There are three reasons for reprising this feature on these pages:  Gerry Mulligan;  Paul Desmond;  the cool concept cars that populate the video that concludes this feature.
Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
I’m sure that everyone from movie action heroes to deep, philosophical thinkers have used the phrase – “there are no coincidences” and whether it can be proved as a truism or not, I’ve always believe that this was the case.
So when one of my Jazz buddies sent me via e-mail attachment, a collection of photographs of concepts cars developed in the 1950s by the big three US automakers which I happen to open while listening to the Paul Desmond – Gerry Mulligan Quartet album Two of A Mind [RCA/Bluebird 0654-2-RB], I decided to go with it.
The result of this “coincidence” is the piece that you are now reading and the video montage of these concepts cars set to Paul’s and Jeru’s music that closes it.
I’ll always been indebted to Will Thornbury for making possible one of my most favorites Jazz recordings, Erroll Garner’s Concerts By The Sea [Columbia/Sony Entertainment], one of the best selling Jazz albums of all time.
As Will Friedwald explains:
Sept. 19, 1955, Garner … performed at , an army base near Fort Ord , at the behest of disc jockey and impresario Jimmy Lyons. Martha Glaser, who served as Garner's personal manager for nearly his entire career, happened to be backstage when she noticed a tape recorder running. Carmel, Calif.
As she recalled for the Wall Street Journal last week, it turned out that the show was being taped -- without Garner's knowledge -- by a jazz fan and scholar named Will Thornbury, strictly for the enjoyment of himself and his fellow servicemen. Ms. Glaser told him, "I'll give you copies of every record Erroll ever made, but I can't let you keep that tape." She took it back to
(carrying it on her lap), where she assembled it into album form, titled it "Concert by the Sea," and then played it for George Avakian, who ran the jazz department at Columbia Records. Garner had actually left New York three years earlier, but, as Mr. Avakian recently told the Journal: "I totally flipped over it! I knew that we had to put it out right away." Columbia
released "Concert by the Sea" a few months later, this early live 12-inch LP was a runaway sensation. It became the No. 1 record of Garner's 30-year career and one of the most popular jazz albums of all time. It's not hard to hear why: From the first notes onward, Garner plays like a man inspired -- on fire, even. He always played with a combination of wit, imagination, amazing technical skill and sheer joy far beyond nearly all of his fellow pianists, but on this particular night he reached a level exceeding his usual Olympian standard.” Columbia
Enter Will Thornberry again, this time as the writer of the insert notes to the Paul Desmond – Gerry Mulligan Quartet album Two of A Mind.
Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan made two albums together just as their popularity as Jazz artists was beginning to surge; one in 1957 for Verve [314 519 850-2] simply titled Blues in Time: The Gerry Mulligan-Paul Desmond Quartet and the other being to the Paul Desmond – Gerry Mulligan Quartet album Two of A Mind, which was recorded in 1962.
Will went on to become a successful record producer in his own right as well as an excellent writer on the subject of Jazz.
Nat Hentoff, one of the most esteemed of all Jazz authors, wrote the liner notes for the original Verve LP and Harvey Pekar penned the insert notes for the 1993 reissue as a Verve CD.
Taken in combination, Messer’s Thornbury, Hentoff and Pekar, may very well represent the most comprehensive telling of the story of how these two Jazz originals came to record together.
[Just to keep the record straight, there is a 3rd recording involving Mulligan and Desmond which they made in 1972 with
Dave Brubeck entitled – We’re All Together Again for the First Time. It was issued on the Atlantic label and I have not read it’s liner notes.]
Since there is some repetitive background information in the notes that Will, Nat and
wrote, I have edited excerpts together that I hope are not too redundant. Harvey
Let’s start with the senior statesman of the group, Nat Hentoff, explaining how the original Blues in Time Mulligan-Desmond recording came about.
© -Nat Hentoff, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Blues in Time: Gerry Mulligan Meets Paul Desmond [Verve MGV-8246]
“The idea for this multi-linear playground has been bottled, like an amiably desperate jinni, in Paul Desmond's mind since 1954 when Gerry Mulligan sat in with the
Dave Brubeck quartet at Carnegie Hall, and a Tea for Two resulted that convinced both Desmond and Mulligan that their ways of speaking music had what Gerry terms "a natural affinity."
