Thursday, November 12, 2009

Robert Gordon - Jazz West Coast: The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950's - Chapter 4



Having recently run a four-part feature about Gerry Mulligan on JazzProfiles, which can be found in the blog’s archives beginning on August 27, 2009 and continuing consecutively through September 16th, the editorial staff is delighted to revisit one of Jazz’s greatest artists, this time through the chapter in Bob Gordon’s book devoted to one of the earliest periods in Mulligan’s career.

© -Robert Gordon, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

THE GERRY MULLIGAN QUARTET


In 1952 and 1953, as both began to attract national attention, the names of Shorty Rogers and Gerry Mulligan were often linked primarily because both were headquartered in southern California. Actually, the pair presented striking contrasts, both in their personalities and in appearance. Whereas Shorty was diminutive and stocky, with dark curly hair, Gerry Mulligan was tall and thin (just this side of emaciated at the time), with an unruly shock of red hair. Both men had a ready sense of humor, but Shorty's was the puckish sort of a schoolboy in a chemistry lab let's mix the green and yellow liquids and see what happens while Gerry's humor tended to be dry and, at times, acerbic. Both, however, were extroverted soloists, and they shared an impatience with those who would over-intellectualize the music. 'Jazz music is fun to me,' is the way Mulligan began the liner notes to one of his own albums. And Shorty's favorite explanation for the genesis of his musical experiments has always been: 'Why did I do it? Because I thought it would be fun.'

Gerry was born Gerald Joseph Mulligan on 6 April 1927 in the New York City borough of Queens. His father was an industrial engineer and the family was constantly on the move; at one time or another they lived in Marion, Ohio; Chicago; Kalamazoo; Detroit; and Reading, Pennsylvania. Gerry received a strict Irish-Catholic upbringing, and it may have been his rebellion from this that set him on the way to becoming a jazz musician. He would later remember the time in Marion when the idea first occurred to him.

I was on my way to school, when I saw the Red Nichols bus sitting in front of a hotel. I was in the second or third grade, and that was probably when I first wanted to become a band musician and go on the road. It was a small old Greyhound bus with a canopied observation platform, and on the bus was printed 'RED NICHOLS AND HIS FIVE PENNIES'. It all symbolized travel and adventure. I was never the same after that.' [Joe Goldberg, Jazz Masters of the Fifties, New York: Macmillan, 1965, p. 14]

Gerry received the usual childhood piano lessons and later was given instructions on clarinet and arranging by Sammy Correnti, a former dance-band musician. By the time his formal schooling ended at the age of seventeen the family had moved to Philadelphia, where Mulligan joined the society band of Tommy Tucker as arranger. Gerry hit the road with Tucker, but his arrangements proved to be a bit too adventurous for the conservative bandleader, and he soon returned to Philly. Here he landed a job as staff arranger for radio station WCAU, whose band was led by Elliot Lawrence. During this period Gerry made frequent trips to New York, where he was offered encouragement by none other than Charlie Parker. In 1946 Gerry moved permanently to the Apple, where he was hired by Gene Krupa. Krupa's recording of the Mulligan original 'Disc jockey jump' became a hit, and Gerry's reputation among fellow musicians began to grow. The following year Gerry landed a job as arranger for Claude Thornhill, which led to a friendship with Gil Evans and eventually to the Birth of the Cool recordings.


As has been pointed out, Mulligan penned five of the twelve Capitol sides: Jeru', 'Godchild', 'Venus de Milo', 'Rocker', and 'Darn that Dream'. Andre Hodeir, in his book jazz: Its Evolution and Essence, has painstakingly analyzed the scores of the best of the Miles Davis recordings and found the rhythmic complexities of two of Mulligan's scores especially fascinating:

The exposition of 'Godchild' drastically 'reconsiders' the traditional structure of this classical thirty-two-bar theme with bridge. The addition of first two beats and then four to the initial phrase makes the first period cover seventeen and a half bars instead of sixteen. The bridge, on the other hand, is half a bar shorter than customary ... Jeru' is still more revolutionary. It includes four choruses in all. The exposition begins in the traditional way with a double eight-bar phrase.The fact that the bridge has twelve bars would not be surprising in itself if five of them - from the fourth to the eighth - were not in 3/4 time. The reprise covers nine bars. Here, then, is an exposition with an uneven number of bars and beats. The same is true of the final re-exposition. [Andre Hodier, Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence [New York: DaCapo, 1975, p. 134].

