Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gerry Mulligan: Part 1



“In his short story, Entropy, the novelist Thomas Pynchon takes Mulligan’s early-1950’s piano-less quartets with Chet Baker as a crux of post modernism, improvisation without the safety net of predictable chords.
The revisionist argument was that Mulligan attempted the experiment simply because he had to work in a club with no piano.
The true version is that there was a piano, albeit an inadequate one, but he was already experimenting with a much more arranged sound for small groups (to which the baritone saxophone was particularly adaptable) and the absence of a decent keyboard was merely an additional spur. …
Mulligan’s piano-less quartet is one of the epochal jazz groups, even if it had no such aspirations, formed for nothing more than a regular gig at The Haig….
In retrospect, it’s the simplest pleasures which have made the music endure: the uncomplicated swing of the various rhythm sections, the piquant contrast of amiably gruff baritone saxophone and shyly melodious trumpet ….
Cool but hot, slick but never too clever, these are some of the most pleasurable records of their time.”
Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD [6th Ed.: p. 1082; paragraphing modified].

© - Steven A. Cerra: copyright protected all rights reserved.


With this piece, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles begins a multi-part feature on composer, arranger, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan that will culminate in Part 5: Gerry Mulligan -The Gordon Jack Interview which was published as part of his work - FIFTIES JAZZ TALK: AN ORAL PERSPECTIVE [2004] and is available from The Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Maryland and other retail and online book sellers.

In order to assist with our expanded portrayal of one of the Giants of Jazz, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has secured copyright permission from authors Bill Crow, Nat Hentoff and Gene Lees to use chapters about Gerry from their books. These will appear in subsequent sections of this piece on Gerry.

I liked Gerry Mulligan’s music from the first time I heard it. It made me feel content then and it still makes me feel content now whenever I play any of his records.

Mulligan’s music makes me feel happy, joyous and free, whatever the musical context, be it the arrangements he wrote for the Gene Krupa, Claude Thornhill, and Elliot Lawrence big bands; his involvement with Gil Evans in the Birth of the Cool sessions issued under Miles Davis’ name in the late 1940’s; his early 1950’s piano-less quartet with Chet Baker; the Kenton arrangements such as Youngblood, Swing House and Walking Shoes around the same time; the sextet he formed in the mid-1950s with Jon Eardley [tp], Bob Brookmeyer [vtb] and Zoot Sims [ts]; the re-formed quartets first with Bob Brookmeyer and later with Art Farmer [tp]; the marvelous and all-too-short-lived early 1960s version of the Concert Jazz Band; his association with Dave Brubeck’s Quartet after the latter’s classic quartet with Paul Desmond disbanded in 1967; the 1974 Carnegie Hall reunion with Chet Baker; the re-constituted editions of the Concert Jazz Band in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s; his quartet during the later years of his life which included either Bill Charlap or Ted Rosenthal [p], Dean Johnson [b] and Ron Vincent [d].

And lest we forget, there are the many “Gerry Mulligan Plays with …” albums that this peripatetic baritone saxophonist made with the likes of Stan Getz, Thelonious Monk, Lee Konitz , Paul Desmond, Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster.


Nat Hentoff fondly refers to Gerry as the “Huck Finn” or the “Johnny Appleseed” of Jazz and Doug Ramsey also portrays Gerry’s wandering minstrel tendency in a most praiseworthy fashion when he explains:

“Some musicians, once they move past their salad days and establish careers as identifiable stylists, rarely leave the confines of their own groups or, if they do, seldom mingle in performances with players outside their own styles or eras. There are many sensible, even laudatory, reasons for such isolation. Some are purely artistic. Some are commercial. Others have to do with preservation of image, which is usually another manifestation of salability. Still others concern sheer preservation of physical and psychic energy.

But there have always been in jazz a few artists at the pinnacle of their profession, admired by their peers, flexible in outlook, quickly adaptable to a variety of circumstances, who love to play in virtually any musical setting of quality … [and] among major jazz artists, it may be that no one has sat in more often with bands playing a greater range of styles than has Gerry Mulligan.

Mulligan, master baritone saxophonist, small group innovator, one of the premier arrangers, is at home in every jazz idiom with the possible exception of the most outré elements of avant-garde.” [Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music & Some of its Makers, Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1989, p. 229].



