Wednesday, November 13, 2019
Posted by Steven Cerra at 3:22 PM
Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“I went into the
House in ,
and I was there most of the next eight years. The best trio I had was Hickory Bill
Crow on bass and Joe Morello on drums. Sal
introduced me to Joe one night. He was at the bar, a skinny bean pole in a
raincoat, and he looked like a studious young chemist. I asked him to sit in,
and I was flabbergasted. I'd never heard anyone play drums like that. When
Mousie Alexander, who was with me then, left, Joe joined us, and I was so
enamored of his playing that I let him play a lot of solos." Salvador
Marian McPartland looks up at the ceiling and laughs. "Whenever I think of Joe, I think of swinging. It was impossible not to swing with him.”
There are two things I like best regarding the following essay.
The first is that it is about Marian McPartland, one of my all-time favorite Jazz pianists.
The second is that it was penned by Whitney Balliett, one of my all-time favorite writers.
Whitney’s essay was originally published in the early 1970’s in The New Yorker Magazine, a learned publication for which he wrote on the subject of Jazz for many years.
The piece antedates Marian’s Piano Jazz, an NPR program that would bring her well-deserved acclaim and more than likely a lot of enjoyment as her program consisted of interviews with just about every exponent of Jazz piano on the planet.
A marvelously talent Jazz pianist and often overlooked, I will always be grateful to Marian for bringing drummer Joe Morello into my life by way of her Marian McPartland at the Hickory House, a 10” Capitol LP  which was recorded in Septembe5, 1954.
In his piece, Whitney talks about
and Jazz in New York as though they were the center of the
civilized world. Of course, each was at the time. New York
This is a lengthy piece that for all intents and purposes reflects on a world gone by.
It’s a fascinating story about a singularly talented woman who has contributed so much to Jazz over the years.
Amazingly, at it’s conclusion, Marian would add another forty years to its telling!
The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought you might like to share in a revisit with Whitney and Marian, chatting away in her cozy flat – one day, when the world was young.
© -Whitney Balliett, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Four scenes from the life of Marian McPartland, the unique and graceful English-born jazz pianist. The first scene takes place early in the spring.
She is seated at a small upright piano in a corner of an elementary-school classroom on
Long Island. She has the polished, easy, expectant air
that she has when she is about to start a set in a nightclub. Her back is
ruler-straight, she is smiling, and her hands rest lightly on the keyboard.
And, as always, she is impeccably got up. Her blond hair, shaded by pale grays,
is carefully arranged, and she is wearing a faultlessly tailored pants suit.
Twenty or so six-year-olds, led into the classroom a few moments before by a
pair of teachers, are seated at her feet in a semicircle. She looks at a list
of kinds of weather the children have prepared. "All right, dears, what
have we here?" she says in a musical English alto. "Did all of you do
There is a gabble of "yes"es.
"Hail, snow, hurricane, cloudy day, rain, twister, fog, wind, the whole lot. Now, I'm going to pick one out and play something, and I want you to tell me what kind of weather I'm playing about." She bends over the keyboard and, dropping her left hand into her lap, constructs floating, gentle, Debussy chords with her right hand. A girl with a budlike face and orange hair shoots a hand directly at her and says, "Rain, gentle rain."
"That's very good. It is rain, and gentle rain, too. Now what's this?" She crooks her arms and pads lazily up and down the keyboard on her forearms. She stops and smiles and gazes around the faces. There is a puzzled silence. A boy with porcupine hair and huge eyes raises a hand, falters, and pulls it down with his other hand. "Fog," says the little girl.
Marian McPartland laughs. "That's very close, dear, but it's not exactly right." She pads around on the keyboard again. "What's like a blanket on the ground, a big blanket that goes as far as you can see?" The large-eyed boy shoots his hand all the way up. "Snow! Snow! Snow!"
"Right! But what have we now?" Dropping her left hand again, she plays a quick, light, intricate melody in the upper registers. "Twister!" a pie-faced boy shouts. "No, hurricane," a boy next to him says.
"Could you play it again?" one of the teachers asks.
"Well, I'll try." She plays the melody, but it is not the same. It is a delightful improvisation. There are more notes this time, and she plays with greater intensity. "I think it's wind'' the orange-haired girl says.
"It is wind, and wind is what we get when we have one of these." She launches into loud, stabbing chords that rush up and down the keyboard and are broken by descending glissan-dos. She ends on a crash. "Twister! Twister!" the pie-faced boy cries again.
She shakes her head. "Now, listen, listen more closely." Again she improvises on her invention, and before she is finished there are shouts of "Thunder!" "Lightning!" "Twister!"
"I don't think I'd even know what a twister sounds like," she says, laughing. "But the rest of you are very close. Which is it —thunder or lightning?" She plays two flashing glisses. "Lightning!" a tiny, almond-eyed girl yells.
"Very, very good. Now this one is hard, but it's what we have a lot of in the summer." She plays groups of crystalline chords in a medium tempo. It is sunlight. A cloudy day and a breeze and a hurricane follow, and when the children's attention begins to wane, she starts "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." The children get up and stand around the piano and sing, Two of them lean against her. She finishes one chorus and starts another, and at her behest the children clap in time. She gradually speeds up the tempo until the clapping is continuous and the children, hopping around as if they were on pogo sticks, are roaring with laughter. She finishes with a loose, ringing tremolo. The teachers thank her and sweep the children out of the room. She takes a lipstick out of an enormous handbag and fixes her mouth. Then, in the empty room, she starts noodling a medium-tempo blues. But soon it is all
there: the long, tight, flowing single-note lines and the rich, sparring chords; the flawless time; the far-out, searching harmonies; the emotional content, passed so carefully from generation to generation of jazz musicians; and the balancing, smoothing taste. She plays three or four minutes, and then, as a group of ten-year-olds comes billowing through the classroom door, she switches to the Beatles' "Hey Jude."
Marian McPartland lives in an apartment on
East Eighty-sixth Street. It is on the seventeenth floor, and it
faces south. From the windows of her compact living room, the and the Empire State and Chrysler Building are knee-deep in an endless wash of
brownstones. There is a small terrace, with chairs and a couple of boxes of
geraniums. A grand piano, which faces away from the view, dominates the living
room. Paintings hang on two walls, and the third is covered with photographs, most
of which she is in. The business end of the piano is covered with sheet music
and musical manuscript, and there are careful stacks of records on the floor
below the photographs. She is wearing a flowered top and pants and a big
leather belt, and she looks mint-fresh. She makes tea and sits down facing the
panorama. She is extremely handsome. Her face, with its long, well-shaped nose,
high forehead, wide mouth, and full chin, is classically English. She smiles a
great deal and keeps her chin pointed several degrees above the horizon. She
has the figure of a well-proportioned twenty-year-old. New York Hospital
"I've been teaching four or five years," she says, crossing her legs and taking a sip of tea. "Clem De Rosa, a drummer and the musical director of the
, got me going. I teach about six weeks out
in that area every year. I started out doing assemblies with a quartet and then
with a trio, but I didn't think we were getting across to the kids. Last year,
I went into the classrooms with just a bass player, and this year I'm doing it
by myself. I love to work with the little ones — especially the slower ones. I
guess it has to do with listening. I'm trying to make them shed their fidgeting
and their fears and make them listen.