With the artistic (if not financial) success of the Birth of the Cool recordings, Mulligan's reputation - at least among fellow musicians - was assured. As is so often the case though, this in-group reputation did not lead to an equivalent financial security. The next few years found Mulligan scuffling simply to get by. He continued to supply arrangements for Claude Thornhill, Elliot Lawrence and others ('Elevation' was something of a hit for Lawrence in 1949) and worked such gigs as he could find. As we have seen, the years around the turn of the decade were hard on working musicians. The frustrations inevitably took their toll, and some time during this period Gerry became ensnared in a drug habit, the occupational disease that wrecked the lives and careers of so many musicians in those years. Although he eventually was able to break free (several years later in California) the habit simply made Gerry's situation worse. There is little to show for the period except for a recording session for Prestige in the summer of 1951. Gerry's arrangements for a ten-piece band for this session show the influence of the Miles Davis nonet and at the same time anticipate the writing he would do for a similar group in Los Angeles.

Shortly following the Prestige session Gerry left New York for California, hitch-hiking on an odyssey that would take almost a year, with stop-overs in Reading and Albuquerque. Once in Los Angeles Mulligan quickly sold some arrangements to Stan Kenton ('Youngblood' and 'Swing House') and played some weekend marathon sessions at the Lighthouse. His fortunes began to turn when he landed a job on the Monday-night session at The Haig, a small club (actually, a converted bungalow) on Wilshire Boulevard. These sessions featured a rotating group of musicians that included altoist Sonny Criss, trumpeter Ernie Royal, pianists Jimmy Rowles or Fred Otis, bassists Joe Comfort, Red Mitchell or Joe Mondragon, drummers Alvin Stoller or Chico Hamilton, and assorted visitors. One of the musicians who chanced to sit in that summer of 1952 was a young trumpeter named Chet Baker, who had gained local fame when he was chosen by Charlie Parker for a quintet Parker was fronting during a visit to the Coast.

Chesney Baker was born in Yale, Oklahoma on 23 December 1929, and moved to California in 1940. He began instrumental training at Glendale Junior High, first on trombone, then on trumpet. He remembers that he had some- difficulties because: 'I would rely too much on my ear instead of the notes.’ [Quoted by Bob Rosenblum in notes to Artist House 9411] Nevertheless Chet progressed rapidly on his instrument. In 1946 he was drafted and wound up playing with the 298th Army Band in Berlin. Discharged in 1948, he found the Los Angeles scene a little slow and re-enlisted to play with the Presidio Army Band in San Francisco, where he spent most of his off-duty hours jamming in local clubs. He was discharged once again in 1952 and began playing local jobs around LA. The turning-point came when he heard that Charlie Parker was auditioning for a trumpet player. 'When I got to his club every trumpet player in LA was there. I got up and played two tunes and he stopped the audition and hired me on the spot. I was twenty-two at the time. [Ibid] The job with Parker lasted several months before the altoist returned to New York. 'When Bird went east,' Chet remembers, 'he told Dizzy and Miles, "You better look out, there's a little white cat out on the West Coast who's gonna eat you up."' [Ibid]

Shortly after that Chet was introduced to Gerry Mulligan at one of the concerts at The Haig. It wouldn't be correct to say that the two found instant rapport with one another, but over a period of time - playing together weekly at the Monday-night sessions - Mulligan and Baker began to realize that each had an affinity for the other's playing. The Gerry Mulligan Quartet was not formed instantly; it evolved over a period of months. Richard Bock, who served as publicity man for The Haig and who had been an A & R man and producer for Discovery records, thought that Mulligan ought to be recorded and suggested a few trial tapings. On 10 June 1952, Bock and a few of The Haig's regulars met at the Laurel Canyon bungalow of Phil Turetsky, a recording engineer. It was to have been a quartet date, but Jimmy Rowles missed the session for some reason. A trio comprised of Mulligan, Red Mitchell and Chico Hamilton nevertheless taped three selections on Turetsky's Ampex recorder. In July they tried again. This time Chet Baker was invited, but although Rowles made this session, Chico Hamilton was absent. The drumless quartet (with Joe Mondragon on bass) taped two more pieces.