Given the magnitude of the footprint that he left upon the music, it is almost as impossible to assess Gerry Mulligan’s role in the development
of modern Jazz in the second half of the 20th century as it is to underestimate it.

The following excerpt by Ted Gioia from his Cool Jazz and West Coast Jazz in The Oxford Companion to Jazz as edited by Bill Kirchner [New York, Oxford University Press, 2000] might serve as one starting point for Gerry contributions to Jazz’s evolution during this period:

“Gerry Mulligan’s stint in California in the early 1950s proved decisive for the emerging West Coast sound. Modern jazz in Los Angeles in the late 1940s was as hot as the asphalt under which the city was then being covered. It took as its primary model the bebop styles of the East Coast.

Mulligan’s L.A. quartet [with trumpeter Chet Baker] changed all of that, questioning the conventional wisdom about jazz music’s rhythmic essence, its melodic impulses, its approach to composition, even its assumptions about instrumentation.

Mulligan’s finely etched baritone sax lines entered into a ruminative counterpoint dialogue with Baker’s trumpet phrases. … Never before had the softer extremes of the dynamic spectrum been so finely explored by a jazz band …. [Accompanied by only bass and drums] no piano or guitar cluttered the pristine harmonic textures of the band, and this imparted even great clarity to the interlocking horn lines. [paragraphing modified: p. 336].

And yet, Mulligan seems to have disavowed the importance of his time on the West Coast claiming later in his career:

My bands would have been successful anywhere. [Mulligan, a native New Yorker, went on to assert] I didn’t live in California. I went to California, scuffled around for a while, wrote some charts for Stan Kenton to survive, and started my group – I had very little contact with anything going on out there – and then left.” [Bob Rusch, Gerry Mulligan Interview, Cadence, October 1977, p. 7, as quoted in Gioia, West Coast Jazz, p. 175].

As this excerpt from Ira Gitler’s Swing to Bop demonstrates, Gerry’s criticism of his time on the West Coast involving Stan Kenton was particularly vitriolic:

… part of the thing that really depressed me and I always hated being called West Coast jazz because to me the influences out of the West Coast in jazz were personified by Stan Kenton's band. And Stan's band to me was some kind of way symbolic of the end of the bands as I loved them. It had gotten too big and too pompous. You know, it took itself so seriously. Like just something terribly Wagnerian about it all.
Well, I once said, thinking I was being humorous, that Stan is the "Wagner of jazz" and then realized afterwards-because he had done a thing with the transcriptions of the Wagner pieces, and tried to conduct them-that he really saw himself that way and didn't see any humor in it at all. But I hated what that band stood for because it was like the final evolution of wrongly taken points. The way the band kept growing.
And the absolute maximum for any kind of use was the five saxes and the three or four bones and the four trumpets. The main reason . . . there's one you can do with four trumpets you can't do any other way, and that's four-part harmony, which only four trumpets together sound . . . OK. The only function for the fifth trumpet is an alternate player. But Stan's band kept getting bigger and bigger - to five trombones. Now five trombones is the most asinine.” [Swing to Bop: An Oral History of the Transition in Jazz in the 1940’s, New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, p. 247].

But as Bob Gordon points out in his effort at an even-handed assessment of Gerry’s tenure on the West Coast, while it may have been brief, it also brought him his initial fame and helped to give a wider public recognition to many southern California musicians and their music:

“When Gerry Mulligan returned to New York at the close of 1954, …, the catchphrase West Coast Jazz was being bandied about in the Jazz press and, much to his irritation, Gerry’s name was often linked to the music. Gerry was quite right in rejecting this 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. …, Pacific Jazz [Records] owed its very existence to the Mulligan quartet, and that label and 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 arrived. Gerry Mulligan’s help may have been inadvertent, but it was indispensable nevertheless." [Jazz West Coast, London: Quartet Books, 1986, p. 85].

Before Gerry’s time on the West Coast, there were four, distinctive associations during the formative years of his career: [1] his time with drummer Gene Krupa’s post World War II orchestra; [2] his work with the Claude Thornhill orchestra beginning in 1947 which led to his meeting the arranger composer Gil Evans, [3] his work as a composer-arranger for the Philadelphia-based Elliot Lawrence band that began in 1949 and continued into the mid-1950s; [4] also in 1949, the landmark Birth of the Cool sessions issued under trumpeter Miles Davis’ name.

