"Gerry Mulligan, whose career spanned five decades, worked gracefully in many styles and with many artists, defying the categories that so often narrow our vision of a creative spirit.
"Gerry Mulligan would not, could not, be categorized, and he flourished through changing times, in many cultures, and with many musical voices ranging from the baritone saxophone that was his principal instrument, to the full orchestra."
- James H. Billington
in opening remarks at the inauguration of the Gerry Mulligan Library of Congress Exhibition,
April 6, 1999
in opening remarks at the inauguration of the Gerry Mulligan Library of Congress Exhibition,
© - Steven A. Cerra: copyright protected, all rights reserved.
Did I mention that I like listening to Gerry Mulligan’s music?
At times, I think of his music as something of a throwback. It reminds me of an earlier time in Jazz when the principal point of the whole thing was making music that was fun to play and fun to listen to.
While there are highlights in abundance from Gerry Mulligan’s later musical career, the small combo recordings that he made with various groups during the decade of the 1950s hold a special place in modern Jazz lore. The reasons for this have as much to do with serendipity as they are to do with Mulligan’s talent, highly developed musical skills, and dogged determination to succeed in Jazz on his own terms.
To put a slightly different spin on the well-known adage – “I’d rather be lucky than good” – in Mulligan’s case, this became – I’d rather be lucky and good - which he was, hence luck and competence became the main reasons for his enduring success.
As has already been demonstrated in Part 1 with the review of his accomplishments before coming to
in 1952, Gerry Mulligan was a very proficient composer-arranger. While he would continue to refine these music writing skills, during the decade of the 1950's, he also became one of the premier baritone saxophonists in Jazz. California
As Larry Bunker, who replaced Chico Hamilton on drums, with the original Gerry Mulligan Quartet from January – June, 1953 recalls:
“Gerry was enormously knowledgeable and skilled in harmonic structure and chord changes - all of that. He could solo in a very linear fashion as well, but he may have wanted to play in a more vertical way because we didn't have a piano. He played the piano sometimes himself, and although he wasn't a great pianist, he knew what he wanted to do on the instrument. On baritone he was amazing, but sometimes it was a little hard to play with him, especially on a double-time thing where he would blow so many notes that he would get behind the time. I would be scuffling along, trying to drag him with me, but that was because of that big, awkward horn he was playing. Unlike an alto or tenor, it takes a long time for the air to get through. I have great respect for him both as a writer and a player.
I remember he did something really wild when we recorded those tentet things. We rehearsed one of the pieces, and after we made a take on it, we listened to the playback. Gerry flopped down on the floor in the middle of the studio, concentrating in a really dramatic, Christ-like pose, with his arms outstretched and his eyes closed. When the recording was finished, he got up off the floor and said, "O.K., guys -pencils." He then proceeded to dictate a new road map for the chart, which completely rearranged it, and when he counted us in, it was like a brand new piece of music. His writing had a magical quality, and he probably influenced both Bill Holman and Bob Brookmeyer, because he was a fantastic arranger.” [As recounted to
Gordon Jack, Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective, : Scarecrow Press, 2004, p. 149]. Lanham, MD
As to the serendipity-in- combination-with-skill part of the-Mulligan-equation-for-success-in-Jazz,
Ted Gioia offers these observations:
"Certainly Mulligan had hardly been in
long enough to get a suntan when he teamed with Baker to form one of the most creative combos ever to grace a California bandstand. This was an unlikely turn of events for the pair. Only a short while before, Baker had been laboring in obscurity with a local Dixieland band at Sea] Beach-the leader had hired him because Baker's playing reminded him of Bix Beiderbecke. Los Angeles
Mulligan’s profile was so low that he had traveled to
by hitchhiking, rather than purchase costly train or plane tickets. But now this duo was poised to legitimize and publicize West Coast jazz to a greater extent than anyone had done before. The Mulligan Quartet's distinctive approach-open, clean, smooth, lyrical with a dose of the cerebral-would come, for many, to define the West Coast sound. … California
…, the public image of the Mulligan-Baker quartet was that of a well-oiled machine. There was no wasted energy or empty emoting in their music. Each note struck the mark. Seldom had a jazz combo played more effectively together. And not since the days of Jelly Roll Morton had a band shown such a knack for creating a collective sound, a perfectly balanced give-and-take between all members.