In the meantime, Mulligan and his crew were working on a new concept during the regular concerts at The Haig. Bock recounts what happened next:

In mid-July of 1952, The Haig booked the Red Norvo Trio for an engagement of indefinite length. The trio at that time consisted of Red Mitchell on bass and Tal Farlow on guitar. Inasmuch as the trio did not use a piano, and since Gerry had insisted that he would rather play the Monday-night sessions without the piano, Haig owner John Bennett decided to put the piano in storage. It was this decision that brought Chet Baker, Chico Hamilton and a young bass player from Long Beach by the name of Bob Whitlock to form the first Mulligan pianoless quartet.' [Notes to Pacific Jazz PJ-8]

Gerry and the others experimented with the format before the live audiences until things began to gel. In the meantime, Bock was so impressed with the group sound that he borrowed some money and set up a new record company specially to record the quartet. Thus was born the Pacific jazz label. Bock continues the story:

After five Monday nights, Gerry felt the quartet was ready to record. On the afternoon of 16 August 1952, at the Turetsky bungalow again, we recorded the memorable 'Bernie's Tune' and 'Lullaby of the Leaves'. That record, released as a single in the autumn of 1952, put Pacific Jazz in business. The quartet rapidly became a West Coast sensation. [Ibid]

It did indeed, and not only in Los Angeles. Less than a month after the initial Pacific Jazz session the quartet traveled up the coast for an engagement at the Blackhawk in San Francisco. Because of prior commitments, Bob Whitlock couldn't make the trip, and Carson Smith filled in on bass. In San Francisco the group was invited to record (on the recommendation of Dave Brubeck) for the independent Fantasy label. The four tunes recorded at that session helped to spread the quartet's fame. There were two Mulligan originals, 'Line for Lyons' (Jimmy Lyons, who would later produce the Monterey jazz Festivals) and 'Bark for Barksdale', and two standards, the Latin-flavoured 'Carioca' and the classic Rodgers and Hart ballad 'My Funny Valentine'. This last tune became an even bigger hit than 'Bernie's Tune'. It features Chet Baker, accompanied at first only by a walking bass, then by the other members of the quartet singing a capella, and finally by some exquisite counterpoint by Mulligan's baritone sax.

The following month found the quartet back in LA and once again recording for Pacific Jazz. With Bob Whitlock back on bass, the group recorded six more tunes, enough - with the addition of 'Bernie's Tune' and 'Lullaby of the Leaves' - to fill a ten-inch LP. Mulligan contributed three originals: 'Nights at the Turntable', 'Soft Shoe' and 'Walkin' Shoes'. All are taken at easy middle tempos and highlight the comfortable interplay between the musicians - especially Mulligan and Baker. Chet Baker also contributed an original for the session, an up-tempo piece aptly called 'Freeway'. Two standards, 'Frenesi' and a jaunty 'Aren't You Glad You're You', complete the bill.

With this nucleus of twelve sides (eight for Pacific Jazz and four for Fantasy) the Gerry Mulligan Quartet had provided a sampling of their wares for the record-buying public. Not surprisingly, most of these tunes are taken at a medium tempo, where the interplay between the horns of Baker and Mulligan is shown to best advantage. One of the highlights of a Mulligan quartet performance, whether on record or in concert, is the improvised weaving of contrapuntal lines of the horns and bass. The influence here is at least as much King Oliver as J.S. Bach, and the comment has often been made that the quartet was at times playing a sort of neo-Dixieland. Although this was meant as a put-down, it is an observation to which Mulligan - who has always felt respect and admiration for his jazz elders - would readily assent. Gerry knew just where his quartet stood in relation to the evolution of jazz. 'The idea of a band without a piano is not new,' he wrote, in the liner notes introducing his first Pacific Jazz album. 'The very first jazz bands didn't use them (how could they? They were either marching or riding in wagons.') In fact, it would be useful to reprint here Mulligan's comments from the same liner notes, explaining the concept on which his quartet was based:

I consider the string bass to be the basis of the sound of the group; the foundation on which the soloist builds his line, the main thread around which the two horns weave their contrapuntal interplay. It is possible with two voices to imply the sound of or impart the feeling of any chord or series of chords as Bach shows us so thoroughly and enjoyably in his inventions.