As Gunther Schuller points out:

“[In addition to Eddie Finckel], “… George Williams, and Gerry Mulligan, were even more instrumental in bringing the Krupa band into the modern era….
[And yet], Krupa did not record Gerry Mulligan’s early work (1946-47) until a dozen years later with a star-studded specially assembled band for Norman Granz’s Verve label. Krupa may simply have considered Mulligan’s [early] work too risky commercially – he did take a chance on two of his more “conservative” scores, Disc Jockey Jump (1947) and How High the Moon (1946) – notwithstanding his genuine commitment to the newer jazz styles, which he staunchly maintained into the early 1950s and beyond that. Indeed by 1949, the year the bop movement finally achieved wider public recognition, Krupa’s orchestra had developed into a full-fledged modern ensemble.” [The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945, New York: Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 727].

Gerry’s contributions to Gene Krupa’s big band are richly detailed in the following un-attributed insert notes to the Verve CD – Gene Krupa Plays Gerry Mulligan Arrangements, as well as, those that follow which Pete Clayton wrote for the initial LP release of this music for the World Record Club[TP 351]:

“Gerry Mulligan joined the Gene Krupa band in February, 1946, and remained about a year. He arranged for the band all that time, played alto for a couple of months and tenor for about two more. The arrangements he did during that year - when he was 19 - are both interesting in themselves and illuminating in the context of the way his writing has developed since. He did about 24 altogether.

At the age of 17, Mulligan had already started arranging professionally - for Johnny Warrington's band at the Philadelphia radio station, WCAU; for Tommy Tucker on Gerry's first road trip; and then for Elliot Lawrence, who had taken over the WCAU orchestra.
"The Krupa band, however," Mulligan recalls, "was the most professional band I'd ever written for. They were so professional they sometimes scared the hell out of me. They had no trouble playing anything I wrote. Having that skilled a unit to write for was a new and a challenging experience."

Before he heard these versions of the arrangements he'd done for Krupa, Mulligan had feared that twelve years would make them sound much too dated for comfort, but he was hearteningly surprised to hear that they still stand up. "There were a lot of things," he said, "I thought I hadn't tried until I started writing for Claude Thornhill, but now I hear that I'd already been doing them with Gene's band."

In these arrangements can be heard Mulligan's characteristic concern for linear clarity and his overall functional approach to writing. In the years after, Mulligan - through his arranging for big bands and his own quartet - did a great deal to let more air into contemporary jazz scoring. He did not allow himself to be impressed with sound effects - however massed and screaming - for their own sake, but preferred instead to make a large band flow and swing lightly but firmly with plenty of space for the men, in sections as well as in solo, to breathe.
In some places here, you may be reminded of elements of the Jimmie Lunceford book, not only the rhythmic feel at times, but also the humor. Wit, sometimes sardonic, is another characteristic of Mulligan and it also was one of the invigorating assets of the Lunceford band.


"Actually," Mulligan explains, "guys at that time asked me if I'd heard Lunceford, and I hadn't. But I had heard several of the white bands who had been influenced by Lunceford."

Bird House is thus called because it's based on several Charlie Parker ideas, but it's also not unconnected with Neal Hefti's The Good Earth for inspiration. Gerry had left Mulligan Stew untitled, and the title it finally received made him vow that would be the last time he wouldn't title a song of his himself. Gerry wrote The Way of All Flesh after reading the novel, but doesn't think there are any correspondences between Samuel Butler's plot and the score.

Disc Jockey Jump, which turned out to be a Krupa hit, was written by Mulligan in the early months of his association with the band, but it wasn't put into the books until Gerry had left. Mulligan's only retrospective comment on the number is, "It came before Four Brothers."

Mulligan feels he learned a great deal from his year with Krupa, not only about writing and playing, but about people. The band traveled throughout the country, and the experience broadened Gerry considerably. He was also fond of Gene personally, and appreciated the fact that Gene let him write as much as he did and used most of it. Krupa, in turn, liked Mulligan because he always stood up for what he believed, and knew what he wanted to do.

Adding this album to your Mulligan-Krupa collection should prove to be an instructive pleasure. It gives - in high fidelity - a cross-section of an important year in Mulligan's history; and it also indicates that Krupa had the prescience to keep the 19-year-old with the band, and - up to a point - give him his head.


