"… [Gene] knew the people he wrote about – Bill Evans and Gerry Mulligan, for example, were among his closet friends – and they trusted him with information that they would not share with any other writer, because they knew he would use what they said respectfully and accurately.
Among the bands I particularly liked in my late adolescence were those of Claude Thornhill, Elliot Lawrence, and Gene Krupa. Mulligan wrote for all three.
Gerry said,” I met Gil probably when I was arranging for the Krupa band. I knew about his writing before that. I used to visit Gil with Claude's band when I was working for other bands. One time I came back to
I went back to
One of the records by the Krupa band that I liked was "Disc Jockey Jump," and I had bothered to note who wrote it: Gerry Mulligan. That was probably the first time I heard his name. I would soon hear it again: in the writing and playing credits on the so-called Birth of the Cool album.
Thirty-three years later, in early 1992, Mulligan would re-create that album for the GRP label, with John Lewis again on piano but Wallace Roney replacing Miles Davis, and Phil Woods replacing Lee Konitz.
That ten-inch Mulligan LP was part of the sound-track of my life at that time. By then I knew from pictures what Mulligan looked like: a tall young man with a brush-cut and a body almost cadaverously thin.
By then Mulligan had a quartet featuring Chet Baker on trumpet, which played Monday nights at a club called the Haig. The group had made its first recording for Dick Bock’s Pacific jazz label in August of 1952, a little over four months before the tentet record. The group startled critics because it used trumpet, baritone, bass, and drums, but no piano, always considered essential to communicating the harmony of a tune. Much was made of this "odd" instrumentation. It lay not in arcane musical philosophy, however: the Haig's owner could not afford more than four men. Red Norvo had played there with only vibes, guitar, and bass. Mulligan also got along without piano.
The rapport between Baker and Mulligan was remarkable. The emphasis was on counterline, and it seemed to free both horn players for ever more imaginative flights. Michael Cuscuna wrote in the notes for a CD reissue called The Best of Gerry Mulligan with Chet Baker,
Mulligan was then 25.
So much legend has grown up around Chet Baker that his musical brilliance is often overlooked. Baker was a heroin addict: so was Mulligan. Mulligan would eventually break free of it, but Baker would not, leading a strange, bohemian, itinerant existence, hocking his horn from time to time, sometimes without clothes, sometimes even without shoes, surrounded by people who seemed fascinated by the morbidity of his existence. He got his teeth knocked out by dope-pushers for failing to pay what he owed them. He spent time in a jail in
Time ravaged Chet Baker. I encountered him only once, when he came into Jim and Andy's bar in
Whatever the cause of the death, the legend obscures the talent, and part of that legend is that he was just a natural who couldn't even read music.
Mulligan was adamant in rejecting this.
Much of the music that quartet played was Mulligan's own. Only a few leaders, among them Dave Brubeck, Horace Silver, John Lewis, and Duke Ellington, have devoted their recording careers so extensively to their own compositions. What Baker was called on to do was very complex.
Mulligan told me: "People love to say Chet couldn't read: he could read. It's not a question of whether he couldn't read chords or anything like that. it's that he didn't care. He had one of the quickest connections between mind, hand, and chops that I have ever encountered. He really played by ear, and he could play intricate progressions."
"I presume that in blowing, you're playing by ear too," I said.
"Well at my best I'm playing by ear! But I often am saddled with thinking chords, until I learn a tune. And I have to learn a tune some kind of way. And, really, my connection between my ears and my hands is not that quick. Sure, when I've got a tune firmly under hand - which is different from having it firmly in mind - I'm playing by ear. It's taken me a long time to connect up."
"You said he could do that fast?"
"Yeah. Yes. Oh yeah."
"You'd run a tune by him and he'd get it?"
"Oh yeah. And in any key. He had incredible facility. Remarkable. So it's obvious that at some point in his life, Chet Baker practiced a lot. It's all well and good to be able to do that. You're not born able to do that. You're maybe born with a facility to learn quickly. It's like Charlie Parker. Everybody thinks Charlie came along full-blown, there he was. But as a kid, he was a heavy practicer. And Chet must have been too."
In view of its importance in jazz history, it is surprising to realize that the quartet with Chet Baker lasted only a year. Mulligan was arrested on a narcotics charge and sent to a
When I joined Down Beat, I was well aware of the extent of the heroin epidemic in jazz: yet the subject was kept hushed. I did a good deal of research on the problem, asking many of the former addicts I was coming to know how and why they had quit. Al Cohn told me that an infection from a dirty needle settled into his eye, resulting finally in its surgical incision. "Losing your eye will make you quit," Al said in his sardonic fashion. Zoot Sims told me that he got into a car with a girl he was going with, left New York, and went through withdrawal in motel rooms as he made his way home to
And, later, when I knew Mulligan well enough, I asked him too how he quit. Gerry, not entirely surprisingly, took an intellectual approach to the problem. He met a
Gerry was playing a gig in Detroit. At intermission he went into the men's room, and he was inserting his nice clean medical syringe into his nice clean bottle of morphine when he stopped, thinking, "What am I doing to myself?"
He telephoned Joe Glaser, his booking agent, in
But I wanted to hear it: anything Mulligan did seemed likely to be innovative, as indeed that band was. I was backstage in a tent, talking with Dizzy Gillespie, when the first sounds of the band came to us. It was raining torrents. At stage left, the United States Information Agency had set up a shelter, a sloping canvas roof, to protect their television and recording equipment. They were recording the whole festival. The stage was chin high.
The band began to perform Bob Brookmeyer's lyrical arrangement of Django Reinhardt's ballad "Manoir de mes reves." In front of the stage, rain danced on a garden of black umbrellas. An imaginative cameraman panned across this audience in the rain, then across the stage, coming to rest on a great puddle, in which an upside-down Mulligan was playing an exquisite obbligato to the chart, leading into his solo. I was watching both the image and the reality. It was one of the unforgettable musical moments of my life.