The simplest ingredients underscored this success: active listening; an acute sensitivity to instrumental textures; a studied avoidance of the easy licks and empty clichés of bop and swing; in their place, fresh, uncluttered lines, cleanly played. Above all, the band overcame the jazz musician's greatest fear: the fear of silence.
Emerging on the scene during the sturm und drang of the bop era-a time when musicians seemed to be paid piece rate by the note-these players clearly served a different muse, judiciously balancing sound and quiet, happily understanding the poet's dictum about the sweetness of unheard melodies."[insert notes, from West Coast Classics - Gerry Mulligan: The Original Quartet with Chet Baker, Pacific Jazz, CDP 94407, paragraphing modified].
Michale Cuscuna comments as taken from the insert notes to The Best of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker [Pacific Jazz CDP 95481] may help to put all that happen on that magic carpet ride that was the 1952-53 Gerry Mulligan Quartet featuring Chet Baker in a more temporal context:
“It seems hard to imagine that such an influential group, still revered in nostalgic and historic circles, lasted a mere 11 months.
Through their appearances at The Haig and their singles for Pacific jazz (the first of which was recorded in August of'52), the group developed an ever-spreading and deserved following.
The interplay between Mulligan and Baker was empathetic and uncanny. Freed of the piano's conventional role and its domination in the scheme of arranging, the group developed ingenious charts which emphasized melodic elements over the harmonic and encouraged interplay among the horns and freer thought in solo flights.
The limitation of two voices (and sometimes a third with the bass) seemed to ignite Mulligan's already, fertile mind. Whether remodeling a standard or introducing an original, Mulligan stretched his limits and came upon a sound that was not only new and stimulating, but also incredibly fascinating and accessible to the general public.
Four months after their first recordings for a then eight-week-old label, they were stars beyond the jazz world with full page features in magazines like Time and choice engagements around the country. Through records, their popularity spread with immediacy into
and England Europe.
Thanks to Dick Bock, a healthy slice of that innovative and Popular quartet's life was documented.” [paragraphing modified]
Ironically, as the Los Angeles Jazz scene was growing and expanding during the decade of the 1950s, Gerry Mulligan, one of the main causes for this growth, was returning to the East Coast where we pick up the story of more of the development of his various groups through these excerpts from bassist
Bill Crow’s From Birdland to Broadway: Scenes from a Jazz Life [New York: Oxford University Press, 1992] Should you like to order a copy of Bill’s work, you can do so by Going Here.
As has been pointed out on a number of previous occasions, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles makes a concerted effort to feature great writers on the subject of Jazz and
Bill Crow is one of the best of these practitioners. His musings are always filled with anecdotes, asides and reminiscences that provide additional human dimensions to the subject at hand, in this case, his time with Gerry.
© - Copyright protected; used with permission; all rights reserved.
“Stan Getz’s quintet broke up in
not long after I left him. Bob Brookmeyer stayed in Los Angeles for a while, sometimes playing with Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan, who had both moved out there. Bob eventually became a regular member of Gerry’s Quartet. The, on one job, Gerry added Zoot and Jon Eardley, and the Gerry Mulligan Sextet was born. California
Gerry, Zoot, and Brookmeyer moved back to New York, and Gerry formed a new sextet with ldrees Sulieman on trumpet. Through Idrees' recommendation, Peck Morrison became the bass player, and Peck brought in
Dave Bailey as the drummer. Idrees never recorded with the sextet; when he left in 1955, Jon Eardley came east and took his place.