World Club Record" TP 351
"
Those who saw much of Gerry Mulligan during his 1963 visit to Britain found him looking robust, substantial and outrageously English as he loped affably about London smoking his pipe. And anyone who could, almost automatically contrasted this new Mulligan with the skeletally thin figure, with his sandy hair pruned down to little more than a ginger lawn, whose shortness of temper and air of almost perpetual irritability had made him such a prickly individual during his previous visit six years earlier. But if, in the matter of mere physical appearance and disposition, he has altered somewhat over the years, musically there is a consistency about him that runs right through his career; and this record, although made in 1958, takes us almost as far back as we can go in Mulligan's work in jazz. Nowadays a constant pollwinner on baritone sax, he made his first big impression as an arranger, and we have here twelve of the two dozen arrangements he did for Gene Krupa's band, of which he was a member, during 1946. He was then only nineteen.

Already he was thinking in terms of that articulate airiness that he later brought to exquisite perfection in the Quartet. At that early age he could have been excused had he succumbed to the temptation to wallow in the opulent sounds possible with a big band. But he didn't. That ambling boneyness, which is his by physique, had already got into his writing. You will notice that apart from Disc jockey jump, which was one of the Krupa band's big successes at the time, the tempos are nearly all relaxed, almost casual. And If you were the only girl in the world not only demonstrates his ability to sustain interest at a really slow tempo, but points also to his flair for working wonders with what appears at first sight to be unlikely material. The tune had been written right back in 1916 by Nat Ayer for a famous London musical show, "The Bing Boys are Here', and although a good strong one, it had always seemed to me to have rather an excess of that maudlin quality that goes down so well in pubs. But if there has to be a highspot on the record, for me it is this number.



Mulligan's own Bird house and Birds of a feather, and Yardbird suite by Parker himself, are Gerry's ample tribute to Charlie Parker. How high the moon, a number written by Morgan Lewis and Nancy Hamilton in 1940, had an uncanny fascination for the early modernists, who made it their own much as the jam sessioneers had once appropriated Honeysuckle rose and the revivalists were to latch onto The Saints. Margie by Con Conrad and J. Russell Robinson. is a standard dating from 1920. Mulligan stew is Gerry's tune but somebody else's title; he is said to have vowed thereafter never again to leave the choice of a name to another. Begin the beguine is Cole Porter's classic from the 1935 show 'Jubilee'. The way of all flesh was simply adopted as a title at about the time Mulligan was reading Samuel Butler's novel. Sometimes I'm happy V is one of the incredibly simple but highly effective numbers that came so readily to Vincent Youmans. It was in a 1927 musical called `Hit the Deck'.

When this record was played back, Mulligan was reported as being pleasantly surprised to hear how well this early work of his had stood the test of time. But he writes in a timeless way and, except when he's setting fashions for others to follow, has a sweeping disregard for such temporary things as musical fashions. What other modernist (if that term is not itself too restrictive) would dare to call himself a Dixieland musician, or admit that he'd been influenced by Red Nichols' Five Pennies? Come to that, how many jazzmen could have written with both originality and maturity while still in their teens and not only please a bandleader of an earlier musical generation altogether, but make him think it worth while rerecording those same arrangements a dozen years later still ?

Gene Krupa, who began his recording career a few months after Gerry Mulligan was born, was one of the first drummers whose technique was up to the demands of the swing era. Beginning as a Chicagoan, both geographically and musically, he went into big commercial dancebands in the early thirties, and by the time he joined Benny Goodman in 1935 he was not only a very able drummer but a first rate showman as well. He continued to propel the Goodman band in spectacular fashion until he left to form a band of his own in 1938. With a gap in the mid forties, when in the space of a few months he returned to Goodman and did a spell with Tommy Dorsey, he led a band continuously until 1951, when he first became part of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic Empire.

One of the most striking things about jazz development in recent years has been the steady change in rhythm sections; by current standards Krupa is practically old-fashioned. But he's a great driver, a propulsive force whose powers of getting a big band off the ground are as full as ever. If he has changed at all it is in the matter of restraint. My memory seems to tell me that he had an over fondness for the bass drum in the swing days, a tendency to make a lot of noise out of sheer exuberance But here he plays with a light crispness and an almost unbelievable accuracy, steering an eager band through the spacious framework of a dozen arrangements provided by the almost unknown young arranger he'd had the farseeing good sense to employ all those years earlier."