Nothing and no one happened by to release the jinni until the summer of 1957 and the American Jazz Festival at
. During a quiet time at those assizes, Desmond again suggested the idea of a record date to Mulligan. There still seemed to be too many obstacles for liberation day to be in sight. There was, for one thorn, the matter of which record label would preserve the union. Desmond was affianced, so to speak, to one company and Mulligan preferred others. There were other problems too, and the conversation apparently headed towards inaction. Newport
Norman Granz, who has a collection of bottles from which he has released jinn of this kind (one of them named Ella Fitzgerald) had been a listening bystander at the Desmond-Mulligan colloquy; and a few hours later, offered to do the date himself. He would make a trade with Desmond's company to indemnify them for the loan of Paul (it is increasingly hard in present-day jazz recording to obtain the loan of a player; it is sometimes easier to borrow Kim Novak); and in general, Granz promised to untangle any other difficulties, present and possible.
In August of 1957, the bottle was opened. Mulligan had flown to
with his quartet to play a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. He had also recorded a jam session album for Granz with Stan Getz, Harry Edison, Louis Bellson, and the Oscar Peterson Trio; and at , after this record date, Mulligan and Desmond met for their first session. ‘About all we came in with that was planned,’ notes Desmond, ‘was a list of typewritten tunes. There were some obvious unison things written, one-chorus lines on two short tunes Gerry wrote, but everything else, including the counterpoint was off-the-cuff.’ California
Desmond and Mulligan are both dour self-critics, and are especially severe on their recorded work. Both, however, are quite pleased with this session. Desmond's explanation of his enjoyment in working with Mulligan is succinctly clear: "He just does all the right things."
‘I'm very proud of several things we did on the date,’ adds Mulligan, ‘like sometimes we're blowing passages in thirds, and they come off. It's a little alarming. And there are also places where Paul comes through very strongly, much more aggressively than he usually plays with
Dave. He gets to swing pretty hard at times here in some contrast to the more flowing and lyrical work he does with Dave.’”
Here are some excerpts from Harvey Pekar’s notes to the reissue.
© -Harvey Pekar copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Reissuing the Gerry Mulligan-Paul Desmond Quartet [Verve 314 519 850-2]
When Mulligan established himself in the
area [in the early 1950’s] he formed a very popular piano-less quartet with trumpeter Chet Baker, bass, and drums. He employs the same format here, with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond substituting for Baker. L.A.
Desmond, star soloist of the Brubeck quartet for many years, is a difficult musician to evaluate. His was a fragile but considerable talent that might have been more fully realized outside the context of Brubeck's group. His main influences were Lee Konitz, Lester Young, and possibly Stan Getz. He had a small, pretty, vibrato-less tone; an excellent upper register; and at his best an inventive, lyrical, improvisatory instinct. When not in good form, however, his playing could be cloying and insipid. Mulligan seems to inspire Desmond here; in any event some of Paul's best recorded work is on this disk.
Gerry is inspired as well. He too has been influenced by Lester Young, though he is a more extroverted player than Desmond. His work can be predictable rhythmically and his choice of notes is by modern jazz standards conservative; but melodically he's ceaselessly inventive and he resolves his ideas very well, playing the kind of lines you can memorize and sing. In fact, in listening to this album again, I was surprised and delighted to find how much of it I had memorized. …
Mulligan's playing is so buoyant and infectious — you just know he's having a good time, that everything's working for him. On the slower tunes, …, he plays with a full-bodied warmth that's hard to resist. Desmond swings harder and plays with more continuity than he usually did with Brubeck. When he uses motivic variation he does it creatively rather than by descending to coyness. The improvised counterpoint here works out very well. Each man listens to the other and reacts, seemingly effortlessly, with appropriate responses.
Kudos also go to
Dave Bailey and Joe Benjamin. Their quiet but steady and resilient time-keeping gives Mulligan and Desmond just the kind of accompaniment they need, as the high quality of the saxophonists' work demonstrates.
These musicians were made for each other. July, 1993”
When the 1962 recording Two of A Mind: The Paul Desmond-Gerry Mulligan Quartet [RCA/Bluebird 9654-2 RB] was reissued on CD in 1989, Will Thornberry provided these comprehensive insert notes.