I returned to
The group was startlingly fresh. Later Gerry told me he didn't think it was really a concert jazz band; it was a first-rate dance band. But he underestimated it. It was a gorgeous small orchestra, with a sound unlike any other. Gerry told me that he had previously tried to make small groups, such as the sextet, sound like big bands; now he wanted a big band to play with the fleet levity and light textures of a small group. Unfortunately, its book contained little of Mulligan's own writing. He found himself so busy running and booking the band that he didn't have time to write. Much of the burden of the composition and arranging fell on Brookmeyer, himself one of the most brilliant writers in jazz.
Something was going on during that Sutherland gig that none of us knew about, except, I think, Brookmeyer.
Gerry was going with and for some time had been in love with actress Judy Holliday, a gentle woman and one of the most gifted comediennes in American theater. She had just undergone a mastectomy. Gerry was playing the Sutherland in the evenings, then catching a red-eye flight to New York, sitting at her bedside as much of the day as he could, then getting an afternoon flight back to
Some time during that week, I went upstairs with Bob Brookmeyer for a drink in the "band room," a suite of two or three rooms assigned by the hotel. Mulligan was in a bedroom with bassist Buddy Clark, whom I also knew by then, and they were in the midst of a heated exchange. Buddy shouted, "I'm getting sick of it! I'm tired of pulling this whole goddamn band by myself!" And Mulligan told him he wasn't pulling it by himself; he was getting plenty of help, and who the hell did he think he was? "I felt badly about that," Gerry told me some time later. "I didn't know Buddy was sick." Neither did anyone else, including Buddy. He had a rectal problem for which he later underwent surgery, and, he told me, his discomfort had made him short-tempered. He regretted the incident as much as Gerry did.
Mulligan, whose hair in those days was reddish-blond, came out of the bedroom and stopped in his tracks seeing me, a stranger, in the band's midst.
"Who are you?" he said harshly.
I told him.
"Oh God," he said, "that's all I need: press."
"You don't think I'd write anything about this, do you?" I said. And I never did, until now.
Mulligan stormed out, and the band played its next set.
I do not recall where next I encountered him, but by then everyone in the profession was crossing my path. By the time I moved to
His influence, and through him that of Claude Thornhill and Gil Evans, had spread around the world. He had been a considerable influence on the
There is no questioning this influence of Mulligan on Brazilian music. I had just returned from a tour of South America, and in Rio de Janeiro had met Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, both virtually unknown in North America, except to a few musicians such as Bob Brookmeyer, Zoot Sims, and particularly Dizzy Gillespie, always aware of developments in Latin American music. It was said that the album made by Bud Shank and Laurindo Almeida called Brazilliance had also exerted an influence, but American critics tended to deny this, probably on the politically correct grounds that West Coast jazz was unimportant, and even Bud Shank said to me once, "The Brazilians didn't need me." But Bud (who incidentally played alto on the Mulligan tentet album) was wrong. Claudio Roditi, the superb Brazilian trumpeter, told me that in the period of bossa nova's gestation, almost the only jazz records available in
Jobim came to New York that autumn for a Carnegie Hall concert of Brazilian musicians and, backstage, Gerry became one of the first American musicians I introduced him to. We were often together after that. Jobim's song "0 Insensatez" begins with the chord changes of the Chopin E-minor Prelude and, as a send-up of Jobim, Mulligan recorded the prelude as a samba. Jobim and Mulligan remained friends to the end of their days, and Gerry would see him whenever he went to
Gerry was not, as everyone seemed to think, living with Judy Holliday. She lived in the Dakota, on West 72nd Street at
I saw more of Gerry after Judy's death of cancer, which devastated him. We both lived on the West Side, and, aside from Jim and Andy's downtown, we had two or three favorite restaurants in the area of Broadway and the West 70s and 80s, halfway between his apartment and mine, which was on West 86th. A lot of my lyrics, including those written for Jobim tunes, had been recorded by then.
Gerry loved theater, and we thought we should try to write a show together. We looked for an appropriate subject, and one of us came up with the idea of the relationship between Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell. I learned that Brady's house had stood approximately across the street from my apartment on West 86th a few doors in from
One of my happier memories is of that period when Gerry and I ran around to libraries and pored over books, absorbing the life of Diamond Jim, getting inside his mind, acquiring a feel for the
And Gerry said, "I'm the only one I know."
She showed us in to see Hal Prince. And Hal Prince told us that a Diamond Jim Brady project was already under way, with Jackie Gleason set to play Brady and Lucille Ball as Lillian Russell.
We left Hal Prince's office feeling crushed, and no doubt stopped somewhere for a drink. Gleason and Ball would be perfect casting. All our excitement had been killed in an instant, and I suppose Gerry thought, as I did, of all our work being left to molder in a drawer. This would be the second disappointment of that kind for him. He and Judy Holliday, who was a gifted lyricist, had written a musical based on the Anita Loos play Happy Birthday. And although the songs were superb, Gerry had never been able to get anyone interested. One producer told him it could not succeed because the setting was an Irish bar. And, he said, "The Irish go to bars. Jews go to theater."
Gerry and I abandoned our Diamond Jim project. The show with Gleason and Ball was never made; it vanished into that limbo of unfulfilled Broadway projects.
One night Gerry and I went to see Stephen Sondheim's Company. Later we went to the Ginger Man for drinks and a late dinner. "I hate him," Gerry said. I said, "Me too." For Sondheim had done both music and lyrics, and both were brilliant. Long after, Gerry laughed when I recalled that night and said, "I've been trying to hate him for years and can't. He's too good."
One night in Jim and Andy's bar, Gerry said he had tickets for a new play and asked if I wanted to go with him. We ran down 48th Street to get to the theater by curtain time. We saw Jason Robards in A Thousand Clowns. The co-star was a young actress named Sandy Dennis. She and Gerry would be together for years, and then separate. Sandy is now dead, like Judy, of cancer. And like Gerry.
Being of English origin, I had for some time been noticing the scarcity of WASP English influence or even presence in American music, particularly jazz. Once, over dinner, I said, "Mulligan, you and I must be the only WASPs in the music business."
And, laughing, he said, "Speak for yourself, I'm an Irish Catholic."