PETER CLAYTON

Gene said of his time with Mulligan:

“I was attracted by the new jazz. After listening to Dizzy [Gillespie] and Bird [Charlie Parker] for a while, I began to hear music differently. It wasn’t too long before I made a commitment to this music. I hired Gerry Mulligan. An original arranger who was deeply involved with what was happening, be brought us “Disc Jockey Jump,” which was not only well-received, but established the fact that we were serious about going in another direction. My other arrangers [were] George Williams, Neal Hefti and Eddie Finckel …. These were exciting up-to-date guys. I let them go; only occasionally did I edit their scores or shelve what I felt wouldn’t work.” [Burt Korall, Drummin’ Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz, New York: Macmillan, 1990, p. 80].

And Gerry had this to say of his time with Krupa:

“I was young when I worked for him. And he was very good to me. You know, he introduced me to the music of Maurice Ravel. He always liked to take a record player with him on the road. He loved Ravel and Delius, too.


For reasons that are detailed in Nat Hentoff’s The White Mainstreamer chapter from his work Jazz Is and which will be included in its entirety later in Part 3 of this feature, Mulligan was fired off the Krupa band and next began arranging for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, occasionally sitting in as a member of the reed section.

Thornhill's arranging staff included Gil Evans, whom Mulligan had met while working with the Krupa band. Mulligan eventually began living with Evans, at the time that Evans' apartment on West 55th Street became a regular hangout for a number of jazz musicians working on creating a new jazz idiom.

"In 1947-48, when Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan wrote arrangements for the Claude Thornhill band, the jazz-oriented instrumentals swung without shouting, and hinted at a bebop equivalent of early Count Basle and Lester Young, and It was those arrangements that inspired Miles Davis to have Evans and Mulligan create a nine-piece version of the same sound, known retrospectively as the 'Birth of the Cool' band. But Thornhill was not just historically significant, the original performances of his band stand up In their own right and are still as fresh as the day they were recorded."- BRIAN PRIESTLEY

Unfortunately, the 1948 recording ban imposed by the James Petrillo, President of the American Federation of Musicians, prevented Columbia from recording most of the arrangements that Gerry wrote for the Thornhill band.

Gerry had this to say about his experience with Claude:

“There was always a sense of the mystical about that band and its aura, and all that came from Claude. The idea of the whole ambience of the sound, the kind of voicings that were more orchestral than band-like, that was all Claude’s doing. It was a natural and willing adaptation that Gil underwent to write for the band; his way of using it was to apply his own unique talent to that instrumentation. It turned out to be the same thing for me, it gave me the opportunity to write for a band that was totally unlike the others that I had written for.”

When asked to compare Claude Thornhill to Stan Kenton, Gerry observed:

“They were probably exact opposites. Thornhill was an introvert, his music was very artistically oriented. His whole attitude was music as an expression of the spirit, and he was much drawn to the Impressionists and the music of that period. Kenton, on the other hand, was an extrovert, and his music was very extroverted and his musical heroes would be more like Wagner. They were polar opposites. The sense of how to produce the sound: the Kenton band was very muscular and physical; the Thornhill band was much more spiritual and cerebral and sensitive.” [Both of these Mulligan quotes are drawn from Will Friedwald’s insert notes to Claude Thornhill – Best of the Big Bands Columbia CK 46152].


As is explained in the following excerpt from the insert notes to Elliot Lawrence Plays Gerry Mulligan Arrangements by George T. Simon, around 1949, Gerry began producing arrangements for Elliot Lawrence’s band which:

came out of Philadelphia and radio station WCAU to become a nationally known organization in the late Forties and Fifties. One of the band's sometime tenor saxophonists eventually became a major contributor to the band's book. His talent as an instrumentalist emerged on the baritone saxophone and his writing skills were in evidence in several big bands.

Gerry Mulligan had already done "Disc Jockey Jump" for Gene Krupa when Lawrence recorded his "Elevation" and arrangement of "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" in 1949. Later Mulligan did some important charts for Stan Kenton, and finally, for his own Concert Jazz Band.