That winter, Peck left the group and Gerry asked me to replace him. I was happy with Marian's trio, but I loved Gerry's music, and I couldn't turn down the chance to play regularly with Zoot and Bob. I gave Marian my notice and began rehearsing with Gerry in December 1955. The sextet, like Gerry's quartet, used no piano, even though he and Brookmeyer both played that instrument. Gerry built his arrangements for the four horns on just the bass line and the drums.
Marian's lovely harmonic sense and her penchant for playing tunes in unusual keys had drawn me into improving my playing technique, and she had given me room to develop as a soloist. But as soon as I joined Gerry's group I discovered I was in technical trouble. The fingering system I had invented for myself worked fine in the lower register of the bass, but I hadn't figured out how to be accurate in the upper register. I could play high notes if I worked my way up to them, but I couldn't be sure I had my finger on exactly the right spot on the fingerboard if I had to begin a passage on a high note.
I found some of Gerry's bass parts hard to play. I made pencil marks on my fingerboard to help me find troublesome notes, but I saw that it was time that I learned some of the things that other bass players seemed to know. The only time I'd ever heard anyone mention a bass teacher was when Marian's trio had played on a CBS radio show; staff bassist Trigger Alpert had told me that he was studying with Fred Zimmerman. I called Trigger and got Fred's number.
I couldn't have found a better teacher. Fred, the principal bassist with the New York Philharmonic at the time, taught with skill and imagination. At my first lesson I explained that I was self-taught and didn't know the right way to do anything. Fred said, "So, we'll just start you at the very beginning, as if you'd never played before. That way, we won't miss anything, and when we come to things you already know, it will go quickly."
It was discouraging to discover how much I didn't know. For the next several years, I took lessons from Fred whenever I was in
. He showed me the standard fingering system and encouraged me in my struggle with bow control. His empathy and interest were most helpful. New York
"I studied with a man who used to hit my hands with a stick when I made a mistake," Fred told me. "I swore then that if I ever became a teacher I would never add any pain to the learning process. The physical problems of playing the bass are already painful enough."
I would always go early for my lesson. Fred's apartment on
West Fifty-fifth Street was filled with art treasures that I loved looking at. He had a collection of pre-Colombian gold weights, delightful little figurines. On his walls were Pechsteins, Kirschners, Klees, and several of Fred's own oils. His bookshelves were filled with what looked like a complete collection of the Skira art reproduction books.
When I made progress with the bass, Fred was always enthusiastic. Once he ran into the kitchen, got his wife, and had me replay a passage for her. Fred said, "Isn't that beautiful? And he isn't even serious about music!"
Fred may have felt that a vocation in jazz was frivolous, but he was open-minded. One day he had me play a few bars of dotted eighth notes he had copied out. I think it was from a Hindemith piece the Philharmonic was rehearsing. It looked like a swing figure to me, so I phrased it that way. Fred said, "That's not the way it's written."
"No, but that's the way any jazz musician would play it. We play most things that are written in four-four as if they were written in twelve-eight. It's swing phrasing."
"Aha!" said Fred. "I knew the way we were playing it sounded corny, but I didn't know why."
Fred told me excitedly one day that Charles Mingus had called him to do a record date with him. He knew Mingus' reputation as an innovator in jazz, and was eager to play his music. When I saw him the following week, I asked him how the recording had gone.
"It was a fiasco!" said Fred angrily. "Everything on my part was written at the very top of the range of the bass! It was almost impossible to play, and it sounded ridiculous. I told Mr. Mingus if he wanted to write cello parts, he should have hired a cello player! He kept saying it sounded fine. I was never so uncomfortable in my life!"