When a piano is used in a group it necessarily plays the dominant role; the horns and bass must tune to it as it cannot tune to them, making it the dominant tonality. The piano's accepted function of constantly stating the chords of the progression makes the solo horn a slave to the whims of the piano player. The soloist is forced to adapt his line to the changes and alterations made by the pianist in the chords of the progression.

It is obvious that the bass does not possess as wide a range of volume and dynamic possibilities as the drums and horns. It is therefore necessary to keep the overall volume in proportion to that of the bass in order to achieve an integrated group sound.[Notes to Pacific Jazz PJLP-1]

These notes were in response to the controversy over the pianoless group then raging in the press, and they clearly show Mulligan as an articulate and knowledgeable musician. But they also tend to leave an impression of Mulligan as a solemn intellectual, preoccupied with the theories behind his music, and this is wide of the mark. Actually, Gerry is quite impatient with those who would scrutinize, rather than enjoy, the music. Some seven years after he wrote the notes above, he would write (in the album notes for a later edition of the quartet):

Jazz music is fun to me. All music can be fun for that matter, but what I mean is we usually have a hell of a good time playing and listening to each other.

But some of the people who do the most talking about jazz (that may even be the basic problem right there!) don't seem to get any real fun out of listening to it. It seems to me that all the super-intellectualizing on the technique of jazz and the lack of response to the emotion and meaning of jazz is spoiling the fun for listeners and players alike. [Notes to Columbia LP 1307]

Certainly the quartet offered the crowds at The Haig enjoyment as well as intellectual stimulation. Soon after the initial Pacific jazz single was released the quartet became The Haig's star attraction, moving from the off-night slot to the weekends. Throughout a tenure that lasted from the autumn of 1952 to the summer of 1953, Mulligan and his crew consistently drew overflow crowds. The Haig was a small room (capacity about eighty-five), and as Bock remembers it, 'on weekends more people could be found outside waiting in line to get in than were actually inside'.[Notes to Pacific Jazz PJ-8] An article in Time magazine (2 February 1953) helped to spread the group's fame. That fame edged into notoriety when Mulligan stopped the quartet in mid-performance one night to chew out the audience for talking while the band was playing, an occasion that was duly noted by the jazz press., Mulligan answered his critics in an interview in Down Beat magazine - and incidentally proved that he could be as tactless with fellow musicians as he was with an audience.

Most of The Haig's customers are there to listen to the music - those who aren't don't matter. It's a small place, and when anyone starts talking it not only annoys those who are trying to listen, but disturbs the continuity of our collective musical thinking. I know the people talk, laugh and carry on down there at the Lighthouse all the time when Rumsey's band is playing - but they blast all night long anyway, so it doesn't matter. [Down Beat May 20, 1953, p. 4]

The first five months of 1953 found the quartet at the height of its popularity, and Mulligan took advantage of the situation to record heavily. In January there was another trip north to San Francisco, where the group cut four more sides for Fantasy records: 'The Lady is a Tramp', 'Moonlight in Vermont', 'Limelight' and 'Turnstile'. By this time Carson Smith had permanently replaced Bob Whitlock as the group's bassist. An even more important change in personnel took place when Chico Hamilton left the group. Chico had proved to be the perfect drummer for the quartet, displaying an ability to swing like hell while keeping his volume to a level compatible with the group sound. However, The Haig's small size made it impossible for Gerry to pay his sidemen much more than union scale. When Hamilton was offered a lucrative job as accompanist for Lena Horne, he felt he couldn't refuse. His replacement was Larry Bunker, a versatile musician who also played vibes, and who was one of the few drummers capable of adequately filling in behind Chico Hamilton.