© -Will Thornbury, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“The Cocoanut Grove is part of the Ambassador Hotel. Freddy Martin used to lead the band there. The hotel grounds are vast; tall palm trees stand like sentries at its edge. Across the street, in 1952, was a bungalow bar called the Haig, where Gerry Mulligan played with his quartet and where Time magazine gave him the most important review of his young career:
...a gaunt, hungry-looking young fellow named Gerry Mulligan plays the baritone saxophone....His jazz is rich and even orderly. ..sometimes the polyphony is reminiscent of tailgate blues, sometimes it comes tumbling with bell-over-mouthpiece impromptu.... He has a sleepy face and on the bandstand he keeps Los Angeles
his watery green eyes closed even when listen ing to Trumpeter Chet Baker, opens them only occasionally to glower at customers who are boorish enough to talk against the music....Next Mulligan objective: an enlarged band and a nationwide tour. "I've got to keep moving. I've got to grow."1
Mulligan was hired by the Haig's publicist, Richard Bock, a student attending college on the G. I. Bill.
"I conned the owner...into letting me put in a jam session on the off night," Bock said. "I met Mulligan and hired him as a soloist, then he became the leader of a regular thing. Chet Baker wandered over one night after his gig with Charlie Parker and sat in with Gerry. They hit it off. A few weeks later Red Norvo's trio, the one with Mingus and Tal Farlow, was booked for a month to play five nights a week. Red said 'I don't want the piano on the stand—we don't use piano.' The owner stored the piano in his apartment and we said 'What are you going to do, Mulligan?—you don't have a piano.' And he said 'Well, we can play without one.' He didn't want to lose the gig—at that point he was really scuffling. And so it turned out to be a piano-less quartet."
"After the third week it was magic," Bock continued. "It...gave Chet a freedom that he never would have had... he was able to play almost anything that he thought of and it didn't clash with the piano...he could really go on real flights of imagination.... With Gerry, Chet was forced to be inventive; he was forced to come up with contrapuntal lines—they had that marvelous ability to chase each other and to play what was almost Dixieland or two-part inventions."
"And it went on for months, you know," Bock concluded. "It was the biggest thing that happened on the West Coast at that time. Time magazine covered it and it became a real experience."
"I was overlooked," Paul Desmond was fond of saying, "long before anyone knew who I was." By 1953
Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond were attracting the same kind of attention as Mulligan and Baker. Brubeck had noticed earlier, while on the road, that stuck between the jazz clubs of the country were colleges. He began to contact some of them for concert bookings and developed an itinerary. The move was an important move for the group: it gave Brubeck the means to develop a generation of listeners and it gave Desmond a chance to meet girls.
Paul Emil Breitenfeld — Desmond came later, the name picked from a phone book—was born in
in 1924. His father was a theater organist and arranger who talked twelve-year-old Paul into returning the violin that he had brought home from music class at San Francisco in favor of a clarinet. Desmond played in the Polytechnic band and edited the school paper. He went into the army in 1943, switched from clarinet to alto, and spent the duration of WW II at the Presidio of San Francisco in the 253rd AGF Band. San Francisco Polytechnic High School Dave Brubeck passed through town on his way overseas. "We went out to the band room for a quick session," Desmond said to Nat Hentoff, "[and] started to play the blues in B flat, and the first chord he played was a G major. Knowing absolutely nothing at the time about polytonality I thought he was stark raving mad." Not without reason, Desmond added—Brubeck was "wild haired, ferocious looking, with a pile-driver approach to the piano, and an expression of a surly Sioux. It took...several more listenings before I began to understand what he was up to."
After the war Desmond ran into Brubeck and formed a quartet. "We were making about $50 a night," Desmond told Marian McPartland. "I was splitting it with the guys and paying for the gas, too. That's when I decided I really didn't want to be a leader." Brubeck took over the quartet. Brubeck was studying with Darius Milhaud; he formed an octet comprised of other Milhaud students and Desmond, who was majoring in literature at
. In the first six months of 1950, Desmond's only jobs were "two concerts with the octet and a Mexican wedding." Desmond joined the Jack Fina band. Fina, a pianist, had once been with Freddy Martin's orchestra; highlights of his career with Martin had been an adaptation of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto, called Tonight We Love, and a boogie-woogie rendition of The Flight of the Bumble Bee. Desmond reached San Francisco State with the band, entertaining thoughts of settling there, but found that "all the guys I talked to wanted my job with Fina." Discouraged, Desmond returned to New York City . Brubeck's trio had achieved recognition beyond San Francisco and he decided to form a quartet. He hired Desmond and they never looked back. During 1953the quartet recorded albums at two colleges, Oberlin and College of the Pacific. Record producer George Avakian signed them to a contract at Columbia Records. Their first release for San Francisco was another set of campus recordings, Jazz Goes to College. The album was an immediate success. On Columbia November 8, 1954, Dave Brubeck appeared on the cover of Time.