Because he was not actively so, I asked him if he felt himself to be Catholic. He thought for a minute and said, "No. But I do feel Irish."
All this led to a series of observations on the ethnic origins of the Europeans in American jazz and popular music. Irish, Scottish, Welsh, yes; Polish, German, Jewish, Russian, just about any nationality you could mention. But very few English. Even those who bore "English" names, such as Joe Farrell, Louis Bellson, Eddie Lang, Will Bradley, and Glen Gray, had changed them to escape the prejudices of
It was during one such discussion that Gerry and I discovered we had arrived independently at the same conclusion: white American jazz musicians tend to reflect their ethnic origins in the style of their playing. And although this is not a universal verity, it often will be found to be true. Gerry told me that once, when he and Judy were listening to Zoot Sims, who was Irish, she said, "There he goes again - playing that Barry Fitzgerald tenor." And she imitated Fitzgerald's laughter, Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha, on a falling melodic line. It is a remarkably perceptive insight. But, even more to the point, listening to Gerry on a taped interview, I once heard him say something with the exact, momentarily falsetto, inflection of Barry Fitzgerald. And one part of Gerry's family came to
But speech patterns persist for long, long periods, and the accent of
In his last years Gerry led a quartet with piano. He continued to write for all manner of formations, including full symphony orchestra. An album on the Par label called Symphonic Dreams was recorded in 1987 by the
Proust points out somewhere in Swann's Way that fictional characters are transparent while the persons we know in life are opaque. Even those we know well are mysteries. We are mysteries even to ourselves.
So who was Gerry Mulligan? Where did he come from? Why did he love the old trains?
After 1969, Gerry and I never lived in the same city. I moved to
An aristocratic Italian photojournalist named
In the spring of 1994, we found ourselves on a jazz cruise of the
He was the youngest of four boys, in order: George, Phil, Ron, Gerry. All three of his brothers became, like their father, engineers, and Gerry's father wanted him to be one.
"Don't you think that's affected your work?" I said, thinking of the sense of design in all Gerry's writing and playing.
"Some of the attitude of the builder, the constructor, I suppose," he said.
"What did he do exactly? I asked.
Gerry said, "By the time my father was mature, they had started to use engineering to improve efficiency and practices in factories. It was the beginning of the time-study period. The pejorative term for what my father did was 'efficiency expert'. Of course, the companies hated to see people like that coming because they knew they were going to have to work hard. And it meant that a lot of people were going to lose their jobs because they streamlined the procedures. So he was schooled in all sorts of engineering.
"I remember when I was in high school in
"My father had a kind of strange attitude. I have realized in recent years, he was kind of anti-education and anti-intellectual. It was too bad, because he missed a lot of things. At the point where I started to be in contact with other musicians, especially the people with education, which I didn't have have never had - I heard Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe. My father's response was, 'Ravel only ever wrote one piece, and that was the Bolero.' Well you realize you can't have much conversation with people who think like that."
"There's a similarity here," I said. "My father had the same anti-intellectual attitude. He once said, 'An intellectual is like a man in a white suit who can't change a tire."'
I remembered the Gerry Mulligan wind-up doll Bob Brookmeyer invented. You wind it up, put it on the table, and it sends for room service. Gerry later amended that, satirizing himself: "Hello, room service? Send up the concert."
"What was your father's name?" I asked. "And where did the family come from?"
"His name was George. His family was from
"After that he went with a big company, May Consulting Engineers, still one of the biggest, based in
"Meanwhile, my grandfather, who was a retired locomotive engineer from the
"My father then went to
"Then my father went to a job in
"I went to a public school the first year in
"The next year they sent me downtown to the Catholic school. The school was right next to the
"Does that explain your fascination with trains?" I asked.
"The next year, they put up a new building and the school moved over there. They decided they were going to have their first school orchestra. They got a teacher and everything, and I learned the basics of the clarinet, and now we had an instrumentation not to be believed: probably a trumpet, a clarinet, two violins, and God knows what. An ungodly conglomeration. So I sat down and wrote an arrangement of "Lover," because I was fascinated by the chromatic progressions. I brought it in to play, and like a damn fool I put the title "Lover" on the top of it. The nun took one look at it and said, 'We can't play that.' So I never heard my first chart.
"But what's more interesting is what prompted me to write an arrangement in the first place. I don't know the answer: I just wanted to do it. I figured I could do it. I'd figured out how to make a transposition chart. I had one of those charts that you put behind the piano keys when you're a kid starting out. I guess I was in about the seventh grade at the time. A lot of us who were arrangers, there was always a kind of fraternity among arrangers, because of the recognition of the similarities. There are things that you know how to do and don't know how you know. I knew the basics of orchestration without having to be told."
"Could you, in grade seven, actually listen to a record and hear the chord content?"
"A lot of it, sure. The thing that I liked about the bands was the textures. I always was hooked on that. What you do with a single instrument is nice. What you do with a whole bunch of instruments becomes an interesting challenge to make it all add up to something cohesive. And to turn this thing that deals with a lot of mechanics into music is a miracle.
"If somebody had said, 'You can't do it, it might have stopped me. But nobody did."
"Let me get this straight," I said. "As a kid in grade seven, you could simply hear the contents of arrangements on records, hear the voices, without lessons?"
"To me, that's weird. Henry Mancini was the same. He could just hear it. He told me, and Horace Silver did the same thing, that he'd play records at slow speeds until he could figure out what was in the chords."
"I wasn't that smart," Gerry said. "I did it the hard way."
"Your parents were not musical?"
"My mother and father were both born in the '90s. So they were in their twenties and thirties in the '20s and '30s of this century. And they both learned enough piano to be able to play.
"My father could read, but he read like an engineer. He could sit down and play a piece of music, but he'd miss all the accidentals, play lots of wrong notes, and just go happily along. But my mother played very nicely. She liked pretty music."