These 1955 dates yielded 12 Mulligan arrangements, including seven originals and "Mr. President," a scoring of Lester Young's solo from his 1939 recording with Count Basie. A full listing of the tracks on this album includes:

The Rocker
Bye Bye Blackbird
Happy Hooligan
Mullenium
My Silent Love
Bweebida Bwobbida
Strike Up the Band
Apple Core
Elegy for Two Clarinets
The Swinging Door
But Not For Me
Mr. President

The Lawrence band interprets the Mulligan scores with style and bite, giving ample solo space to Al Cohn's tenor saxophone, Eddie Bert's trombone, Hal McKusick's alto sax, and the trumpets of Nick Travis and Dick Sherman [as well as the lead trumpet of Bernie Glow].
These Mulligan's scores are marked by [his] warmth and taste ... The section work is wonderfully firm and precise and swings crisply...”


Around the same time that Mulligan began arranging for Elliot Lawrence, as Doug Ramsey explains in his essay Big Bands, Jazz Composing, Arranging After WW II in The Oxford Companion to Jazz:

“Mulligan was one of a group of young writers and players who in the late 1940s assembled in the Manhattan basement room of Gil Evans, their guru, to exchange ideas. Like Miles Davis, Mulligan was enchanted with Evans's work for Claude Thornhill. Evans and Mulligan wrote for Davis's nine-piece group, as did John Lewis and Johnny Carisi, with the Thornhill sound as their basic model. The band's 1949 and 1950 records, later collected as The Birth of the Cool (Capitol), became one of the most influential bodies of music in jazz. Their concepts led to the Evans-Davis collaborations that resulted in Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain (Columbia), Mulligan's 1953 Tentette (Capitol), and his Concert Jazz Band (Verve, EuroJazz).” [p. 413].

In his incisive insert notes to the CD reissue of Birth of the Cool, Pete Welding offers these thoughtful and thought-provoking comments about this seminal recording and its significance:

“In jazz, as in other music, some things are of their time, some ahead of it, while others simply know no time at all. The music produced by the Miles Davis Nonet, whose entire recorded output is contained in this album, is all of these and more. Not only was it the product of a specific time and place -and the special grouping of musicians involved in its creation-but it was demonstrably ahead of its time, having influenced a number of jazz developments that followed and took their lead from it. Then too, as listening will make immediately apparent, it's timeless as well, as most perfect things are.

Many things flowed from this seminal source-subsequent developments in Davis' own music and in those of various of its participants, notably Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans and John Lewis; much small group jazz of the '50s and '60s which drew upon various of its elements as well as its underlying philosophy; the whole West Coast jazz movement, and so on. All of which is even more remarkable when one considers how little the Nonet recorded or, more important, performed in public. (The latter generally is the best indication of how musical advances are perceived and received by the listening public.)

Still, while jazz audiences of the late 1940s may have been indifferent to the music of the Nonet, at least to the extent of supporting its New York club dates, jazz players of the time evinced no such resistance but, rather, were quick to recognize the beauty and creative audacity of its music, the quietly revolutionary character of its approach to the small jazz ensemble, and the potential for further development implicit in it. Musicians in fact were the first to respond to what was signaled in the Nonet's recordings, and they did so almost immediately. Within two years of the group's final recording session Gerry Mulligan had incorporated various of the Nonet's musical precepts in the formation of his celebrated pianoless quartet with Chet Baker and was enjoying great success. Trumpeter-arranger Shorty Rogers assimilated its lessons, first into the arrangements he was doing for the Stan Kenton Orchestra and, from 1951 on, even more fully for his small group The Giants from which so much that was viable in the then emerging West Coast jazz idiom took its lead. John Lewis, another Nonet member, had formed and set the musical direction for the Modern Jazz Quartet based largely on his experiences with the Davis group.


Throughout jazz, in fact, the most forward-looking younger musicians studied the Nonet's recordings with the closest interest and translated whatever they could to their own music. Nor did its influence end with these and like activities of the '50s, but in the four decades that have elapsed since the Nonet made its first recordings has colored the very fabric of small group and, through the further collaborations of Davis and Evans which grew from their work for the Nonet, orchestral jazz as well. Hindsight has shown, and only too clearly, that these are among the landmark recordings of modern jazz, the implications of which continue to resonate in ways large and small through the music even today.