Very few of us ever learn how. I think I was first made conscious of it when I
was in kindergarten in Cold Spring Harbor High School and we had a teacher who used to take us
on long walks in the woods and fields and make us listen to the birds and the
wind and the water lapping in brooks. During the summer, I teach and play at
college clinics, and it's terrific fun. Musicians like Clark Terry and Billy
Taylor and Gary Burton do a lot of it, too, so there are always wonderful
people to play with, to say nothing of the kids themselves. I wish there had
been clinics and such when I was growing up. Becoming a jazz musician in those
days, with my background and my sex, was like pulling teeth. It just 'wasn't
done,' as my father used to say. I was born in England Slough, near . But we moved to Woolwich a few months
later, and then to Bromley, Kent, when I was about four. Bromley was much
nicer than Woolwich, which resembled Windsor .” Astoria, New York
“My family was upper-middle-class and conservative. All my mother's side lived around
Slough and Eton and . My great-uncle sang at Windsor Chapel at St. George's , and my grandmother lived in The
Cloisters, on the grounds. Queen Elizabeth knighted another great-uncle, and
now he's Sir Cyril. He and Aunt Sylvia came over when I was working in Windsor Castle at the original Hickory House in the
fifties, and they were shocked and mystified by the whole scene. Uncle Cyril
took me aside, between sets at the club, and said, 'Margaret' — I was born
Margaret Marian Turner — 'Margaret, does your father know what you're doing?' My father was a civil engineer who was
involved with machine tools. He was an avid gardener, and clever at everything
he did. When I was quite little, he made a goldfish pond with all sorts of
pretty rocks on the bottom. He let me help him, and it was a great source of
pride. I was Daddy's girl, in spite of the fact that I think he would have
liked me to be a boy. My mother always used to say to me when she was annoyed,
'You're just like your father, Margaret — pigheaded!' I think they did quite a
lot of bickering and carrying on. My mother was rather a critical person, but I
suppose it was her upbringing. It was forever 'Do this, do that, pick up behind
you, don't be late.' I was harassed by it, and it took me years to grow out of
it.” New York
“My schooling was of the times. I started in at a one-room school, where I drew pictures of little houses with snow falling. Then, for less than a year, I went to Avon Cliffe, a private school run by two well-meaning women. I was a frog in the school play, and I was not pleased by that. There was a nursing home, next to the school, where my grandmother spent her last days, and she'd wave to me out of the window every afternoon when I left. After that, I was sent to a convent school. My sister, Joyce — there were just the two of us — was always ailing with bronchitis, and I think my mother enjoyed hovering over her. But I was the strong, healthy ox. Even so, I was scared of some of the nuns. I was hopeless in some subjects, and they were always grabbing me by the neck and locking me in the laundry room. My mother said I'd have to go to boarding school if I didn't shape up. I didn't, so they put me in Stratford House, in a neighboring town. It was a nice school for nice girls from nice families. We had a matron with a starched headdress and we were told when it was our turn to take a bath and we were taught how to make a bed with hospital corners. I couldn't stand the school food or the smell of cooking, and I got sick headaches. But there were good things. I think I learned how to string letters and words and sentences together on paper. And I designed the school emblem — three sweet peas, entwined. It was quite beautiful. And I wrote the school song. "
“I had started playing the piano when I was three or four. It was at my great-uncle Harry's, and the keyboard was all yellow. And I remember playing, sitting up high on a stool, at kindergarten with children all gathered around. My mother would make me play for her friends, and while I played they all talked. When I finished, she'd say, 'Oh, that was very nice, dear.' I was angry, but I wouldn't have dared pop out with 'You weren't listening!' I didn't realize that the pattern of my life was already set. I still play while people talk and then applaud. When I was nine, I asked my mother if I could take piano lessons. She said, 'Margaret, you already play the piano very well. I think you should take up the violin.' We went up to
and bought a violin, and I took lessons, but I never enjoyed the
“I played in concerts and competitions, but then my teacher died, and that put an end to it. I was studying elocution with Miss Mackie, at Stratford House, around this time, and I had a crush on her. I used to ask my mother if she'd invite her over for tea or dinner. Mummy was a nervous hostess, but finally Miss Mackie came, and it was she who advised my parents to send me up to the Guildhall School of Music, in
. My parents were always saying, 'You better think of what you're
going to do after school; we aren't going to keep you forever,' which made me
feel like a bit of aging merchandise. I went up to London and played for Sir Landon Ronald, who was
the head of the Guildhall, and I got in. I commuted every day from Bromley, and
I really worked. I studied composition and theory and piano, and I won a
scholarship in composition. I took up violin again, because we students had to
have a second instrument, and I studied singing with Carrie Tubb, a retired
opera singer. The other day, I came across six pieces I wrote then. They have
titles like Tas Seul' and 'Reverie,' and actually they are pretty well put
together. But I'd never claim then that anything I'd done was good. The
reaction would have been immediate: 'How can you be so immodest, Margaret!'' London
The telephone rings, and Marian McPartland talks for a minute. "That was Sam Goody's. They want more of my records. Some women buy fur coats; I have my own record company. It's called Halcyon, and I've put out four albums to date — three with myself and rhythm, and some duets with Teddy Wilson, which turned out surprisingly well. Sherman Fairchild helped me get it going. He died two years ago, and he was a great jazz buff and a friend for twenty years. Bill Weilbacher, who has his own label, Master Jazz Recordings, gives me advice, and a small packaging firm handles the distribution and such. A printing of five thousand LPs costs around fifteen hundred dollars. Whatever I make I put right back into the next record. The big companies are impossible, and a lot of musicians have their own labels. Stan Kenton has his, George Shearing has his, Clark Terry has his, and Bobby Hackett has started one. I think this do-it-yourself movement is terribly important, particularly in the area of reissues. What with all the mergers among recording companies, I'm afraid of valuable records being lost. Not long ago, I wrote the company that recorded me at the Hickory House in the fifties and asked if they intended reissuing any of the albums. I think they'd have some value now. But I got the vaguest letter back. So they won't reissue the records, nor will they let me. It's not right. I think that musicians should get together catalogues of everything they've recorded and perhaps form some sort of cooperative for reissuing valuable stuff. Anyway . . ."
Marian McPartland laughs, and says she is going to make lunch.