My first work with Mulligan's sextet was in nightclubs around the Northeast. We squeezed in a record date in January 1956 for a Mercury album that Gerry had begun while Peck Morrison was with him. Then in February we began a European tour. The promoter brought us to
on the Andrea Doria, the beautiful ship of the Italian Lines that sank the following year after a collision with a freighter. Gerry's Italy
wife, Arlene, came with us as our road manager, and Brookmeyer brought his wife, Phyllis. We rehearsed a couple of times on the ship, but I spent most of the trip playing ping-pong on deck with Zoot.
We played concerts in
, Naples , Rome , Milan , and Genoa . It was Gerry's first European tour, and we were made very welcome. At a restaurant in Bologna our local guides said we should ask for a special Bolognese delicacy called "pompini." The waitress blushed deeply when we asked for some, and we realized we had been set up. "Pompini" turned out to be a local slang word for oral sex. Bologna
concert we were taken to a restaurant to meet the members of the local jazz club. We were each seated in a separate booth with several young Italians who were doing their best to discuss jazz with us in English. A commotion broke out at the bar, and the fans I was sitting with hurried me outside. They said some Communist students were trying to create a disturbance, and we would be safer out in the street. Bologna
I searched the throng that had rushed out of the restaurant with us, but I couldn't locate any of the rest of the sextet, or the Italian promoters who had brought us on the train to
from Bologna . just as I was wondering how I would get back to Milan if I couldn't find them, a young man stepped over to me and said, "Say, man, didn't I meet you in New Jersey at a jam session with Phil Urso?" Milan
He was an American exchange student and a jazz musician. He helped me find the rest of my party, who had gone out a different exit onto a side street.
When we arrived to play at one Italian opera house, we saw a huge banner hanging across the front of the building that read:
"Stasera, il sestetto GERRY MULLIGAN, con ARLENE MULLIGAN, ROBERT BROOKMEYER, PHYLLIS BROOKMEYER, WILLIAM 0. CROW, e SAMMY DAVIS, JR."
Someone had evidently taken the names from our official papers. They had transformed
Dave Bailey into Sammy Davis, Jr., by misreading Dave's full name: Samuel David Bailey, Jr.
Since Zoot's name had been omitted, he kept trying to hand his tenor to Arlene as we went on stage.
"You're the one they came to see," he said.
As we sat in a backstage greenroom during intermission, an Italian jazz fan who had begged or bribed his way past the house security men appeared with record albums for Gerry and Zoot to sign. He said to Jon, "And you are Jon Eardley, from
, whose father played trumpet with Paul Whiteman and Isham Jones and now works for a finance company?" Jon looked stunned. Altoona, Pennsylvania
"Man, nobody knows that!"
I was thrilled about visiting
, and I wanted to see everything. I got up at dawn every day and, armed with my Berlitz phrase book and a camera, walked all over every city we visited. When I returned to play the concert each evening, I'd report on the day's discoveries to the rest of the group. Zoot usually didn't venture too far from the hotel, but he seemed interested in hearing about what was out there. On the way to our first concert in Italy , Zoot saw something he liked in the window of a shoe store as we drove by. He asked me, "Do you know how to get back here?" Milan
I did, and offered to accompany him the following day. I was a little surprised that Zoot was taking an interest in Italian shoes; he usually wore casual clothes: corduroy trousers, sweaters, and sneakers.
The next morning, when I tapped at his door, I found Zoot dressed and ready to go. We walked back to the neighborhood where he had seen the shoes he wanted. They turned out to be heavy brown canvas hiking shoes with thick rubber soles and high tops that laced up with hook eyelets. When Zoot tried on a pair his eyes lit up with pleasure.
"Yeah! These are my shoes!"
He wore them constantly for the rest of the trip.