At the end of January Mulligan once again entered the recording studios, but not with the quartet. This time it was with a much larger group: a ten-piece band that would be dubbed a tentette. Gerry would later remember its genesis as follows: 'When we were first playing at The Haig with the quartet, I started the tentette as a rehearsal band to have something to write for. After a time, Gene Norman, a Los Angeles promoter and disc jockey, came to me and said he'd like to record the band. Since no one else had suggested recording us, I said yes. [Quoted by Pete Welding in notes to Mosaic MR5-102]  Mulligan came to regret that snap decision. Norman did not have a union recording license of his own and planned to offer the date to Capitol records if he could use their license, the same arrangement he had used to record the initial Shorty Rogers session. Neither Gene Norman nor Mulligan was aware that Capitol officials had already planned to approach Gerry with an offer of their own, but once Norman had made his offer to Capitol, they felt it would be unethical to proceed. The session was eventually recorded for Gene Norman and released by Capitol. Gerry later felt that had he recorded directly for the label he might have had 'more albums to show for our work'. [Ibid]

The tentette, as Gerry has pointed out, was essentially the quartet 'combined with the ensemble instrumentation of the Miles Davis nonet'. That is, there were two trumpets, a (valve) trombone, French horn, tuba, an alto and two baritone saxophones, bass and drums. Comparisons are inevitable between the tentette and both the Miles Davis and Shorty Rogers mid-sized bands, but the similarities with the Davis nonet are necessarily more pronounced, simply because Mulligan wrote and played for both groups. Three of the tentette performances relate directly to the Miles Davis sides. 'Rocker' was recorded by both groups, and Gerry's arrangement stays basically the same, although he does drop a variation on the theme that was included at the close of the earlier version. 'Ontet', on the other hand, is Gerry's expansion of the out-chorus on his earlier chart of 'Godchild'. And Gerry's 'A Ballad' clearly reflects the influence of Gil Evans's writing on 'Moondreams'.

Of the remaining five performances, four are Mulligan originals. 'Walkin' Shoes' is the only piece that appears in the repertoire of both the quartet and tentette. 'Westwood Walk', taken at a brighter pace, features Chico Hamilton booting the band along. (Chico was replaced by Larry Bunker on the second of the tentette's two recording sessions, however.) 'Simbah' is taken at the fastest tempo of all, while 'Flash' features Mulligan's aggressive piano and the Konitz-like alto of Bud Shank. Finally, 'Takin' a Chance on Love' showcases Gerry's piano all the way.

Unfortunately, the tentette sides were somewhat buried under all the hoopla surrounding the quartet. They enjoyed a certain in-group reputation among musicians, but this was not enough to get the tentette back into the studios. The experience Mulligan gained writing for the group undoubtedly paid dividends later in his writing for the Concert Jazz Band of the sixties, but that is beyond the scope of this narrative. Perhaps the most important achievement of the performances at the time was to show that Chet Baker could play a more forceful and aggressive horn than he had previously exhibited on the quartet sides.

One other group of performances recorded early in 1953 found Mulligan and company straying from the quartet format. Lee Konitz; came through California with Stan Kenton's band and sat in at various times with the quartet. Several of these collaborations - caught live at The Haig as well as in the recording studio were taped by Richard Bock and released for Pacific Jazz. These sides are fascinating studies of the effect Konitz had on the quartet and vice versa.

There is, it might be added, considerable confusion about the dates of these meetings. For that matter, the entire Pacific jazz catalogue is a discographical quagmire. Apparently few files were kept documenting the label's recording sessions. The liner notes to the twelve-inch album Lee Konitz Plays with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet give 25 January 1953 as the date for the five recordings, and Bock himself - on another album - gives 10 June as the date for one of the 'studio' (actually Turetsky's bungalow) sessions. But other sources show that Lee Konitz was out of town with the Kenton band on 10 June. The standard discography, Jorgen Jepsen's jazz Records (currently under revision), lists 25 and 30 January and 1 February as the dates for all of the Konitz recordings, but in each case indiscriminately mixes live performances with those obviously taped in a studio or other controlled environment. Without going into too much detail, a good ‘guesstimate' is as follows. The most likely date for the live performances seems to be 25 January (a Sunday evening). At least three of the studio cuts - 'I Can't Believe that You're in Love with Me', 'Lady be Good' and 'Sextet' - had to have been recorded at about the same time. (All three were issued on a ten-inch LP, PJLP-2, which was reviewed in the 20 May issue of Down Beat.)The remaining studio cuts, 'Broadway' and 'Almost Like Being in Love', may have been recorded at some later date.