She sets a small table and puts out pumpernickel and a fresh fruit salad. "I was listening to everything indiscriminately at the Guildhall, and I was beginning to learn all sorts of tunes. I have fantastic recall, but I don't know where half the music that is stored in my head has come from. I also started listening to jazz — the Hot Club of France, Duke Ellington's 'Blue Goose,' Sidney Bechet, Teddy Wilson, Bob Zurke, Art Tatum, and the wonderful Alec Wilder octets. I was playing a sort of cocktail piano outside of the classroom, and once, when my piano professor at the Guildhall, a solemn little white-haired man named Orlando Morgan, heard me, he said, 'Don't let me catch you playing that rubbish again.' Well, he never got the chance. One day I sneaked over to the
West End, where Billy Mayerl had a studio. He
played a lot on the BBC, and he was like Frankie Carle or Eddy Duchin. I played 'Where Are
You?' for him, and a little later he asked me to join a piano quartet he was
putting together — Billy Mayerl and His Claviers. I was twenty, and I was
tremendously excited. The family were horrified, but I said I'd go back to the
Guildhall when the tour was over. My father charged up to to see 'this Billy Mayerl/ He didn't want
any daughter of his being preyed on, and he wanted to know what I'd be paid —
ten pounds a week, it turned out. So my parents agreed. The quartet included
Billy and George Myddelton and Dorothy Carless and myself. She and I were
outfitted in glamorous gowns, and we played music-hall stuff. We played variety
theaters — a week in each town. We lived in rented digs in somebody's house. If
it was 'all in,' it included food. Some of the places were great, and they'd
even bring you up a cup of tea in the morning. Meanwhile, my family had moved
to London Eastbourne.”
“The tour with Billy lasted almost a year, and then I joined Carroll Levis's Discoveries, a vaudeville show, and I was with them until the early years of the war. By this time, my family had given up on me. But my father would catch me on his business trips, and he'd come backstage and wow all the girls in the cast. I was going around with the manager of the show. He was a comedian, and he was also Jewish. My father would take us out to dinner and he would manfully try not to be patronizing. But it was beyond him. He would have liked me to work in a bank or be a teacher, and here I was playing popular music and going around with someone who was not 'top drawer.' I don't think it was real anti-Semitism; you just didn't go around with Jews and tradespeople. When I was five or six, and my mother found out that one of my friends was the daughter of a liquor-store owner, I wasn't allowed to see her anymore."
The phone rings again, and Marian McPartland talks with animation. "That was my dear friend Alec Wilder. He wanted to know if I'd done any writing today. He's incessant, but he's right. For a long time I procrastinated and procrastinated. I'd start things and let them sit around forever before finishing them. Alec gave me a set of notebooks, and I jot ideas down in them in cabs and at the hairdresser. Tony Bennett recorded my 'Twilight World,' which Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics for, and it's just come out on Tony's new LP. Johnny is another great friend. One evening, he and Ginger, his wife, and his mother came up here, and Johnny sat right over there by the piano and sang about fifteen songs. It was a marvelous experience." Marian McPartland clears the table, and sits down in the living room with a fresh cup of tea.
"In , I volunteered for ENSA, which was the English equivalent of the USO. I traveled all over
with the same sort of groups I'd been
with, and then I switched to the USO, which paid better and which meant working
with the Americans! Boy, the Americans! The fall of , we were sent to England . We were given fatigues and helmets and
mess kits, and we lived in tents and ate in orchards and jumped into hedgerows
when the Germans came over. At first I played accordion because there weren't
any pianos around. I met Fred Astaire and France and Edward G. Robinson, and I worked with
Astaire in a show that we gave for Eisenhower. We moved up through Dinah Shore , which was all rubble, and into Caen , where I met Jimmy McPartland. A jam
session was going on in a big tent, and I was playing, and in walked Jimmy and
saw me — a female white English musician — and the my-God, what-could-be-worse
expression on his face was clear right across the room. But it was a case of
propinquity, and in the weeks to come it was Jimmy on cornet and me and a bass
player and whatever drummer we could find. We'd go up near the front and play
in tents or outside, and it was cold. He annoyed me at first because he almost
always had this silly grin on his face, but I found out that it was because he
was drinking a great deal. Somewhere along the line he said, 'Let's get
married.' I didn't believe him, so one morning I went over to his place very
early, when I knew he'd be hung over and close to reality, and asked him if he
really meant it, and he said sure and took a drink of armagnac. I guess I was
madly in love with him. We were married in February, in Belgium , and we played at our own wedding. Aachen
"When we got to
early in , we went straight to Eddie Condon's, in the Village. I was so excited
I couldn't stand it. Jimmy sat in and so did I, even though my left wrist,
which I'd broken in a jeep in New
York , was still in a cast. We stayed for a
while with Gene Krupa, then we went to Germany to stay with Jimmy's family. A colonel
with our outfit had given the news of my marriage to my parents when he was on
leave in Chicago . My father was stiff-upper-lip, but Mummy
told me she cried a whole day. I guess my not telling them first was a rotten
thing to do, but we were so isolated. You couldn't just pick up a phone at the
front and tell them you were going to get married. But when Jimmy finally met
them, he charmed them completely. My mother was really crippled with arthritis
by then, and he made her laugh, and Jimmy took my father to the movies. They
told me, 'He's not like an American. He's so polite/ In Chicago, I became
greatest of friends with Jimmy's daughter, Dorothy, who was very beautiful and
just fifteen. Jimmy had been married before, and Dorothy had been their only
child. Jimmy had sent a lot of money back from England Europe, and the first six months in were spent hanging out and treating
people. All anybody seemed to do was drink, including Jimmy, and eventually it
got to be one crisis after another. I left him a couple of times, and once I
even booked passage on the Queen Elizabeth. But it was all done without much
thought; I seemed such a brainless person then. And I think I must have been
quite awful to Jimmy. One of Mummy's dire predictions was If you become a
musician, Margaret, you'll marry a musician and live in an attic.' And that's
exactly what happened; our first place in Chicago was a furnished room in an attic. But
there were a lot of nice times, too. Jimmy and I started working together, and
Jimmy was always marvelous in that he was proud of me, he wanted to show me
off. We worked with Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan and Anita O'Day, and I met
Duke Ellington and Count Basie. And we'd go fishing up in Chicago and sit there by some lake and cook fish
and eat them and watch the sun rise. I had learned all the good old Dixieland
tunes from Jimmy, but I was also listening to the new sounds — Charlie Ventura
and Lennie Tristano and Charlie Parker. Wisconsin
"Jimmy and I had split up, musically, by the early fifties, and my first gig all by myself in
was at the St. Charles Hotel, in America , and not long after that I left for St. Charles, Illinois . I played solo piano at Condon's and then
I went into the Embers, with Eddie Safranski on bass and Don Lamond on drums.
Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge were brought in as guest stars, and we backed
them. I was so nervous I had to write down what I was supposed to say at the
close of each set. I played Storyville, in New York , and then I went into the Hickory House in
, and I was there most of the next eight years. The best trio I had
was Boston Bill Crow on bass and Joe Morello on drums. Sal introduced me to Joe one night. He was at
the bar, a skinny bean pole in a raincoat, and he looked like a studious young
chemist. I asked him to sit in, and I was flabbergasted. I'd never heard anyone
play drums like that. When Mousie Alexander, who was with me then, left, Joe
joined us, and I was so enamored of his playing that I let him play a lot of
Marian McPartland looks up at the ceiling and laughs. "Whenever I think of Joe, I think of swinging. It was impossible not to swing with him. And whenever I think of swinging, I think metaphorically. Swinging is like being on a tightrope or a roller coaster. It's like walking in space. It's like a souffle: it rises and rises and rises. The fingers and the mind are welded together. But it's dangerous. You have to leave spaces in your playing. You can't go on like a typewriter. Sometimes I do, though, and I leave no note unplayed. It's hard to say what goes on in your head when you're swinging, when you're really improvising. I do know I see the different keys in colors — the key of D is daffodil yellow, B major is maroon, and B flat is blue. Different musicians spark you into different ideas, which is why I like to play with new people all the time. Especially the younger musicians. They're fearless. Joe used to play enormously complicated rhythmic patterns once in a while and confuse me, and I'd get mad. Now I'd just laugh. Playing with lots and lots of different people is like feeding the computer: what they teach you may not come out right away, but it will eventually. Unless you have a row with someone just before you play, your state of mind doesn't affect you. You can feel gloomy, and it will turn out a marvelous night. Or you can feel beautiful, and it will be a terrible night. When I started out, I had the wish, the need, to compete with men. If somebody said I sounded like a man, I was pleased. But I don't feel that way anymore. I take pride in being a woman. Of course, I have been a leader most of my career, and that helps. I don't feel I've ever been discriminated against job-wise. I have always been paid what I was worth as a musician. So I feel I've been practicing women's lib for years.”
"The Hickory House was a good period for Jimmy and me. He was on the wagon and we were both working, and we lived on the
West Side. For the first time in my life, I began spending all my waking
hours doing things that had to do with just me, and one of them was a big
romance that went on, or off and on, for years. But I wanted to keep things
together with Jimmy, and we bought a little house out in Merrick, Long Island, and Jimmy's daughter came and lived with us. Joe Morello left in to join Dave Brubeck, and it was terrible, but he had
to move on. In nineteen sixty-three, after the Hickory House gig was over and
I'd worked at the Strollers Club, in the old East Side music hall called The Establishment,
I went with Benny Goodman. I thought I'd be perfect for Benny, because I had
worked so long as a sideman with Jimmy, and of course Jimmy and Benny played
together in as kids. But I had the feeling I wasn't fitting in. Bobby Hackett
was in the band, and he'd tell me, 'Marian, don't play such far-out chords
behind Benny,' and I'd say, 'Well, why doesn't Benny say something to me?' One
night, Benny and I had a couple of drinks, and I told him I knew he wasn't
happy with me and to get someone else. All he said was 'Oh really, you don't
mind?' and he got John Bunch. So all of a sudden, nothing seemed right — my
work, my marriage, my romance. When I got back to Chicago , I started going to a psychiatrist, and I
stayed with him six years. He was tough but very good. He indirectly
precipitated a lot of things. The romance finally broke up, and I cried for a
week. Jimmy and I got divorced. I didn't really want to do it, and neither did
he, but it turned out we were right. Jimmy hasn't had a drink in five years,
and I'm twice as productive. We've never lost touch with each other. We still
talk on the phone almost every day, and he stops by all the time. In fact, he
said he'd come by today." New York
The doorbell rings, and Marian McPartland jumps up. "Speaking of the devil! That'll be the old man now." Jimmy McPartland comes into the living room at ninety miles an hour, gives her a peck on the cheek, plumps a big attaché case down on the coffee table, takes off his blazer, and sits down. McPartland is sixty-five, but he doesn't look over fifty. His handsome Irish face glows, and he is salty and dapper. He is wearing a striped button-down shirt and a foulard tie and blue checked pants.
He carries his considerable girth the way Sydney Greenstreet did — as a badge rather than a burden. His credentials are all in order — the founder, along with Bud Freeman and
Dave Tough and Eddie Condon, of the school of jazz; the first and foremost of
Bix Beiderbecke's admirers ("I like you, kid," Beiderbecke told him.
"You sound like me, but you don't copy me"); and a still lyrical and
inventive cornetist — and he wears them well. He opens the attaché case. It has
a cornet in it, and several hundred photographs. He puts the cornet beside him
on the sofa and dumps the pictures on the coffee table. "My God, will you
look at these, Marian," he says, in a booming voice. "I found them
the other day out at the house, and some of them go back thirty or forty years.
There's your father, and there we are, with Sarah Vaughan and Charlie Shavers
and Louis Bellson. And here we are on the ship coming over. Look at you in the
GI togs and look at me. Thinsville." Chicago
She leans over his shoulder and giggles.
"Here we are playing in that pub in
Eastbourne when we went to visit your family.
And here you are holding a fish we caught in
"They should be put in a book, Jimmy. They'll just get lost." McPartland pulls a tape out of the attaché case.
"A guy gave me this on my South African trip, a couple of weeks ago. I'd never heard it before. We made it in
in . You were on piano and you wrote the
arrangements. It'll surprise you." England
She puts the tape on a machine, and Bix Beiderbecke's "In a Mist" starts. A complex ensemble passage introduces a Jimmy McPartland solo. "Listen to that intro," she says. "How awful."
"It's not, it's not. The clarinet player is out of tune. You know, I don't sound bad. Not bad at all." The tape finishes, and McPartland opens his mouth and points at one of his upper front teeth. "Look at thiff," he says to her through his finger. "The damn toof if moving back. Walking right back into my mouf."
She stares at the tooth, frowns, and straightens up. "You should go to Dr. Whitehorn, Jimmy."
"I don't know. I think I'll have to move my embouchure. I've already started, and it's a bitch of a job — changing an embouchure youVe had almost fifty years." He walks over to the window and puts his cornet to his mouth. He makes a little sound halfway between a puff and a grunt, takes the mouthpiece away, makes the sound again, takes the mouthpiece away again, and so on for two or three minutes. The room is silent except for the mysterious little sounds, but suddenly three or four full notes come out. "There. That's better. But it's going to take a hell of a lot more work."
"Jimmy, are we still going out to dinner?"
"Sure, babe. That Brazilian place around the corner you like so much."
"I'll go get dressed."
McPartland goes through his embouchure priming process once more. Then he shuffles through the photographs. "Marian is amazing. There's no one I'd rather be with as a person, as an all-around human being. I have terrific respect for her as a musician and as a person. She's talent personified. Musically, she has that basic classical training, and she's meshed that and her jazz talent. She's just begun to do it really successfully in the past two or three years. And she's a great accompanist. She flows with horns and singers like a conversation. Marian didn't have good time when I first heard her. Her enthusiasm was overwhelming, and she'd rush the beat. I'd tell her to go along with the rhythm, to take it easy. She sounded like Fats Waller, and, in fact, the first tune I ever heard her play was his 'Honeysuckle Rose.' It was in this tent in
go in and there's a girl playing piano and she looks English. I thought, God, this is awful. I wouldn't play with her until I'd had a
couple of drinks. I proposed after six or
seven weeks. Real offhand. If it doesn't work out,' I'd say, 'you can just go
back to Belgium .'
She tried to act real GI, but I could see she was a fine, well-bred
person and not a England juvenile delinquent like me.”