When our Italian concerts were finished, the promoters put us on a stiffly sprung little Mercedes-Benz bus with seats as hard and straight as church pews. We slowly chugged across the French border and up to
via some very narrow roads. The ride was bumpy, but the scenery was great. Paris
, we were installed in a pension near the stage entrance to the Olympia Theater, where we were to appear for a three-week run as one of the acts on a variety bill. The show opened with jugglers and comedians. We went on just before the Nicholas Brothers, Fayard and Harold, who closed the first half of the show with their famous tap dancing routine. After an intermission there was a dog act, a dancing violin duo, another comedian, and then the headliner, Jacqueline Fran4;ois, the popular French Canadian singer. Paris
When our turn came, the pretty young lady who was the emcee would step in front of the curtain and announce, "Et maintenant, Zhe-REE MOOli-GAHN et son sextette!"
The curtains would part and we would play about three tunes, and that was it for that show. With only two or three short appearances scheduled every day and all of
to explore in our spare time, it was inevitable that sometimes, when the curtain opened, someone would be missing. Jon slept through the first show one day, and on another afternoon Zoot stood at the stage door chatting with a friend for so long that our part of the show was over by the time he finally came inside the theater. The emcee would announce, "Et maintenant, ZheREE M00li-GAHN et son . . ." and then she would pause, peer behind the curtain and count heads, and then continue, son sextette!" or. . . quartette!" or whatever the number was at the moment. A lecture from Gerry brought us back up to full strength for the remaining shows. Paris
The musicians in
made us very welcome. Henri Renaud and his wife Ny introduced us to many of them, and Henri took us to jazz clubs on the Left Bank where we could sit in after our last show. Zoot and Paris Dave and I were jamming one night with Henri and some other musicians in a Left Bank sub-basement. Zoot's admirers had been toasting him liberally, and he was feeling no pain. He was too stoned to stand up, but he still felt like dancing, Slumped in his chair, eyes closed, he blew energetically into his tenor, playing chorus after chorus of his own special brand of whoopee.
On the last couple of choruses Zoot gave up trying to articulate anything intricate. He just swung the same simple riff harder and harder. He finally surrendered to exhaustion and relinquished the tune to the next soloist. Falling back in his chair, he looked over his shoulder and gave me a snaggle-toothed grin.
"You know," he said, "you can have a lot of fun with these musical instruments!" [pp. 133-38]
“In July 1958 1 got a call from Gerry Mulligan to rejoin his quartet. Joe Benjamin had replaced me when I left, and then Henry Grimes had replaced him. Now Henry was leaving to go with Sonny Rollins.
Dave Bailey was still Gerry's drummer, and Art Farmer had just joined him on trumpet. I liked Art and admired his playing tremendously. We just had time for one rehearsal before our first appearance at . Newport
That was the year Bert Stern and Al Avakian came to film the
jazz Festival. They got good shots of the performers on stage, but after the sun went down, they couldn't photograph the audience in the dark. Newport
While editing the film, Al found a problem with the lack of close-ups of the nighttime audience's reaction to the music. He solved it by throwing a party in
, at which he showed rough footage of the movie. He filmed the reactions of the partygoers as they watched, and intercut those close-ups with the footage from New York . Aileen and several of our friends who weren't at the festival attended that party and can be seen in the audience shots of the movie, Jazz on a Summer's Day…. Newport
On our first afternoon at
that year, Newport Dave Bailey and I were sitting by the swimming pool at the Viking Hotel when Sonny Rollins arrived. Sonny was in bathing trunks and sandals, but he kept a white sailor hat pulled down around his ears all afternoon. The reason became evident at the concert that night. He came on stage with his trio (Roy Haynes and Henry Grimes) to reveal for the first time that he had shaved his hair into a Mohawk war-lock. He kept that hairstyle for quite a while.
A couple of years later, when
Dave and I were playing at the Half Note with Bob Brookmeyer and Clark Terry, Rollins walked in and sat down at the bar. He was wearing a complete working cowboy's outfit: faded jeans, Levi jacket, sweat-stained Stetson hat, and cowboy boots. With a twinkle in his eye, Dave leaned over to me and whispered, "I guess Sonny found out that the Indians didn't win."