"Obviously you left
"We went from
"I didn't realize it then, but Erskine liked a very thin sound. And apparently he liked guys in the section to have that sound. As a consequence, when they played even reasonably high, it sounded exciting: it sounded piercing. A high C with a thin sound really sounds high. Then later on, I wrote things for bands with guys with incredible chops; they could play a high C that was so fat that it didn't sound high. They had to go up to an altissimo G or something before it really started to sound piercing. It finally dawned on me that a fat sound on trumpet somehow diminished the impact of the highness of the note. Took all the excitement away. Erskine's band had a crackling excitement, and mainly because the trumpet players had a thin sound: it was great.
"I worked at that plant one summer as the mailboy. I saved my money and bought my first clarinet. I went to a teacher at the music store where I bought it and went through the exercises with the books. Sammy Correnti: a wonderful man. Sammy also transcribed a lot of the players he had known in the '20s and '30s.
"One day after I'd been taking lessons with Sammy for a while, he brought in an arrangement he had written in the early '30s on a piece called "Dark Eyes," written for three brass, three saxes, and three rhythm - two altos and a tenor, two trumpets and a bone. He said, 'Here, take this revoice it for four brass and four saxes.' I did. His attitude was, 'You can do this, so do it.' It wasn't 'You can't do it.'
"We had these things to learn, jazz choruses. I learned Artie Shaw's' Concerto for Clarinet' solo and his solo on 'Stardust."'
"Just about every reed player I ever met learned that 'Stardust' solo," I said. "Billy Mitchell told me he could still play it. Did you start working while you were in
"Yeah. I started working professionally in
"But I wanted to have a big band. So I started collecting stock arrangements. Then they used to do manuscript charts of various bands. I had things from Les Brown's band, from this band and that band. We used to get gigs. I'd get these guys together and rehearse. Then it would be a mad thing. The band would be playing from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. in a gymnasium some place, and my brothers would be racing back and forth. This guy could make it from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., then they'd have to pick up his replacement.
I said, "Well this bears on what Bill Challis told me. He said that in the'20s, around Wilkes Barre, the musicians played dances in clubs. The coal barons had their clubs, the miners had their clubs, and the miners loved to dance. And when you think of all the musicians who came out of Pennsylvania, all the guys who came out of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the Dorsey brothers, Benny Golson, Henry Mancini, Billy Strayhorn, Red Rodney, it's a remarkable list."
"That may well have been a factor," Gerry said. "The blue laws and the clubs. Not only that, after the war, when work started to fall off for musicians, there still was that outlet in
I said, "Artie Shaw told me that in the heyday of the bands, you could play a solid month of one-nighters in
"Hmm. Well, those are all things that are impossible for people nowadays to understand. How many bands there were. There really was a lot of music available."
"What came after
"And sure enough, he assigned a piece to me and said, 'Make me an arrangement of this. It will be for our Saturday night show.' I took the piece and spent a couple of weeks writing the arrangement. I brought it back. He went over it with me and he said, 'Well, let's see, you could have done this, you could have done that. Why didn't you do that here? Take it back and rewrite it and bring it back.' So I'd lucked into a teacher, somebody who helped. And he bought it and played it and assigned me something else.
"But the way that I got it written was even wilder. I really hated the school. There were a couple of teachers I liked and a couple of subjects that were fascinating. I had looked forward to chemistry as being probably an interesting subject, because you had laboratory work and it would be fun doing experiments. I had a teacher who ruined it for me. He spoke in a monotone, and he was a very dull man, and I remembered nothing.
"The school was taught by Christian brothers. Brother Martin was in charge of the band. When I transferred into this school and talked to Brother Martin, he never even asked me or even suggested that I play with the marching band. He explained that the marching band was not very good. The guys only went out for the band to get a letter and go to the ball games free. He said, 'The facilities are here. Any time you want to use the band room, it's yours.'
"Because it was such a big school, we had staggered lunch breaks. There were four lunch breaks. I had one of my own and three others. I started a band out of what I could get out of this marching band. I would have one of them come to my class and say, 'Brother Martin wants Gerry Mulligan in the band room.' So I would spend three out of the four lunch breaks in the band room, writing my chart for WCAU."
I said, "People forget that aside from the radio networks, which not only used to broadcast the big bands but had symphony orchestras on staff, even local radio stations employed bands, and pianists, and small groups. They generated their own music. They didn't just play records, as they do now. Radio was a tremendous generative force for music."
"Oh yeah. And given the opportunity, bands in all kinds of work tried to do their best. That's not to say all bands were good. There were a lot of sloppy bands around. But the best of them, which was a lot of them, were always trying to make music better. We always felt we could learn something, try something. So it was a good time for bands, all through the '30s and '40s.
"You'd be surprised how many radio stations said, 'Well, screw it.' And they got rid of the musicians. Those kinds of practices, I think, did musicians a great disservice. It made an antagonistic relationship that was harmful and wrong. And of course Petrillo, who was very much a dictatorial type, arbitrarily, against the advice of many people in the union, including the bandleaders, pulled the recording ban. That was the coup de grace for the big bands. Of all the times when he pulled it, when the guys were coming back from the service and needed all the help they could get!"
"But you still had WCAU and Johnny Warrington," I said. "Were you still in high school?"
"Yeah. In fact, at the school, I decided to put a band together. There were a lot of clarinet players in the marching band. There was only one kid who had a saxophone. I went and bought an alto so I would have at least two saxophones. We had a bunch of trumpets and we had one kid who played decent trombone. I wrote arrangements for the band, using this instrumentation. It came out sounding like Glenn Miller, because it was heavy on the clarinets. But because of that, I made something happen in the school, and we became the heroes that year, playing at various schools, playing at their assemblies. We even went down and played at the girls' school. So I suppose the girls' school was envious that we had a dance band and they only had a symphony orchestra.
"I went into the senior year. Chemistry had been destroyed for me, and I was bored to tears by the rest of the school. In senior year they had physics. They had lecture classes: it was like college - you're a big kid now. I go into the lecture room for the first thing on physics, and who have I got? The same guy who ruined chemistry for me. My mind did a trick on me that day, and I realized it started this at other times and it frightened me. Have you ever forgotten how to do something automatic, like tying your shoes or tying your tie? I watched this man. His lips were moving but I forgot what words meant. I totally lost the connection with language. I got up at the end of the class and went down to the office of the school and said, 'I'm leaving school. I have my father's permission. I'm going on the road with a band.'