“My father was a boxer and a musician and a professional baseball player with Anson's Colts, which were the forerunners of the Chicago Cubs. He didn't take a drink until he was twenty-one, and then he never stopped. My brother Dick and I built a reputation as tough little punks, and we were almost sent to reform school, but my mother saved us. She was a schoolteacher from
, and she knew German and worked as a
translator in court for all the Jewish people.
We were hauled up before the judge, but he knew my mother and told her
he'd let us off if she moved us to another neighborhood, and she did. She was a wonderful woman, and she always
treated me like King James himself. She had seven sisters, and her name was
Jeanne Munn. I'd go to her father's
house every Sunday — his name was Dugald Munn, and he was an inventor — and I'd
get fifteen cents for listening to him read from the Bible. He had a wee bit of a brogue, and I couldn't
understand a word he said. So visiting Marian's parents was like being in an
English movie to me. They were mid-Victorian in style. Her mother was in a
wheelchair and very well-dressed and very particular. Everything at a certain
time, everything regulated. Tea at four, dinner at eight. If I was late coming
back from fishing or golf, Marian's mother would say, 'James, you're late.
We've started our tea/ Her father, who was a great engineer, used to knock his
brains out in his garden, and I'd help him until the pull of golf or fishing
got too strong. He was a nice, conservative gent." Glasgow
Marian McPartland has been standing for some moments in front of the sofa. She is in a Pucci-type dress and white boots, and she has a fur coat over one arm. "Daddy once slapped my hand for saying 'Blast it!''
McPartland digs a frayed envelope out from under the photographs and pours out a lot of German currency. "We used to go into people's houses over there and rifle them. That's where all this came from. Some of it is inflation money from after the First War. It was a terrible thing to steal like that, but everybody did it."
"You used to appear with bagfuls of old cobwebby wine bottles."
"I was just well-organized. Once, you needed a piano for a special show, and the colonel gave me the name of this collaborator in the town. I got eight guys together and a truck, and we went to his house and there was a beautiful piano. Brand-new. I told him he'd get paid for it, and we brought it back to the theater."
"I was really impressed," she says. "You said you were going out to find me a new piano and you did. It was one of your finest moments. Let's go and eat, Jimmy."
It is Marian McPartland's opening night at the Cafe Carlyle. It is her fourth long nightclub gig of the past year, the three others having been at the Cookery, in the Village, and at the Rowntowner Motel, in
. It is in some ways an odd engagement, and
it suggests the country mouse's visit to the town mouse. The Cafe houses, for
eight months of the year, the elegant and fashionable supper-club singer and
pianist Bobby Short, and it is not the sort of room one associates with jazz;
indeed, no out-and-out jazz group has ever played there. By nine-forty-five
this evening, when the first set is scheduled to begin, the room is filled,
largely with friends and well-wishers. There is a table of business
acquaintances, most of whom are amateur musicians. Barney Josephson, the owner
of the Cookery, is at ringside with his wife. At the back of the room are Alec
Wilder and Jim Maher, the writer. Jimmy McPartland and Clark Terry are at
another table, and nearby are Clem De Rosa and pastor John Gensel, of the Rochester . Marian McPartland sits down at the piano,
and she is a winsome sight. The room, with its fey, old-fashioned murals and
rather dowdy trappings, is out of the late thirties, and she brings it brightly
and instantly up to date. In the light, her hair is golden and bouffant, and
she is wearing an ensemble that has clearly been thought out to the last fold:
a close-fitting cranberry turtleneck, a gold belt, brocaded cranberry and gold
palazzo pants, and a gold pocketbook, which she plunks down on the piano. She
looks calm and collected, and, smiling slightly to herself, she goes
immediately into a pleasant, warming-up version of "It's a Wonderful
World." (Her accompanists are Rusty Gilder on bass and Joe Corsello on
drums.) Despite her outward cool, she sounds jumpy. Her chords blare a little,
an arpeggio stumbles, her time is a second or two off. In the next number, a
long, medium-tempo "Gypsy in My Soul," which she introduces as a
carry-over from the days at the Hickory House, she begins to relax, and the
glories of her style come into full view. Marian McPartland came of age when
pianistic giants roamed the earth — Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Bud
Powell — and their footsteps still echo dimly in her work. Lutheran Church
But in the past five years she has moved beyond adroit adulation into her own, special realm. It is, in the way of Johnny Hodges and Sidney Bechet and Tatum, an emotional, romantic, and highly inventive one. (Her sheer inventiveness is frightening; her ceaseless ideas sometimes trample one another.) Her slow ballads suggest rain forests. The chords are massed and dark and overhanging, the harmonies thick and new and almost impenetrable. And her slow blues are much the same: the tremolos are mountainous, the arpeggios cascades, the blue notes heavy and keening. But her slow blues also have a singular Celtic bagpipe quality. Her foliage is thinner at faster tempos. There are pauses between the stunning, whipping single-note melodic lines, and her chords, often played off beat, are used as recharging way stations. Her notes have room to breathe, and her chordal passages are copses rather than jungles. "Gypsy in My Soul" is sumptuous and crowded, and so is the theme from "Summer of '42." But then she moves lightly and swiftly through medium-fast renditions of "All the Things You Are," part of which is translated into contrapuntal, Bach-like lines, and "Stompin' at the
," which is full of laughing, winding
arpeggios. The room is swaying and rocking, and before it can subside she drops
abruptly into a delicate, veiled ad-lib reading of "Little Girl
Blue." It is a hymn, a lullaby, a crooning. Savoy
A bushy, luxuriant slow blues goes by, and then she pays Alec Wilder tribute with a gentle blending of his three best-known tunes — "I'll Be Around," "While We're Young," and "It's So Peaceful in the Country." They are fresh, mindful versions, and Wilder, listening intently, looks pleased. She closes the set with a rambunctious, homestretch "Royal Garden Blues," and after the applause, which is long and cheerful, she stops briefly at Wilder's table. He asks her how she feels. "I was flipping at first," she replies. "But then the marvelous vibes from all these dear people got to me, and it began to feel very good. Very, very good, in fact. I think it's going to be a nice date."
The closing video montage features Marian,
Bill Crow on bass and Joe Morello on drums performing a 1954 version of
“Tickle Toe,” Lester Young’s famous hit with the Count Basie Band.
Tuesday, November 12, 2019
"COMPADRES WITH B R U B E C K" - Jerome Klinkowitz, Listen Gerry Mulligan: An Aural Narrative in Jazz
© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Although the billing of the group is ‘The Dave Brubeck Trio featuring Gerry Mulligan,’ Brubeck invariably refers to it as “the quartet.” He is thinking of it now in more long range terms than when it was first put together in the spring of 1968 to play a few concerts in Charlotte, New Orleans and Mexico City. Then Mulligan seemed to be a visitor whose place might be taken by someone else at other concerts. But he is settling in as a regular part of the format.
‘I never thought that things would work out this way with Gerry,’ Dave admitted. ‘He hates piano players.’”