Mulligan had been thinking about band uniforms for the quartet. When Brookmeyer had been with us, we wore sport jackets from the
Shop in Andover . For the new group, Gerry sent us to Breidbart's on Boston Sixth Avenue, a men's store favored by stylish dancers like Geoffrey Holder and Sammy Davis, Jr. The gray suits we bought there were sharp, but proved to be too warm for outdoor summer concerts. Gerry decided we needed something lighter and less formal. He took us back to Breidbart's and chose some royal blue linen trousers and short-sleeved gingham shirts with half-inch vertical red and white stripes. He added a touch of formality with black shoestring ties.
"Will you look at these fools!" he cried, walking all around us to get a better view. He told
Dave and Art, "You better not turn your backs when you get out on stage. You'll freak those little girls in the audience. You cats got some buns back there!"
I think Art and
Dave were glad when the summer season ended, and we went back to wearing our gray suits. ...
Though it had been years since Gerry and Chet Baker had worked together, many fans of Gerry's early quartet records still expected to see Chet when they came to hear us. While we were playing at Storyville in
, two college boys came up to the bandstand. One of them asked Art Farmer for his autograph and Art obliged, but when the guy read his signature, he said, "Oh, aren't you Chet Baker?" Boston
He started to rip up the slip of paper.
"Don't tear it up!" exclaimed his friend, "He may be somebody too, someday!"
In late 1958, we began recording an album for
Records. Gerry complained that he couldn't write anything at home because the telephone and the doorbell were always ringing. I gave him the key to my Columbia Cornelia Street apartment and told him, "There's a piano there, and nobody will bother you. I'll be over at Aileen's place tonight. Go write something."
He did, and came to the last session with a lovely treatment of "What Is There to Say?" which became the title song of the album. Gerry had asked the rest of us to bring in tunes, so Art and I each wrote one. Art's was an untitled blues. Since
had been our first job together, Gerry suggested the title "Blueport." Newport
Art had told me that "Buckethead" had been his childhood nickname, so I wrote that at the top of my tune, another blues, in three quarter time. When Art looked at the trumpet part I handed him, he laughed and said, "Oh, no, please don't call it that!"
"How about 'News from Blueport?'" Gerry offered- a spoonerism on "Blues from
." That became the title. The liner notes erroneously listed Gerry as the composer of both tunes, but Art and I receive the royalties. ... [pp. 164-167]. Newport
“… [In late spring, 1960], I got a call from Gerry Mulligan. He had put together a big band and taken it to
Europe for a three week tour. After the tour, two of the three West Coast members of the band, Conte Candoli and Buddy Clark, had gone home to . The third, Mel Lewis, decided to stay in California . Clark Terry was taking Conte's chair, and Gerry asked me to replace Buddy, starting the following Tuesday night at the Village Vanguard. I sent in a sub to finish out New York , and took my bass over to the Vanguard to rehearse. Greenwich Village, U.S.A.
To make it clear that we weren't a dance band, Gerry called us the Concert jazz Band, and put together a book of arrangements designed primarily for listening. It was a great band: Gene Quill, Bobby Donovan, Jim Reider, and Gene Allen in the reed section; Willie Dennis, Bob Brookmeyer, and
Alan Raph on trombones; Nick Travis, Don Ferrara, and Clark on trumpets, and Mel on drums.
The money Gerry had earned in the movies had made it possible for him to pay for arrangements and equipment to get the band started. By the time Clark and I joined, Norman Granz had become involved as a backer. I'm not sure what sort of deal he and Gerry had made, but with Granz's support, it looked like we would be working steady for a while. The music was first-class, and we were all excited at the prospect. Our esprit de corps was very high; nobody sent in subs unless they were dying.