A month before Time's cover story ("Desmond's eyes close, his long fingers glide over his alto's mother-of-pearl keys..."),2 Desmond recorded his first solo album. "It is my custom when listening to playbacks," Desmond wrote, "to cough loudly whenever I hear something coming that I played and don't like, and altho things have improved since the early days — 'Whispering Desmond' they used to call me, up at Sound Recorders — most editing sessions leave me a bit hoarse."3 The album had Desmond's most inspired title, Baroque... But Happy, and "a fond tribute to Gerry Mulligan," called Jeruvian.
"You remember that one," I said.
"Sure," replied Mulligan smiling. "We used to hang out together at all the festivals, hangout a lot — which was not wonderful for my liver. In fact that's how we ended up recording together. Norman Granz was always around and he'd overhear us talking about doing something. Paul would say he'd really like to do a thing with my quartet, only have it be an alto instead of a trumpet, and I'd say 'Sure, that's a great idea.' And then we'd go to another festival and say the same thing. Well, after a few years of that Granz finally said 'Would you stop that? You're driving me crazy! If you're serious about this and l set up a date will you do it?' We said 'Sure. 'So he did and we did."
The record was called Blues in Time.
"Pronounced aahn-teem, I suppose."
"Sure," said Mulligan, "we both like to fool around with words."
Desmond was epigrammatic and pun-loving, Mulligan is a master at anagrams, a composer I re-arranger: viz., "I worked out something recently for Duke, except it doesn't work with 'Duke’ -I have to use 'Edward,' Duke's real name. What do you think 'E. Ellington' works out to be?"
"I don't know."
His masterpiece is his anagram for Gil Evans: Svengali.
Gerald Joseph Mulligan was born in April 1927, in
, Queens Village Long Island. His father was a management engineer; Mulligan was the youngest of four brothers and the only one not to enter their father's profession. The family traveled extensively during Mulligan's childhood, living in , Ohio , New Jersey , New York, Illinois , and Michigan . He showed an early aptitude for music, starting clarinet and turning out his first arrangement at age ten, organizing his first combo in high school, then expanding it into a big band and writing arrangements. When he was fourteen the family moved to Pennsylvania : Mulligan switched from clarinet to tenor, and put together another high school dance band. He sold his first professional arrangement to the WCAU Radio house band while still in high school; by the beginning of his senior year he had worked professionally with two local bands, had toured with Tommy Tucker's band as an arranger, had joined WCAU as staff arranger for the Elliot Lawrence Band, and had met and befriended Charlie Parker. Mulligan moved to Philadelphia in 1946 and was hired as an arranger by Gene Krupa, for whom he wrote Disk Jockey Jump. The following year he joined Claude Thornhill's band, involving himself in the development of ideas with Thornhill's chief arranger, Gil Evans, that would result in the birth of the classic Miles Davis Nonet, for which he arranged George Wallington's Godchild, and the Mulligan compositions Rocker, Jeru, Venus de Milo, and the much-later released Darn That Dream. By 1951, twenty-four-year-old Mulligan had produced memorable, and in several instances historic, compositions and arrangements. He had also abandoned the clarinet, tenor, and alto in favor of the baritone. Work was scarce that summer, money elusive. New York
About the time Paul Desmond left Jack Fina, Gerry Mulligan hitchhiked to
"Most of the albums Paul did apart from
Dave were piano-less," I said, "but with a different conception than yours."
"Early on, I was amazed to find out that different horn players listen to different guys in the rhythm section," Mulligan said. "Some guys listen to drummers, some to piano players, but not too many listen to bass players. I always, always listened to the bass line. So when I played with a bass player who was shucking it, it really threw me a curve because I didn't hear anything. But, conversely, when I played with good players — guys with good time but also good melodic sense of the bass line — it would inspire me to better things."
Mulligan's liner notes for his first album for Dick Bock weren't exactly a Manifesto, but they contained concepts that would be discussed throughout the decade:
‘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. 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 or 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.’
The decade of the 1950s in
would begin and end with Los Angeles
quartets, Mulligan's and Ornette Coleman's, and the path from one to the
other was straight and short.