"I didn't have a job and I didn't have my father's permission. I went to see Brother Martin, who didn't try to talk me into staying. He's one of the people I wish I'd had sense enough to keep contact with. He must have been a remarkable man. He didn't do any of the judgmental things that all the other grown-ups I remember from childhood did. He really treated me like a human being with the intelligence to try find my own way and as someone determined to find my own way.
"I went home and told my family what I was doing. My father didn't put up a big argument because, I think, he had lost his taste for trying to direct us. And obviously I was so far removed from his ideal of engineer that I didn't even warrant consideration.
"I thought unkindly in later years that he was probably relieved: he wouldn't have to think about paying to send me to college of any kind.
"I really would have liked to go to music school, but I never even broached the subject with him. I knew it was out of the question. That's what I mean by anti-intellectualism. I don't understand having that kind of an attitude toward your own kid. I never was that way with my own son, and can't be that way with young people."
(Gerry had one child, Reed, a son by his first and brief marriage to Arlene Brown, daughter of Lew Brown, of the Henderson-Brown-DeSylva songwriting team.)
He said, "I like to help young people have whatever opportunities there are, in whatever ways I can, without pushing them, without telling them the way Sammy Correnti did with me.
"I was now out of school, with no job to go to. I had to get a job in a hurry so I didn't have to go back to school ignominiously.
"I had met an agent named Jimmy Tyson. He was the agent for Alex Bartha, who had been the bandleader on the Steel Pier in
"And I thought, Oh God. I parked myself in the office of Jimmy Tyson's agency and waited for somebody to call up. Every band that came through to play at the Earle Theater, somebody would call up and say, 'I need a trombone player,' or something. And I would hear Jimmy say, 'Do you need a tenor or alto player? I was playing tenor and alto then. And nobody ever did.
Mulligan's career detour through the Tommy Tucker band has occasionally raised eyebrows: it seems somewhat incongruous.
The band, whose radio broadcasts began with the signature announcement, "It's Tommy Tucker Time!", was in that group that drew votes in the Down Beat poll's King of Corn category, usually won by Guy Lombardo. To the hip fans of the bands, that is to say those who thought they were hip (or, in those days, hep) there was a sharp division between the "jazz" and "mickey" bands, the latter including such as Blue Barron, Freddy Martin, Sammy Kaye, Russ Morgan, Kay Kyser, Shep Fields and his Rippling Rhythm, Lawrence Welk, and Wayne King. But to the professionals, the demarcation was not that sharp. I know saxophone players who thought Freddy Martin was a fine tenor player, and Benny Carter told me that one of his favorite saxophone players was Wayne King, not because what King did was jazz but because it was excellent saxophone playing.
Mulligan too has this breadth of view, and I was always baffled by his stated admiration for the Guy Lombardo band, which he shared with Louis Armstrong. I was baffled, that is, until I actually saw the band in the 1970s and got to know Guy late in his life. I realized with a start, after only a tune or two from the band in person, that what I was hearing was a museum piece: an authentic, unchanged, perfectly preserved 1920s tuba-bass dance band. And it did what it did extremely well. It was, as Gerry had always insisted, a damned good band.
Many of the "mickey" - meaning Mickey Mouse - bands contained excellent musicians, and some of them, including the bands of Kay Kyser and Sammy Kaye, could play creditable swing on occasion. Some excellent arrangers cut their professional teeth in those bands. George Duning, for example, wrote for Kay Kyser. And for a short time, Gerry Mulligan wrote for Tommy Tucker.
Gerry said, "That was my first experience on the road with a name band as an arranger. That was 1945, I guess, and that would make me 17 going on 18. It was the last year of the war. We traveled by cars. When we hit a town, I would be out of the car like a shot and into the hotel. Is there a room with a piano? It was always a search for a piano. And I never managed to make the three ballads or two jumps a week. But I got pretty close, wrote a lot of music for Tommy. It was a three-month contract.
"We did a lot of one-nighters. We did a month or six weeks or something at a big hotel in
"My arrangements for Tommy started to get more and more wild, although I think Tommy liked what I did. There's one thing of mine on a Hindsight record, taken from an aircheck. It's called 'Brass Hats.' I used plungers and hats. Years later, when I heard this thing, I fell off my chair, because I had copied Erskine Hawkins' 'After Hours.' I didn't mean to copy it, but it was very close.
"After the three months, Tommy said, 'It's been very nice, and you've done a lot of good things for the band, but I think you're ready to move on to another band because I think my band is a little too tame for you. I want you to know, Gerry, that if you ever want to go into business or anything like that, I really would be glad to help you - in anything except a band.'
"That's one thing I was lucky about. The men that I worked for were such nice people: Tommy Tucker, Gene Krupa, Claude Thornhill, Elliot Lawrence.
"After I left Tommy, I went back to
And Mulligan began to write for Elliot Lawrence. In the 1950s, some of the writing he did for
"It was all right," Gerry said of that album. "But it wasn't as good as some of the performances the band did at the time. Once, at a rehearsal, they played some of my music so perfectly that it made my hair stand on end. There was a unison trombone passage. The Swope brothers were in the trombone section. The section sounded like one trombone, the unison was so perfect."
Gerry was born on
Like Gerry, I grew up, ear to the radio, on the sounds of the big bands in the 1930s. Network radio was an incredible cultural force, presenting - live, not on records - music of immense cultural diversity, almost every kind of music that America produced, and making it popular. Network radio made Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman famous and, a little later, Glenn Miller. It made Arturo Toscaninii and James Melton household names. On Saturday afternoons, the broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera could be heard everywhere from the Mexican border to the northern reaches of
How long jazz has been with us depends on how you define jazz. If you refer to Buddy Bolden's music, which you have never heard (nor has anyone else) or Scott Joplin's rags, as jazz, then it begins early in the century. Others would call this earlier music proto-jazz. But jazz begins at least by the late teen years of the twentieth century. If you define it even more strictly as the art of the great, improvising soloist, then it begins in the 1920s, and its principal founding figure is Louis Armstrong. As Dizzy Gillespie said of Armstrong, "No him, no me."