Whenever they were recorded, the performances from The Haig show a less introspective, more fiery Konitz than was usually the case in these early years. On the up-tempo numbers, 'Too Marvelous for Words', 'I'll Remember April', 'All the Things You are' and a recently discovered 'Bernie's Tune', Lee reels off chorus after chorus of effortless improvisation. Perhaps the lack of a piano freed his imagination. The two ballads, 'Lover Man' and 'These Foolish Things', find Konitz closer to his usual relaxed and lyrical style. Gerry selflessly allows the altoist the bulk of the solo space on all these sides and is content mainly to provide sympathetic counter-lines and riffs. Baker, for some reason, sounds tentative and even intimidated in his few solos from this session.

The studio recordings, on the other hand, are something of a let-down. The solos are kept short, since the sides are limited to the three-minute format of a 78 rpm single, and this in turn gives too much prominence to the opening and closing themes, making the records sound over-arranged. Still, the musicians get into a nice relaxed groove on several of the sides, and on an alternate take of 'Lady be Good' Lee Konitz momentarily regains some of the fire he had shown on the live performances.

As interesting as the Konitz and tentette sessions are, however, it is still the quartet that holds our attention, and the basic group was far from idle in the early months of 1953. In February the quartet, with its new rhythm section of Carson Smith and Larry Bunker, returned to the studios and recorded four tunes, 'Makin' Whoopee', 'Cherry', 'Motel' and 'Carson City Stage'. These were released with four of the Lee Konitz collaborations on the album mentioned above. The group recorded three more tunes in March, 'Festive Minor', 'All the Things You are' and 'My Old Flame', although the latter tune was the only one released at the time.

A month later the group recorded a series of tunes that would be released on PJLP-5, the second album devoted strictly to the quartet. 'Love Me or Leave Me', 'Swing House' and ‘Jeru' were cut on 27 April, while 'Dam that Dream', 'I May be Wrong', 'I'm Beginning to See the Light', 'The Nearness of You' and 'Tea for Two' were done at additional sessions on 29 and 30 April. Mulligan's originals, 'Swing House' and ‘Jeru', are especially interesting. The first is based on 'Sweet Georgia Brown' changes and features some delicious 'French horn' harmonies in the chase chorus. This version of 'Jeru' (Gerry's nickname) is fascinating simply because it does away with the unorthodox meters and structure that Gerry had used on the

Birth of the Cool arrangement of the tune. Here we have a conventional thirty-two-bar, AABA framework. (The change is not unlike that which Duke Ellington's 'Concerto for Cootie' underwent in being transformed into the pop song 'Do Nothing till You Hear from Me'.) 'Tea for Two', incidentally, was entitled 'Tea or Two' on some earlier issues of the original ten-inch LP, and although Mulligan's version is obviously based on the Youmens and Caesar standard, the melody line is delightfully altered. The new title could well represent an insider's joke.

Finally, the quartet was recorded live at The Haig one more time on 20 May 1953. Only two of the performances, 'Five Brothers' and 'I Can't Get Started', were originally released, but seven additional performances have recently been issued on a five-record Mosaic album that offers all of the quartet (including the Konitz) sides and tentette performances we've been discussing. The additional tunes taped at this final live session are 'Ide's Side', 'Haig and Haig', 'My Funny Valentine', and - with a visiting Chico Hamilton sitting in for Larry Bunker - 'Aren't You Glad You're You', 'Get Happy', 'Poinciana' and 'Godchild'. The musicians all seem to be having a ball on these sides, and it's a shame the tapes were buried for so long.

These were the final recorded performances of the original Gerry Mulligan Quartet - with the possible exception of the previously mentioned Lee Konitz session in June. Shortly thereafter Gerry was arrested on a narcotics charge and was sentenced to a ninety-day stay on the California Honor Farm. When he was released, Gerry felt that he had had enough of California for a while. Chet Baker no doubt helped to confirm Gerry's decision. As one of Mulligan's friends remembers it, 'Chet met Gerry when he got out of jail and said, "I want four hundred dollars a week." This to a guy who'd just taken a bust and didn't have a job.’ [Goldberg, op cit., p. 16] Chet's own version is a little different. Both he and Mulligan had won the Down Beat polls during Gerry's confinement, and Baker says it was Mulligan who brought up the subject of re-establishing the group.