- Willis Johnson, liner notes to Blues Roots, CBS CS 9749].
This post deals with an interlude in the career of two of Modern Jazz’s most significant innovators, one which cast them together on and off over a five year period [1968-72] and resulted in five LPs with Jack Six on bass and drummer Alan Dawson on which they create some of the most original solos in their storied careers.
Both Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan were equally accomplished as instrumentalists as well as composers, but it was the latter skill in support of one another that took them to a higher level of improvisation on these recordings.
The exuberance, energy and enthusiasm between the two is almost palpable. Sometimes it gets to a point where it bubbles over. “Gerry,” Dave explained, “loves to play and he gets very impatient. He keeps coming in on my solos all the time and I’m kind of digging it. Paul Desmond never interrupted me and I never interrupted Paul. But now I am beginning to interrupt Gerry.”
“In the old quartet, Paul and I left each other alone in our solos. For awhile we had some improvised counterpoint but that kind of faded away because we liked the rhythm guys to stay out of it and they got bored.”
“But in this group nobody cares if the bass player is on the roof or if the drummer keeps the beat, so we can make the transition to complete freedom. Now we’re going more and more to free improvisation. Sometimes we really sound like this new approach, but the way we do it is harder because we keep a structure underneath so the listener has something to relate to.” [ Excerpts from Willis Johnson’s liner notes to Blues Roots, CBS CS 9749].
© Copyright ® Jerome Klinkowitz, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“The spring of 1968 found Gerry Mulligan and Dave Brubeck in parallel situations at similar points in their musical careers. Although a few years older than the baritone saxophonist, Brubeck had risen to prominence almost simultaneously with Mulligan. Their two quartets helped set the tone for fifties jazz, and into the sixties both players continued to develop in styles building on the principles of "white" jazz music—that is, with techniques drawing more on the classical European approach than on African or black American influences.
As American society was itself transformed in the years surrounding 1968, this orientation became more critical, for while broad segments of the culture were turning to a more rhythm-and-blues-based music, Mulligan sought pop roots in the Beatles and Roger Miller, while the Brubeck quartet's hiply intellectual penchant for tweaking the nose of pop culture with such projects as Dave Digs Disney (which actually made successful jazz renditions of such tunes as "Heigh Ho" and "Some Day My Prince Will Come") continued unabated with such albums as Gone with the Wind (which included "Camptown Races") and Anything Goes! The Dave Brubeck Quartet Plays Cole Porter. For the general public, Brubeck's quartet had meant "jazz" for seventeen years, and its readily identifiable sound and stylistic approach guaranteed the success of these otherwise novel projects.
This strong indentifiability, however, could easily turn into a rut, making other styles of expression unlikely or impossible. And so in 1967 Brubeck disbanded his quartet, which had featured Paul Desmond, Gene Wright, and Joe Morello for so many years that their collective presence had become a virtual trademark of mainstream jazz, and turned instead to several classically based individual projects. His situation, then, matched Mulligan's, though for different reasons. Gerry's Concert Jazz Band did not record after December 1962, but not for reasons such as its leader's wish to explore new frontiers, unfettered by his previous style. Instead, economic demands had nipped the CJB almost in the bud, just as cancer had taken Judy Holiday's life before she and Gerry could collaborate on more than half-a-dozen recorded songs and one produced album featuring their material and others'. Nevertheless, Brubeck and Mulligan found themselves suddenly alone in 1968, uninvolved in ongoing groups and gigs for the first time in their professional lives.
Yet they were still Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan, and by spring the country's leading jazz promoter, George Wein, was approaching Brubeck to collect on a promise to appear at the Mexican version of Wein's Newport Jazz Festival. Because a similar package celebrating the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City soon expanded the commitment to four additional appearances, Brubeck decided to forgo touring as a single and assemble a group instead. Bassist Jack Six had worked with him on his classical performances, and George Wein suggested drummer Alan Dawson. Because Mulligan was already being included on the tour as a featured attraction, Brubeck elected to meld the two acts as "The Dave Brubeck Trio Featuring Gerry Mulligan." With two warm-up concerts in Charlotte and New Orleans, the four players set out for Mexico and the album that would appear as Compadres: The Dave Brubeck Trio Featuring Gerry Mulligan (Columbia CS-9704).
Brubeck's and Mulligan's histories had intersected at several previous points, but their unison was still surprising — and, to the anticipation of some ears, potentially jarring. Their respective groups had shared concert stages many times before, dating back to the California Concerts program of 1954 when the Brubeck quartet would play the evening's first half followed by Mulligan's combo after the intermission. And of course Mulligan and Desmond had recorded two full albums together. There had even been an occasion, when Desmond was temporarily out of action with dental work, in which Mulligan took his place within the Brubeck quartet and its repertoire. Yet Mulligan meeting Brubeck would be an affair entirely different from a blowing session with Paul Desmond, for it had been in affiliation with the classically trained pianist that found Desmond at his abstract brainiest. Mulligan had made his first claim to fame by publicly renouncing the piano and its supposedly inhibiting effect; now he was to work in tandem with one of the era's most distinctive and imposing keyboard figures—not a light-fingered session man willing to add the minimum of rhythmic fills but a self-described heavy-handed and chordally inclined master, whose voice and presence in the quartet had been even more forceful than the group's horn. Mulligan himself took pride in the commanding presence and distinctive voice of his own solo playing, plus he was bringing three compositions to fill out nearly half of this first album's program. The possibilities for a collision were certainly present.
• Dave Brubeck-Gerry Mulligan: "Jumping Bean," "Adios, Mari-quita Linda," "Indian Song," "Tender Woman," "Amapola," "Lullaby de Mexico," "Sapito," and "Recuerdo," from Compadres, Columbia CS-9704, May 1968. Gerry Mulligan: baritone saxophone; Dave Brubeck: piano; Jack Six: bass; Alan Dawson: drums.
Although the two players never did collide, towering strengths makes Compadres and the four other American albums (recorded through 1972) successful. Their debut number, Mulligan's own "Jumping Bean," depends upon it for effect. No easy Mulligan Meets Brubeck tune in the style of the simple little ditties composed to get a blowing session underway, this piece is rhythmically complex and hard hitting in the sharp attack it demands from both lead instruments, creating a situation in which both the piano and baritone sax must play in a percussive manner. For this attack to work, neither player can back off in favor of the other; like a synchronized combat team, each must slug it out ahead with an implicit trust that the other will be in place. Mulligan's solo in particular sustains this mood; where he might be expected to drift, he takes direction from the song's emphatic rhythm, a stutter-and-clash affair that precludes lots of lazily flowing notes and demands that he approach his horn like its bass clef cousins in the bottom reaches of the orchestra. Between Brubeck's solid left hand and Jack Six's determined playing, the only style open for Mulligan's work is within their rhythmic structures. But rather than feeling confined, his solo assumes direction and functions as the equivalent of Brubeck's pounding piano.