So if you accept Armstrong as the defining figure, then jazz was, as Bud Freeman used to argue, born in
The big-band era lasted roughly ten years, from 1936 to 1946, when the major orchestras began to disband. If you want to push it back to the 1920s, with Whiteman, Goldkette, and early Ellington, then it is longer. And its influence persists, with the fundamental format of trumpets, trombones, saxophones, and rhythm section still in use. The evolution of that instrumentation is like that of the string quartet or the symphony orchestra: it works, and will live on. But as a vital part of
It was an era, as Woody Herman used to say, when "jazz was the popular music of the land."
Many years ago, Gerry said to me that the wartime gasoline tax had helped kill the big bands. And a thought occurred to me: I said, "Wait a minute, Gerry, the kids who supported the bands didn't have cars, and since they weren't making them during the war, our fathers certainly were not inclined to lend theirs." And it was precisely during the war years that the bands were most successful, even though many of the best musicians were in the armed forces. The dance pavilions and ballrooms were packed during those years with teenagers and uniformed servicemen and their girlfriends.
How did we get to the ballrooms and dance pavilions? On street railways and the inter-urban trolleys. And the street railways and trolley lines were bought up and dismantled by business elements whose purpose was to drive the public into automobiles and buses: this helped kill the ballrooms.
And network radio was dying as the broadcasting industry discovered how awesomely lucrative television advertising could be, and to the purpose of attracting ever larger audiences began seeking the lowest common denominator of public taste.
When the big-band era ended and the musicians went into nightclubs to play in small groups, their admirers followed them, for they were now over 21 and could go to places where liquor was served. But a younger audience could not follow them. A few nightclubs tried to solve the problem. Birdland had a bleachers section where young people could sit without drinking liquor. But this was at best a Band-aid, if you'll pardon the pun, and knowing the names of the musicians was no longer an "in" thing for young people. They were turning at first to "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window" and "
Max Roach, Sonny Stitt, Terry Gibbs, Sarah Vaughan, Paul Desmond, and Shorty
By comparison, the current jazz revival is very shallow indeed and merely imitative. This is not to say that there are no excellent young players. But none of these figures is original, and whereas the Ellington music was a constant adventure in innovation and the bands of the 1940s were ceaselessly pushing into the future, all that is now embalmed in jazz repertory programs that concentrate on the music and styles of the past. The jazz of the past has become, truly, a classical music, disinterred from its original context.
You start to wonder if jazz has at last run its creative course, as Oscar Peterson a few years ago predicted it soon would. Not that the new reconstituted food doesn't contain nourishment for a younger audience that is just now discovering jazz. But it hasn't much savor to those who grew up in its great age of innovation and remember its unmistakable individualists. And Gerry Mulligan lived through almost the entire history of jazz. It is against that background that he should be understood. [Emphasis, mine.]
To jazz musicians, of course, the question "Where is jazz going?" has always been anathema. But a new question arises: "Where has jazz gone?" I put it to Gerry. He replied: "Where jazz has gone relates to where the country has gone. It's pretty hard to separate the progress of one without taking the other into consideration.
"There are a number of things going on in our society that we wonder how they're going to turn out. We have no way of knowing what the effects are because we've become a society of guinea-pigs, trying out new technologies. We've had a whole century of it, and God knows where we are. A rather precarious psychic state. By that I mean the numbers of things that have changed, not just in the ways people live but in the ways their minds work.
"There were, even early in the century, statements that jazz was immoral and would lead to the breakdown of society as we know it." He laughed. "Listen, with the outcome we see, the state of our popular music, they may well have been right.
"However, I make a big distinction between what jazz was and is and what's going on in popular music.
"At this end of the game, where big business is involved with exploiting
"Sometimes, of course, I wonder if it's just the usual generational sour grapes. A young generation comes along and they tend to put down what you're doing. You look at 'em with a kind of jaundiced eye and say, 'Well, young whipper-snappers, in my day they said jazz was an immoral music and now they're saying it about rock.' After you examine that, one has to carry through to what has happened to the content and the intent of popular music. Two elements come to mind. One is the music itself, which, a great deal of the time, as you know if you ever see MTV, is calculated as a destructive force, breaking down the good old enemies, the middle class, the bourgeoisie, and all of those causes of all our troubles. It's a music that's based on raw emotion, or at least the illusion of raw emotion. This is very prevalent in that music, easy ecstasy. There's the matter of volume: if you do it loud enough it sounds like you're having fun. And distortion. The day that somebody discovered the intensity that happens to the sound of a guitar when you over amplify it, they created a new world of easy access to excitement. You don't have to work for it, you don't have to think about it, you don't have to develop a craft, man. It's there, it's built into the vacuum tubes and the transistors. The equipment.
"Then there is the actual content of the words. We see a couple of generations that have grown up on a dissatisfaction, a disaffection, with the society that produced them. You only have to watch sitcoms to realize that the parents are always bumbling idiots and the children are all smart-talking, wise-cracking little bastards. So we've got an odd view of what our culture is and should be. These forces don't give a damn. The people who are exploiting our kids don't care about the effect. In fact they'll fight to the death to prove to you that violence on television doesn't have anything to do with violence in the streets.
"If people are so busy convincing themselves of nonsense like that, how can you persuade them to assume responsibility for anything? This has become the key to our time. It's always: 'It's not my fault.' We have become a nation of victims. It's always somebody else's damn fault. This is what has led to all this political correctness crap. You mustn't hurt anybody's feelings! Bullshit, man. What has that got to do with the real world?"
"The television people," I said, "try to convince you that their commercials can alter public behavior by selling products, but the entertainment part of their programming can't. It's a contradiction in their position. It's nonsense."
"Well," Gerry said, "there's a lot of the texture of our social structure that is just as contradictory. This is why you can't say what is going to happen to jazz without observing the society that produces it.
"There are a couple of things that have come out of the educational things I have done. I've been very interested to learn how it appears to other people, usually younger than I am. People come to some of these college classes because they want to go to school or they're interested in the subject. But a lot of it has to do with students who are looking for an easy credit." He laughed.