All I wanted was $300 a week and he started laughing like I was asking for something outrageous. Up to this point all I was making was $120 a week, six nights a week. So that was the end of the group. Our original band never went on tour. Three hundred dollars a week was nothing! And that's what really pissed me off. I worked for him for eleven months without asking for a raise, but after we both won the polls I figured, Jesus, it's time to get a little more bread. [Quoted in Rosenblum, op cit]

In any event, the quartet did not get together again and Mulligan left for New York. There have been reunions of Mulligan and Baker; once in 1957 for a Pacific Jazz album (cut in New York), and again in 1974 for a Carnegie Hall concert, which was recorded by CTI Records. If the two aren't close friends, they nevertheless still respect each other's playing, and the 1974 recordings show that there is still an uncanny empathy when the two play together.

Meanwhile, back in the summer of 1953, Richard Bock found himself with a struggling young record company and his star artist temporarily unavailable. Naturally he turned to Chet Baker, who had formed a quartet of his own. The results were a series of records that made Chet a star in his own right. Chet cut his first solo side ('Isn't It Romantic') on 24 July, with a quartet consisting of Russ Freeman, piano, Red Mitchell, bass and Bobby White, drums. A few days later he recorded three additional numbers; then on 29 and 30 July he recorded fourteen pieces with a quartet that featured Russ Freeman and his stablemates from the Mulligan quartet, Carson Smith and Larry Bunker. All told there were enough tunes for two ten-inch LPs and a number of singles.

In Russ Freeman, Chet had found an ideal collaborator. Freeman was born 28 May 1926 in Chicago and moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s, where he studied classical piano. He was one of the first of the white pianists on the Coast to adapt to the post-war modern-jazz styles, and was soon in demand whenever there was need of a hard-swinging rhythm section. Russ backed Charlie Parker for a time during the altoist's first stay in California, and later made jazz time with Howard McGhee and Dexter Gordon. In the early fifties he was with Art Pepper and Wardell Gray, and briefly filled the piano chair with the Lighthouse All-Stars. His is a sparse style, with no unnecessary notes, and perhaps because of this his reputation is much higher among fellow musicians than with the general public. He is also a jazz composer whose lines are truly original, rather than merely new melodies grafted on to standard chord progressions. Several of Freeman's originals were featured in these early Chet Baker sessions, including 'Maid in Mexico', 'Russ Job', 'Batter Up', 'No Ties', 'Band Aid', 'Bea's Flat' and 'Happy Little Sunbeam'.



If the empathy between Chet Baker and Russ Freeman was not quite as complete as that between Baker and Mulligan, it was none the less striking. More than any other musician, Russ could break Chet free of his introspective shell, and the bland quality that marred much of the trumpeter's work was usually kept to a minimum whenever Russ Freeman was present. Baker returned the favor by being an especially sensitive interpreter of the pianist's compositions. 'He's the only one who could play my songs the way I hear them. He had such an innate feeling for them,' Freeman would later tell an interviewer. [John Tynan, “Straight Talk from Russ Freeman, Down Beat, March 14, 1963, p. 20] These two facets of the collaboration are best illustrated by two tunes cut in the July sessions. Baker romps through 'All the Things You are' with an abandon that puts to rest any doubts about his ability to generate a fire; while his jaunty interpretation of Freeman's 'Happy Little Sunbeam' strikes the perfect evocation of the mood suggested by the tune's tide.

Pacific Jazz continued to record its new star, but unfortunately Richard Bock seemed to get sidetracked by a bid for mass popularity. This resulted in an album entitled Chet Baker Sings, which is, from a jazz standpoint, an unmitigated disaster. The very worst faults of Baker's trumpet style - a tendency towards introspection, a limited emotional and dynamic range - are multiplied tenfold by his soft, quavering voice. No doubt the singer's small-boyish vocals brought out the mothering instinct in some of the females of his audience, but hard-core jazz enthusiasts were and remain turned off. On the other hand, the popularity of the album probably helped underwrite many other more worthy jazz offerings.