Desmond listened to piano. He spent seventeen years with
Dave Brubeck. "When Dave is playing at his best," he told Hentoff in that 1952 interview, "it's completely live, free improvisation in which you can find all the qualities of the music I love....This sort of playing doesn't happen every night and hasn't happened yet on a record session. Maybe it never will, but it's worth waiting for. When I heard it happening the first time, all the other jazz I had heard and played then seemed pale and trivial by comparison." A few years later, responding to those who suggested the contrary, he said "I never would have made it without Dave. He's amazing harmonically, and he can be a fantastic accompanist. You can play the wrongest note possible in a chord and he can make it sound like the only right one." Away from Brubeck he usually worked with Jim Hall, or later Ed Bickert. He liked the guitar—the instrument once described as a piano you hold in your lap.
Mulligan and Desmond made only three records together: Blues in Time (Verve) in 1957; We’re All Together Again for the First Time, with
Dave Brubeck ( Atlantic) in 1972; and Two of a Mind, recorded in three sessions during the summer of 1962, exactly ten years to the season from Mulligan's original quartet sessions. "The dates," wrote George Avakian, who co-produced the album with Bob Prince, "always seemed to take place as one principal was unpacking a suitcase and the other was about to catch a plane." Much was expected of the album — "a classic-to-be collaboration by two of the greatest saxophonist of modern jazz," read the original back cover — and musically the expectations were realized.
But summer of 1962 was the season of the Stan Getz/Charlie Byrd recordings of Desafinado and One Note Samba. The Bossa Nova Craze had arrived; record companies, distributors, and promoters thought of little else, and Two of a Mind drowned in the Wave from Brazil.5
"We liked the record," Mulligan said. "We put in a lot of thought to the kind of tunes that would lend themselves to Paul and me playing together — things that would lend themselves to counterpoint playing. We came prepared for more than we thought we'd need. In a studio you never know what's going to work and what isn't."
Stardust evokes Brubeck and Desmond at Oberlin the decade before, when Brubeck and Desmond used as their opening the same descending three-note motif used by Paul and Gerry here 6 ("...prom perennial Stardust is popular with Brubeck and Desmond," wrote Time, "because its stately harmonic progressions flow as smoothly as the Mississippi..."). Desmond overdubbed an additional saxophone line on the last two choruses of The Way You Look Tonight; it and All the Things You Are are classic Jerome Kern, and Two of a Mind comes close. The song was titled by George Avakian as he drove through
Central Park. Avakian also likes to fool around with words, has a good memory, and probably an umbrella.
"Judy Holliday walked in during a play back of that part where Paul and I are working through the counterpoint," Mulligan said. "She gave us one of those looks, you know, and said That sounds like the "Blight of the Fumble Bee".'" He laughed. "So that's how that got titled."
"Anything more about Paul?" I asked.
"There always is something to say about him," said Mulligan, "but I miss him, almost more than anything. It's really hard not having someone to talk to. He used to say that. Desmond and I were kids together and it gets to be important to have somebody to talk to you don't have to explain anything to. My wife said it the other day — she said that what finally hit her about this life — for all musicians — it's lonely out there, man! It's lonely out there on the road! Your friends start dying off, you're left bereft. You loose your youthful friends...bereft. He's your childhood friend — that's it! You're alone." Mulligan paused for a moment. "Anyway," he said. "My wife's calling me. We're going to go eat lunch."
The Haig has been gone for years. The Ambassador Hotel with its vast lawn and tall palm trees that stand like sentries and its Cocoanut Grove where Freddy Martin conducted while Jack Fina played Tonight We Love and the boogie-woogie rendition of The Flight of the Bumble Bee has been sold. The new owners recently laid off the staff and shut down the hotel. They plan to tear it down.”
- WILL THORNBURY
Notes and Sources
2/8/53, p. 67.
11/8/53, p. 36.
3. The Paul Desmond Quintet, Fantasy 8082
4. The Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Pacific Jazz PJLP 1
5. Never at a loss for irony, Desmond and Mulligan persevered. Desmond's next album for RCA was Take Ten, with Jim Hall, and featured four bossa(s)? novas, "which by now," Desmond noted, "I should call bossa antiqua." When Mulligan met Antonio Carlos Jobim, composer of Desafinado and One Note Samba, Jobim told him that the Mulligan quartet had been a prime influence on him and other young Brazilian composers.
6. Jazz at Oberlin, Fantasy 3245