"It's fascinating to see how people react to their own time, to see how aware they are that they're being ripped off, to see whether anything can be done about it, or to contemplate the future. There is a lot of questioning about where we're going. We see immense changes going on in the
I mentioned that Nat Hentoff had written a new book whose subtitle is: "How the left and the right relentlessly censor each other."
Gerry said, "That's interesting that a writer like Nat should arrive at that, because when he was first writing, he was very much a writer of the left. My feeling was always: I don't care what color the uniform is and I don't care whether your ideology is leftist or rightist, man, when you come around and tell me what I can and can't do, it amounts to the same thing. I don't care if you're beating me up in the name of Lenin or Hitler, it hurts with the same kind of bruise."
I said, "I met someone to whom that actually happened, a Hungarian symphony conductor, I can't think of his name. He told me, 'I've had my nose broken twice, once by the Nazis and once by the Communists, and it felt exactly the same both times."'
"Perfect. I sometimes wonder if this is why Americans have dedicated themselves to such sloppy dress. Dress styles today have gotten to the point of grotesque. A lot of these things, it's very hard for me to get a grasp on. You read the expensive magazines and you see the advertisements of the expensive companies. Giorgio Armani, he's got these beautiful young men lying out on the beach - with torn jeans! Wait a minute, man? What are you trying to sell here?"
"Torn jeans," I said.
"Anything to be in!" Gerry said. "It's a peculiar time. But then I wonder what it must have been like to live through some of the strange transition periods of cities or countries.
"The Puritans of
I said, "You've got the same thing with the anti-abortion people on an overpopulated planet, what I call the kill-for-life crowd."
"Absolutely!" Gerry said. "It's taking on the kind of ridiculous stature that one would expect. This is why the whole movement for political correctness is a dangerous thing.
"It is the justification of the suppression of other people's rights and opinions in what appears to them to be a good cause. And I say, 'Whatever reason you burn me at the stake, I'm sorry, the cause is not good enough."'
I said, "We can't talk about jazz alone, I agree. We have to talk about the evolution of the big bands, the movie industry, network radio, which were all interlinked. Bands on radio, bands in the movies, playing songs from Broadway shows. Network radio, which young people today cannot grasp, was a major linking force in the American culture. . .
"Absolutely," Gerry said.
" . . . whereas later, disc jockey radio became a force of destruction."
"Absolutely. That's exactly what I'm talking about. The effect of radio in the early days, when it was still struggling to find its audience and find itself, was good. But the man who invented Top Forty radio. . .
"Todd Storz of New Orleans," I said.
"I'd rather not know his name," Gerry said. "I'd rather think of him as someone anonymous hanging by this thumbs somewhere."
"No, he's probably swinging in a penthouse. Or a mansion."
"It's rather remarkable," Gerry said. "He succeeded in destroying radio and music with one idea."
I said, "When our generation is gone, there will be no more direct oral links. Future writers will be getting it all from secondary sources, such as newspaper and magazine clippings and previous books, some of the material very unreliable and sometimes downright wrong."
Gerry said: "I remember John Lewis and I walking down 55th Street
one day. We'd just left Gil Evans' place. John said, 'Gerry, there's one thing you've got to understand. Jazz as you and I know it and love it will die with our generation.' And I of course reacted with indignation, saying, 'How can you say that, John?' He just smiled like the sphinx and said, 'Remember this. We grew up playing with these men. We've had the chance to sit and play with them as professionals, we traveled with them, we know them, and knew how they thought and arrived at it. After we're gone, it will all be hearsay and records."'
I said, "
"Sure," Gerry said. "Because of these lectures I've been giving, I've been doing a lot of listening to old things, in some cases to records I'd never heard before. I've become very conscious of what those drummers were doing. A lot of those dates through the'20s were done with brushes, brushes on a telephone book, anything to make an illusion of propulsion without knocking the needle off track. You seldom could hear the bass, which is mostly, I think, why the guys used tuba or bass saxophone, 'cause they had to be heard."
"Rollini, for one."
"Rollini was already into something else. He was a line player. I didn't remember hearing him. I probably did when I was a kid, because I listened to all those bands on the radio every night, and Rollini played with a couple of bands I remember hearing. But later on I had a record of Red Nichols' band, with Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet, Miff Mole on trombone, Adrian Rollini on bass sax, Joe Sullivan on piano, and I think it was
"Do you think he might have heard it?"
"That could be, because Bird was all ears when he was a kid."
"He said he hired Chet Baker because his playing reminded him of Bix."
I said, "Everybody talks about how pretty Bix played. But he had a real sting on the edge of his tone."
"Oh yeah. But we can only have the impression we get from the records. This is something I was very conscious of, listening to the records he made with Frankie Trumbauer. Those were intricate arrangements. And they were intended to be - highly sophisticated music. And again, they suffered because they had to hold the rhythm section back. So it's likely that those things neither sounded nor felt quite the way they do on the records. Bix's sense of style and form alone were obviously unique. I would love to have heard his sound.
"You know, Bird had an incredible ability to sail through pretty complicated progressions, especially if the progressions were going somewhere not just a sequence of chords, but a true progression. I was listening to some Tatum records the other day and it suddenly dawned on me: I wonder how much time
Bird spent listening to Tatum? Because Tatum could do that. He could do the damnedest transitions, and the damnedest alterations. It will make your hair stand on end! And even when he was doing it fast, it was such a remarkable sounding thing.
"Bird had a tremendous amount of facility in a lot of directions. He had so much facility, I've always thought he really didn't know what to do to survive. He didn't know how to be a beginner again. He needed to move on from where he was. It wasn't satisfying enough. And he became more and more frustrated. He loved a lot of different kinds of music. He loved things like Debussy's Children's Corner. Whenever he would come by Gil's place, he would want to listen to some parts of the Children's Corner."
"I was told he loved Prokofiev's Scythian Suite."
"Oh God yes! We were all hooked on the Scythian Suite. It was the
And he laughed at himself, as he was wont to do.