With one exception (a seven-piece ensemble album which we'll examine in the next chapter) there is little that needs to be said of the remaining records produced by Chet Baker during this period. They featured him in a variety of contexts: there was a Chet Baker and Strings album for Columbia which was almost as innocuous as the vocal album; a live recording by the quartet (with Bob Neel in for Larry Bunker) at a concert at the University of Michigan; a sextet session with Bob Brookmeyer and Bud Shank that has some nice arrangements by Johnny Mandel and Jack Montrose; and another 'strings' album for Pacific Jazz. None of these is outstanding, and the strings albums are not even of average interest. The next year in which Chet Baker recorded albums of importance was 1956, and we'll return to him then.

In the meantime, Gerry Mulligan had gone his own way. His next record was taped in concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, during a European tour, and is thus somewhat out of our purview. The new quartet consisted of Bob Brookmeyer on valve-trombone, Red Mitchell, bass and Frank Isola, drums. The recordings are of interest if only because of the new personnel, but they suffer in comparison with the Mulligan-Baker sides. Although Bob Brookmeyer has a definite affinity for Gerry's music, the range and timbre of the valve-trombone is so similar to that of the baritone sax there is little effective contrast between the two horns. The formation of a quartet with a trumpet as the lead voice had to wait until Mulligan returned to California.

Gerry did return in December of 1954 for a concert tour that introduced his new trumpet player, Jon Eardley. Red Mitchell remained the quartet's bassist, and Chico Hamilton rejoined Mulligan for this tour. Pacific Jazz's first twelve-inch LP captured the quartet - and a sextet - at two stops along the tour, Stockton and San Diego. The concert at Stockton, on 3 December, opens with an impromptu blues. Gerry's comments to late arrivals, 'I think maybe I'll play some blues while you get seated,' gives the number its title, 'Blues Going Up'. Jon Eardley proves to be a more than adequate replacement for Chet Baker, displaying a fat tone that at times suggests an updated Bix Beiderbecke. Eardley is also featured on the Rodgers and Hart ballad 'Little Girl Blue'. 'Piano Blues' finds Gerry at the keyboard, playing in a traditional, down-home style. Gerry returns to the baritone sax for the closing number, Charlie Parker's 'Yardbird Suite', taken at a relaxed yet swinging up tempo. There is also a brief taste of the quartet's theme, 'Utter Chaos'.

The San Diego concert on the fourteenth introduced Gerry's new sextet. Larry Bunker replaced Chico Hamilton, and Mulligan, Eardley and Mitchell were joined by Bob Brookmeyer and tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims on three numbers. The first, 'Western Reunion', is a straight-ahead swinger on the familiar 'I Got Rhythm' foundations. The four horns combine timbres nicely and afford Mulligan the opportunity to produce a full band sound. 'I Know, Don't Know How' is an original ballad of Gerry's, while 'The Red Door' is a composition of Zoot's. On the latter number, Jon Eardley lays out, and Bob Brookmeyer plays piano. These three numbers were the only sextet performances released on the original twelve-inch LP, but several additional numbers from both concerts were later issued on various Pacific jazz anthologies. These were, according to Jepsen, 'Bark for Barksdale', 'Soft Shoe' and 'Blues for Tiny' by the quartet and 'There'll Never be Another You', 'Polka dots and Moonbeams' and 'Flamingo' by the sextet. However, at least one of the quartet performances, 'Soft Shoe', is quite obviously a studio recording. It's tempting to hope that other studio performances of the short-lived quartet with Eardley may some day be unearthed, for it is a well balanced band, quite on a par with the Mulligan-Baker quartet.

These concerts marked Mulligan's last appearance in California for some time. He spent the next several years in New York, working with the sextet format and recording a series of albums for the Emarcy label. When Gerry Mulligan returned to New York at the close of 1954, he left a musical scene far different from the one he had found upon his arrival in Los Angeles a short two years earlier. The catchphrase West Coast jazz was being bandied about in the jazz press and, much to his irritation, Gerry's name was often linked with the music. Gerry was quite right in rejecting the linkage; his quartet was sui generis and belonged to no school save that of Mulligan himself. At the same time, though, the national popularity of the quartet did much to draw attention to jazz in southern California and helped smooth the way for other musicians who were trying to be heard. As we have seen, Pacific jazz owed its very existence to the Mulligan quartet, and that label and the other independent companies that sprang up in its wake were largely responsible for launching the careers of many southland musicians who had been anonymous before Gerry had arrived. Gerry Mulligan's help may have been inadvertent, but it was indispensable nevertheless.