Besides having good soloists, one of that band's assets was having a good riff-maker in each section: Gerry, Clark, and Bob. On most arrangements, we didn't go to the next written section after someone's solo unless Gerry gave the signal. Gerry would improvise a background riff on a soloist's second or third chorus and the reeds would join him, in unison or in harmony. Bob or Clark would make up counter-riffs in the brass section, and soon we'd have developed something strong and new to lead into the next written section.
Gerry's music library included arrangements by Bill Holman, John Mandel, Brookmeyer, Al Cohn, Thad Jones, and Wayne Shorter, as well as his own charts. Gary McFarland, new in town, showed up at a rehearsal one day with a couple of compositions that had a strong flavor of Duke Ellington's writing. Gerry made a number of excisions and repositionings to make them more Mulliganesque.
saw what Gerry wanted and came in with several new pieces that were just right. We recorded them all. Gary 's exposure with our band launched him into a successful arranging career in Gary . New York
Gerry did another kind of editing when Al Cohn brought in an original he had titled "Mother's Day." Gerry retitled it "Lady Chatterley's Mother." After rehearsing it a couple of times, Gerry said, "Al, it's a wonderful chart, but I wish there was more of it. It just gets rolling and it's over. Could you add a few more choruses?"
Al nodded and gathered up the parts, and at the next rehearsal he passed them out again. The ending had been turned into a lead-in to another solo chorus for Gerry, and then Al's great shout chorus began. The first time we played it, the whole band cheered. If Gerry hadn't asked for more, we'd have had a good Al Cohn chart, but without that wonderful climax.
One Sunday afternoon at the Vanguard, Nick Travis brought in a movie projector, set it up in the kitchen, and showed us a reel of 8mm film that he had taken on the band's tour of
Europe. Zoot had gone along as guest soloist. While the musicians were waiting on a railroad platform somewhere in , Nick had started his camera rolling, and Zoot and Gerry had begun to do a soft-shoe dance. Zoot's dad was a vaudeville hoofer and had taught his sons the steps. As soon as Gerry realized that Zoot really knew how to dance, he stepped aside and let Zoot go by himself. Germany
While Zoot continued a lovely, funny solo dance, the camera also recorded the approach behind him of a stolid German couple wearing very stern expressions. As they loomed directly behind Zoot, he did a spin that brought him face to face with them. Zoot registered their disapproving looks for a split second and then simply continued his spin for another quarter turn and stopped, facing Gerry, where he managed to look as if he'd been standing there talking all the while. Chaplin couldn't have done it better.
After a weekend in
, concerts at Freedomland in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida Bronx, a week at Birdland, and another week at the Vanguard, Gerry broke the sad news. He and Norman Granz had terminated their business arrangement. When sold his record label, Verve, to MGM Records, Gerry's recording contract, along with all the other Verve artists', was part of the deal. With no more Granz-sponsored European tours for the band, Gerry couldn't afford to keep us together. He had only one concert in Norman booked for the rest of the summer. He canceled that engagement, broke up the band, and told us he'd call us if he found anything in the fall. Boston
The band re-formed now and then during the next three years for record dates and an occasional week at Birdland, but the spirit wasn't the same. We weren't the family we had been; we had lost the continuity and the feeling of commitment. Gigs with the Concert jazz Band were still fun, but the band wasn't the center of our lives any more.
Gerry continued to work with his quartet: Brookmeyer, Mel Lewis, and me. We appeared on Mike Wallace's television show during the time that Wallace was in the process of building a reputation as an investigative reporter. Wallace's TV interviews were popular partly because of his prosecutorial style.
At the rehearsal Wallace was courteous and low-key. He asked questions that had been prepared by his staff, and Gerry answered frankly about his career, his experiences with drugs and the law, and other aspects of his life. On the air, Wallace's tone became more contentious, and instead of asking the questions he had asked at rehearsal, he said accusingly, "I understand that you were involved with drugs, and did some time because of it!"