If some of those in the audience now in its forties, growing jaded with a rock and-roll that has now survived for 40 years - four times as long as the big band era - are discovering jazz and saying "Oh wow!" to young players whose every influence Mulligan and other older jazz musicians can instantly detect, that's all right. Imitative jazz will doubtless continue for some time.
But Gerry's generation lived through an era of innovators, Hines and Tatum and Wilson and Cole and Powell and Evans, Hawkins and Webster and Young, Armstrong and Berigan and James and Dizzy and Miles, Redman and Carter and Sauter and Evans, each with a thumbprint you could not miss. The experienced ear can detect Benny Carter in two bars; no one of the new generation has that kind of individuality.
I try to resist thinking about the 1960s, but sometimes I can't help it, and I remember all the friends Gerry and I have lost, including Zoot and Mel Lewis and Nick Travis and Willie Dennis, all of whom were in Gerry's Concert jazz Band.
When I wrote a piece about the end of the big-band era, which is in my book Singers and the Song, I used a phrase of Johnny Mercer's "Early Autumn" lyric. I called it "Pavilion in the Rain."
This essay, Gerry told me later, caused him to write a tune he called "I Heard the Shadows Dancing." Then Nancy Marano told Gerry she wanted to record the tune. Gerry called and asked me to put a lyric on it. And so I did. I remembered seeing abandoned pavilions on beaches and in parks, where the Ferris wheels no longer turned. I used those images in it.
Gerry was even slimmer than in his youth, but he wore a beard, and the strawberry blond hair had gone as white as paper. Did he have regrets? Who doesn't? I daresay he regretted that he and Miles Davis never got to do the tour they had planned to perform the Birth of the Cool music. Miles got sick, precluding it, and Gerry toured without him.
Another regret, apparently, was our abandoned Diamond Jim Brady project. A few years ago I asked if he still had the music. He had lost it. The lyrics? I lost them. The script? Gone.
"We should have finished it," he said on the phone one day.
"I wish I'd gone to music school."
Then, in early November 1995, Gerry's current quartet went on a jazz cruise of the
Phil Woods was on the cruise, performing in the same week as Gerry's group. Phil and Gerry had had their collisions, both of them being very crusty Irishmen. Gerry once hired and fired Phil on the same evening, and at one point he called Phil an Irish drunk, which infuriated Phil at the time. As Phil said to me on the ship, "Talk about the pot calling the kettle green!" (In recent years, neither of them drank anything at all.) They reconciled, of course, and Phil is on the 1992 Re-birth of the Cool album Gerry did. Phil also said on the ship: "I love Gerry."
Johnny Mandel came along as a passenger, just to hang with his friends, and the week developed into that, a hangout of Mandel, Phil, Gerry, and me. But Gerry was very weak. His skin now had a transparent look: the veins in his hands stood out quite blue. And he was in a wheelchair much of the time, using a cane the rest of it.
There is a theater on that ship that I don't particularly like. It gives me what Woody Herman used to call the clausters. But I could not miss Gerry's performance there. He hobbled on-stage and sat on a stool. And the quartet began to play. It was one of the finest groups Gerry ever led. And it was some of the finest and most inventive playing I ever heard from Gerry in the 36 years of our friendship, not to mention the years long before we met, when his Us were high on the list of my favorite records.
There were to be two performances by the group that evening. Leaving the theater, I ran into Phil Woods and Johnny Mandel. Both of them felt as I did: they couldn't endure a second performance. Such was the tearing of emotions in two directions: ecstasy at the level of Gerry's music and agony at the frailty of his health. Next day he asked us all to come by his room. And we went up to the top deck. Gerry was never enamored of the sun: with his blond, now white, eyelashes, its glare bothered him. But we went up, and I took a camera.
West 55th Street. As
On New Year's Eve, the last evening of 1995, he was cheerful and said he was feeling well and lectured me a little about taking care of my own health. Had I been fully alert, I would have realized that that call - warm and affectionate, more overtly so than was typical of Gerry - was a farewell. I later learned he had called Bill Holman, Johnny Mandel, and other friends about the same time.
On the morning of
I burst into tears at her words. Yes, yes, I should have known. He had been lying to all of us. Why didn't Gerry admit to his friends us that he had liver cancer? Perhaps he wanted no sympathy. When our close friend Paul Desmond was terminally ill with cancer, Gerry had kept me posted on his condition. It seems that all the highways to New York City's main airports run past cemeteries, and Paul left orders that he be cremated, saying with that sardonic wit of his that he didn't want to be a monument on the way to the airport. Perhaps Gerry didn't want to hear the hushed voice of solicitous inhibition in conversations with his friends. Whatever his reasons, he didn't reveal his true condition, and so I was at the same moment quite unsurprised and totally surprised by her news. Certainly I was shattered, and it was for more reasons than the loss of a friend. As you grow older, you get, if not inured, at least accustomed to such tidings.
But she had lost her husband, and I tried to control my feelings out of concern for her. Then she said, "Gerry always thought of you as his brother. He would say, 'I have to talk to Gene about this. He'll know what I mean."' And that only made matters worse; I cried quite helplessly after that. I wanted to get off the phone, but
She told me something Gerry had said to her that will remain with me as long as I live. He said, "A life without ethics is meaningless."
Gerry could be feisty; and he did not suffer fools gladly. But he was at heart a kind, warm man.
The best evaluation of Gerry that I saw in print after he died was a column by Robert Fulford in the Globe and Mail. He noted that Gerry's "boyish eagerness" made him always eager to participate in whatever kind of jazz was being played, and quoted Whitney Balliett's wonderful remark that Gerry would "sit in with a treeful of cicadas."
Fulford wrote of the first Mulligan quartet's "inventive charm and rueful humor." He said:
Gerry Mulligan ... was a catalyst, a splendid performer who was also the cause
Yes. What began with Gil went out to the whole world. Including
On that New Year's Eve 1995, Gerry told me how much he loved my lyric to "I Hear the Shadows Dancing." "It makes me cry," he said. The lyric is about the vanished big-band era that nurtured and shaped him.