Good pacing of a concert demands contrasting material, and in structuring the album's first side Mulligan and Brubeck turn to the slower, smoothly swinging (over a Latin rhythm) "Adios, Mariquita Linda." Its melody is a strong and familiar one, coming directly from the Mexican culture to which the two composers refer in the originals they've brought along. Partially for this reason, Mulligan keeps his solo very close to the melody; but his faithful reflection of the song's melodic nature is also a sign that he likes it, and much like his playing on the Beatles and Roger Miller tunes from a few albums back his confident playing of the song's original line confirms that there has been something in it akin to his own way of handling a score. How Mulligan handles a song that invites more inventive soloing is made clear on the next number, Brubeck's "Indian Song," which returns to the harshly percussive style with which the album began, here augmented by the drummer's imposition of a 6/8 time signature. Within this radically different context Mulligan takes pains to construct a definite, clear melodic line of his own, for in its rhythmic busyness this is just what the song itself lacks. Thanks to Mulligan's strong solo, Brubeck can take a more contemplative turn himself, exploring a set of classical exercises that the number never could have borne without Gerry's self-invented melody intervening.
The balance of Compadres benefits from this complementarity. When the number demands it, the two men can play together forcefully, their two instruments creating as much drive and presence as a much larger ensemble. Such is the effect in "Amapola," the closest they come to straight out blowing on this first LP. More often, the two support each other's more subtle work, especially on an older Mulligan composition that had been waiting for just such an appropriate premiere: "Lullaby de Mexico," a delicate composition in the manner of Brubeck's own "Tender Woman" from the first side. In both cases the numbers' careful construction and almost fragile structure demand that the two players work in almost duet form, each offering a gentle cushion to the other's gestures toward a melody that would collapse if overstated. Mulligan's clear lead distinguishes both pieces, and his solos sustain the compositional mood throughout. His own "Lullaby" asks bari and piano to play together at the end, and their gentleness is all the more remarkable in view of the immense power unleashed in earlier numbers.
If Compadres has a weak link, it is Mulligan's "Sapito," which comes across as a novelty piece; moreover, it’s faster pace and plethora of notes force the bari to struggle a bit, hardly a situation that Hatters its composer. But this solitary lapse is more than compensated by the beauty of "Recuerdo," Brubeck's tonally haunting and rhythmically complex ballad. Though piano and sax begin the piece together, the two players soon divide for their own approaches — Mulligan taking a strongly melodic solo, Brubeck relying on his personal, classical style both for thematic and rhythmic improvisation. From the perspective of two decades, the material chosen for Compadres might seem a bit patronizing; although George Wein made much of Brubeck's reputation in Mexico, that country's audiences were not treated to the master playing his own famous material but rather horsing around with supposedly nativistic songs, which to some ears could sound like a vaudevillian parody of Hispanic rhythms and themes. To their credit, neither Brubeck nor Mulligan let their solos be over directed by this Mexicali impulse, but that fact makes it even more evident that the Spanish flavor of their tunes is mere window dressing. Only on Brubeck's "Indian Song" and Mulligan's "Lullaby de Mexico" is their playing strongly influenced by the song itself, and in both cases these compositions predate the tour's occasion. And so, even as Mulligan makes a decided turn away from the 1960s promotional style that had threatened to compromise his work, the festival influence lingers as a pressure to slant material and performances to a show-biz impression of what audiences want and expect.
• Dave Brubeck-Gerry Mulligan: "Limehouse Blues," "Journey," "Cross Ties," "Broke Blues," "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" "Movin' Out," and "Blues Roots," from Blues Roots, Columbia CS-9749, 1969. Same personnel as May 1968 above.
Of the five American-issued Brubeck-Mulligan albums, four are concert or festival performances (three of them abroad, where the pressures to conform to supposed audience expectations are even stronger). Hence their single LP done in the studio, Blues Roots, takes on a strongly different character from the others, since for once the two giants are immediately responsible only to themselves. The result is by far their most idiosyncratic album and perhaps Mulligan's most avant-gardist project to date, for the seven cuts push the blues structure to its most abstract limits. Each number chooses one facet — rhythm, melody, the chromatic nature of chord changes — and explores it with a thoroughness usually not found outside of the classical conservatory. Such a mode comes naturally to the formally trained Brubeck, a student of Darius Milhaud, but for Mulligan — who learned his theory in the bands of Tommy Tucker and Johnny Warrington — the undertakings of Blues Roots make for a radically new experience. On his Jimmy Witherspoon album Mulligan had explored the blues from its roots in popular culture, but now more abstract and theoretical questions were being brought to the table. For the opener, "Limehouse Blues," the percussive aspect of the idiom gets major, almost exclusive emphasis. Brubeck takes the first phrase by literally pounding out a single chord in place of the song's melodic line, at the same time that Mulligan reduces his own instrument to its most basic function, sustaining a bottom-of-his-horn low note throughout. As the piece develops, the two players augment rather than develop their roles, Brubeck's piano taking on a syncopated striking of two chords while Mulligan's bari hits on just the opposite beat to create a solid wall of sound, nearly all of which is percussive in nature. The effect is intentionally jarring, not at all what listeners have come to expect from this classic at the center of jazz's most traditional canon, but appropriate nevertheless as a distillation of the song's key element — much like an infrared photograph that highlights the most prominent features of a topography, or an expressionistic canvas capturing the more extreme reaction of a painter's subconscious feelings.
How important that percussive effect is becomes clear with the second number, Mulligan's own "Journey," which forgoes all except the most casual rhythmic support in order to emphasize the lyrical bluesiness of his horn. Here his playing is relaxed and more characteristically simple, which yields an interesting result: at this pace, with the rhythm flowing smoothly instead of percussively forceful. Mulligan's songwriting capabilities carry his own solo through to its lyric completion, while in these circumstances Brubeck, forced to a lighter touch, relies on the conservatory approach of chordal permutations and rhythmic symmetry. Yet Brubeck proves himself equally abstract, albeit in a more modernistic way, on his own composition, "Cross Ties." Played in a brisk 3/4 (which yields the rhythmic feeling of 5, even though the solos and melody take a three-to-the-bar cast), the piano begins by playing on top of the rhythm but gradually drifting away from it into stutters and spurts of percussively phrased lines. Mulligan takes these at face value and adds his own spice to the potpourri, much as Paul Desmond delighted in doing on the Two of a Mind LP. Mulligan goes to the extent of adopting Desmond's practice of double-tracking a third melodic line (at which point the rhythm backs off to allow the piano line and the two baris to create an atonal, partially arhythmic effect). When the bass joins them with a fourth line, while the drums introduce various other rhythms to which the piano responds, the blues structure is stretched almost beyond recognizable form.
This peak of abstraction is sustained through Teo Macero's "Broke Blues," a five-minute exercise in which Brubeck (apparently on harpsichord) sets a classical mode within which Mulligan plays a baroque line, much like the Bach-inspired numbers from the Brubeck quartet's earlier Jazz Impressions of Eurasia LP. What anchors the Age of Enlightenment approach is the fact that all four instruments play constantly throughout the piece, with no apparent solos by any one instrument. Rather, in the Bach tradition, all four solo simultaneously, the interweavings of their lines taking complementary paths thanks to the composition's rationalistic design.
