “your cat [may not be] as smart as Nightlife was.” Cats, much like genius jazz musicians, are a capricious lot. It’s impossible to determine the success rate of toilet training cats, and multiple journalists have attempted to follow the Mingus Method with decidedly mixed results. There were rumors in my elementary school that our 2nd-grade teacher, Mrs. Ganz, had a toilet-trained cat, but lunchroom rumors bandied about by seven-year-olds are not to be trusted. 

What I can tell you—through independent research—is that Mingus appears to have published the first work (at least in English) detailing a way to toilet-train a cat, and all subsequent feline toilet-using techniques are either based on his research or have a methodology similar to his plan. There may not be a direct parallel between this esoteric bit of history and the towering body of music that Mingus produced, but perhaps the inspiration to toilet train a cat is indicative of an expansive mind that was willing to experiment and take risks. Teaching your cat to use a human toilet may not be a rewarding way to spend your time, but listening to Charles Mingus always is.

Adam is just a dude based in Brooklyn who enjoys thinking about music in all forms. He enjoys cooking, board games, baseball, and arranging songs for ukulele that shouldn't be played on ukulele in an extremely amateurish way. Adam is shown here at age 13 on his way to a bar mitzvah.

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