This left Gerry with little more to say than "yes." Though Wallace was using the information Gerry had given him at the rehearsal, he gave his audience the impression that he was confronting Gerry with the results of his own private investigations. Gerry managed to field Wallace's questions with his usual aplomb, but he found himself at a loss when Wallace asked him, "I notice there are no black musicians in your group. Is this accidental, or by design?"
Actually, it was the first time in many years that, by happenstance, there were no black musicians in Gerry's quartet, but any short answer to that question would have sounded lame. As Gerry considered how best to respond, Bob Brookmeyer glared at Wallace, jerked a thumb at Mel Lewis, and said frostily, "We've got a Jewish drummer. Will that help?"
Wallace dropped the subject.” [pp. 182-184]
To my mind, the Concert Jazz Band [CJB] has to rank as one of Gerry Mulligan’s very special musical achievements – right up there with the 1952 quartet with Chet Baker - and, as such, the CJB will be covered in greater detail in
Gene Lees’ essay on Gerry which features in Part 4.
Bill Crow explained and Gary Giddins underscores in the following quotation, the focus of the Concert Jazz Band was its music:
“A purely musical big band-no dancers, no singers, no hits, no nostalgia-was a risky proposition, despite a large and growing number of innovative jazz composers, among them Gil Evans, George Russell, Thad Jones, Bill Holman, Chico O'Farrill, Ernie Wilkins, Frank Foster, Manny Albam, Bob Brookmeyer, Neal Hefti, Johnny Mandel, Gerald Wilson, Oliver Nelson, Gary McFarland, and Mulligan himself. If anyone could make a go of organizing such an orchestra, Mulligan was the man. A bona fide jazz star steeped in big bands since his teens, he had the autocratic temperament to enforce discipline in the ranks and the easygoing charm to allay suspicion in the audience. He also had, at least in the beginning, the financial backing of Norman Granz and Verve Records. In case anyone doubted his intentions, Mulligan called his ensemble the Concert jazz Band. It debuted to critical acclaim in 1960 and lasted long enough to issue five recordings and spur a big band restoration.” [Visions of Jazz: The First Century,
: New York , 1998, p. 361]. Oxford
As to how he wanted the band to sound and why, Gerry offer the following explanation to Burt Korall in a magazine interview which Dom Ceruli included in his CD insert notes to Gerry Mulligan Presents A Concert in Jazz [Verve 2332; Japanese Verve POCJ 2686]:
"The band is the product of seven years of thinking and trying," he said "Typical instrumentation - seven brass, five reads. four rhythm - didn't work out; the sound was too heavy and full. The flexibility I had been so happy with in the small band was missing. We finally came up with our current set up six brass, five reeds, drums, and bass which allows for variety of tone color, and the flexibility and clarity of a small band.
We actually consider the brass as five brass - three trumpets and two trombones and a bass trombone. Five is a lighter feeling section for ensemble sound. And the reeds actually break down to an ensemble of a clarinet, alto sax, tenor, and baritone."
Gerry went of to say of this third LP by the CJB:
“We wanted this to be more a writer's album than what we had done before. The first album was cut in the studio with staples out of our book. It wasn't particularly concert material The second album was of the band in person, with the feeling you get at a live date. Here we have concert material, some of it pretty extended, and we have a band playing it that is a band rather than a good gathering of musicians.
I think that this band feels so much like a band now that we can play pieces like these for ourselves and feel how they would build for an audience"
And Dom Cerulli offered this excellent description of the textual qualities that Gerry was looking for when he organized the CJB when he offered this concluding statement to his notes:
“More than anything, this album proves that the band has achieved that lightness and flexibility so valued by Gerry, and that it has arrived at the point where it can tackle intricate and extended works without sacrificing the sensitive qualities which have been the hallmark of Mulligan 's style over the years.”
Throughout a career that spanned 50 years, the Concert Jazz Band may have been the ultimate stylistic expression of Gerry Mulligan and his music.
To be continued in Part 3 with Nat Hentoff.