While it would be stretching the truth to say that the Davis Nonet came about through happenstance, there was a certain amount of the fortuitous to it. And like many things labeled revolutionary after the fact, the Nonet's music actually evolved gradually, through a steady process of development and experimentation in which its approach was defined, refined and given final shape. …

In its music the Nonet sought to realize a number of interlocking goals. Foremost of these was the development of an approach to ensemble writing that would retain the freshness and immediacy of improvised music and in which would be fused elements from bop, and Parker's music in particular, with a number of jazz practices such as a light, vibrato-less tonality and a more subtle approach to rhythm that the boppers largely had eschewed, as well as an attempt at achieving the broadened coloristic and textural palette of the large orchestra while using a relatively small number of instruments. A corollary goal was the production of a balanced, more seamless integration between the music's written and improvised elements than was characteristic of bop, the arrangement in effect leading and anchoring the soloist who was, in turn, expected to return his improvisation and resolve it in reference to the written segment that followed. …

Let's reaffirm something here: catchy album title notwithstanding, the music of the Miles Davis Nonet was, is anything but cool. Controlled, lucid, tightly focused, succinct -yes. It's all these and more. but cool in the sense of being dispassionate or otherwise lacking in the fundamental emotional character one always associates with the best jazz, no! As anyone familiar with the Nonet's music can attest, it possesses an abundance of focused emotional power all the more effective for being so low-keyed, so apparently subdued in character." …”

And fortunately, in 1971 Gerry Mulligan himself was able to add his own reflections about the making of Birth of the Cool and many of the musicians who performed with him on these recordings:

“I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to be part of Miles' band. I'd been on the road a couple of years with various band by that time, but with Gil's encouragement I decided to stay in New York. With all the great bands that were around then, big and little, it was an exciting time musically. And everybody seemed to gravitate to Gil's place. Everybody influenced everybody and Bird was no. I influence on us all.

Gil lived in a room in a basement on 55th Street, near 5th Avenue. Actually it was behind a Chinese laundry and had all the pipes for the building as well as a sink, a bed, a piano, a hot-plate, and no heat. Some of the more-or-less regulars at Gil's I remember:
John Carisi, almost as hot-headed in an argument as I am. Anyone who writes a piece like "Israel" can't be all bad, right?
John Lewis, our resident classicist. 
George Russell, our resident innovator. (Wrote a couple of fine, interesting charts for Claude Thornhill's band that I suppose there's no trace of now.)
 John Benson Brooks, our dreamer of impossible dreams. 
Dave Lambert, our itinerant practical yankee.
Billy Exiner, drummer with Thornhill and our home philosopher, with his beautiful attitude toward life and music.
Joe Shulman, bassist with Thornhill; he believed Count Basie had the only rhythm section.
Barry Galbraith, the Freddy Greene of the Thornhill rhythm section and an altogether beautiful musician.
Specs Goldberg, blithe spirit. A fantastic intuitive musician who had a tough time trying to channel his free-wheeling imagination.
Sylvia Goldberg (no relation), piano student and whirlwind.
Blossom Dearie, blossom is blossom.
And Miles, the bandleader. He took the initiative and put the theories to work. He called the rehearsals, hired the halls, called the players, and generally cracked the whip
Max Roach, genius. I can't say enough about his playing with the band. His melodic approach to my charts was a revelation to me. He was fantastic and for me the perfect drummer for the band. (No small statement in view of the fact that Miles brought in Art Blakey and Kenny Clarke on the later dates.)

Lee Konitz, genius. Lee had joined Claude's band in Chicago and knocked us all out (including Bird) with his originality.
For the rest of the band, J.J. and Kai alternated on trombone. It wasn't too easy to find French horn players who were trying to play jazz phraseology but among those at our rehearsals were Sandy Siegelstein (from Thornhill), Junior Collins (who could play some good blues) and probably Jim Buffington. And Bill Barber on tuba. He used to transcribe Lester Young tenor choruses and play them on tuba. What a great player. As I recall, Gil and I also wanted Danny Polo on clarinet but he was out with Claude's band all the time and there was nobody to take his Place. Not long before Danny died we had some jam sessions at which he played the best modern clarinet jazz I've ever heard.
As I said at the beginning, I consider myself fortunate to be there and I thank whatever lucky stars responsible for placing me there. There's a kind of perfection about those recordings and I'm pleased that all the material is finally being released on one set. And without electronic "stereo." To paraphrase an American innovator, Gertrude Stein: a band is a band is a great band.

-GERRY MULLIGAN May 1971.”
To be continued in Part 2 with Bill Crow.