With the album's second canonical blues, "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," Brubeck and Mulligan take on the challenge of another piece whose traditionally almost defies any further distillation. Johnny Hodges's composition does survive almost to the end, when after some legitimate swinging by both Brubeck and Mulligan the piano starts wandering away from the tune's loping pace in favor of some random-sounding phrases that, try as they might, fail to deconstruct the song. A faster pace keeps things moving beyond such temptations in Brubeck's "Movin' Out," where Mulligan's horn stretches the outer limits of each four-bar change without ever sounding intellectually dense. By comparison, Mulligan's experiments with the chromatic structure of "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" are more extreme, yet when the piano and bari get together for some polyphony toward the end of Brubeck's song the tonality once again begins to wander. It makes sense, therefore, that the album concludes with Mulligan's "Blues Roots," the solid wailing of which prompts Brubeck to lay copper strips across his instrument's strings to make it sound like a thumbtacked honky-tonk piano. Mulligan's playing emphasizes the four-to-the-bar beat, enhanced by piano, bass, and drums hitting the rhythmic roots while his sax does a minimal amount of sliding around in between.
As on the Compadres album, Blues Roots distinguishes itself as anything but a traditional horn and piano-trio album. Once again, Brubeck's instrument has spotlighted itself as much as Mulligan's; within the catalog of Gerry's work, only his meeting with Thelonious Monk carries the same impression, for in terms of relative dominance he might as well have been playing with another horn.
• Dave Brubeck-Gerry Mulligan; "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," "The Sermon on the Mount," "Indian Song," "Limehouse Blues," and "Lullaby de Mexico," from Live at the Berlin Philharmonie, Columbia KC-32143, 7 November 1970. Same personnel as May 1968 above.
The distillation factor yields especially good results on the next Brubeck-Mulligan album, taken from performances during the Berlin Jazz days in 1970. With one exception, the selections are drawn from Compadres and Blues Roots, but finalities of each previous album cross-fertilize each other and produce a synthesis of solid performative jazz. "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" and especially "Limehouse Blues" lose some of their avant-garde abstraction in favor of the Mexican album's more exuberant sense of swing, while "Indian Song" is redistilled to emphasize its rhythmic properties, and "Lullaby de Mexico" is explored in terms of dynamics and tonalities, its compositional parts being disassembled before the audience's ears.
Like the Compadres effort, Live at the Berlin Philharmonic is solidly presentational. The emphasis is on maintaining a sense of swing throughout, and any tendencies to tamper with structure serve only to energize further the "live" nature of this performance. As if to emphasize the roundly swinging nature of "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," Mulligan jumps right into the first phrase with a super-imposition of the Ellington baud's other rolling number, "Don't Get Around Much Any More"; both his and Brubeck's solos maintain this expansive sense of swing until just before the end, when some sax-piano polyphony threatens to get abstract, until the out chorus brings things back to the solid Johnny Hodges idiom. Brubeck's "Indian Song," one of the more successful pieces from Compadres, is here presented with an even greater emphasis on rhythm, to the extent that Alan Dawson's long drum solo fits in naturally with its presentation. In both numbers Brubeck's tendencies toward the percussive aspects of piano do not become a matter in themselves but are instead enlisted in support of the song's rhythm — swinging in the first, staccato in the second. It is a sure sign of the new quartet beginning to gel.
There may be some slackening of avant-gardist effort in this fresh synthesis, but not too much. The cacophonous pounding that made "Limehouse Blues" such a jarring affair on Blues Roots is now limited to just the first few bars, after which Brubeck settles back into such a traditional treatment that the festival audience can applaud in recognition of its familiar theme; what gestures there are toward an abstract understanding of the song's percussive and tonal elements are reserved for occasional interpolations with the baritone, a much less dogmatic approach than taken on Blues Roots.
When Brubeck and Mulligan wish to highlight a special effect, it becomes the quality of sound itself; "Lullaby de Mexico" is reshaped for this performance to emphasize its dynamics and phraseology, while Brubeck's original (and the album's one new piece) "The Sermon on the Mount" forgoes any developing rhythmic and melodic structure in favor of spotlighting the stirring beauty of Mulligan's deep-voiced horn, the playing of which comes closest to creating something out of nothing.
• Dave Brubeck-Gerry Mulligan: "Blues for Newport," "Take Five," and "Open the Gates," from The Last Set at Newport, Atlantic SD-1607, 3 July 1971. Same personnel as May 1968 above.
Following their 1970 Berlin appearance, Mulligan and Brubeck collaborated on two more albums, each of them taped at festival appearances: The Last Set at Newport from 3 July 1971, and the reunion with Paul Desmond given the apt title We're All Together Again For the First Time, a collection of takes from late October and early November 1972 in Berlin, Paris, and Rotterdam. On these LPs Mulligan's direction is clear, taking less of a creative role in the Brubeck combo while showing evidence of writing for his own new group, which had recorded the Age of Steam album in the months preceding Newport. Because of the dominance of Brubeck's own material and his strong playing on the first LP and the presence of Desmond on the second, these productions fit more squarely in the canon of the Dave Brubeck Quartet than they do in Mulligan's—for once the group's formal name, "The Dave Brubeck Quartet Featuring Gerry Mulligan," seems appropriate.
Comprising just three numbers. The Last Set at Newport is definitely Brubeck's affair, from the retrospective look at "Take Five" (the first time Mulligan would be asked to play an old Brubeck classic, and a Paul Desmond composition at that) through the opening "Blues for Newport" (a blues credited to Brubeck) to the leader's symphonically based "Open the Gates (Out of the Way of the People)," which complements his "Sermon on the Mount" from the Berlin festival.
The blues piece is the album's most impressive contribution, one of those rare performances in which creativity has been stimulated rather than complicated by the festival context. Bill Chase's electronically dominant fusion group had preceded the quartet on the bill, and Dave confessed to organizer George Wein that he feared he couldn't compete with its sound level. Advised to go out there and wail, Brubeck and Mulligan deliver their most energetic playing in the service of an extremely percussive, heavy-handed blues that despite its heavy beat never gives up on swinging. Brubeck's playing can even be said to rock, while Mulligan throws the pianist's playing into even higher contrast by taking the better part of his own solo in several variations of rhythmic stop-time.
"Take Five," in its fame as a virtual identifier of the Brubeck quartet at its peak, is the greatest challenge to Mulligan's playing. He exerts his own personality almost at once, slurring and swinging the bridge more than Paul Desmond did on the quartet's hit record, hut then backing off for the rest of the tune, playing his own riffs in response to the time signature instead of constructing a careful melodic line as had his predecessor. That the term "predecessor" itself comes into play shows how the innovative aspects of the Mulligan-Brubeck collaboration were beginning to run their course, with the future remaining more solidly in Brubeck's hands as the baritone sax player's creative genius begins looking elsewhere. This disposition is no more apparent than on Brubeck's "Open the Gates," where Mulligan doesn't really solo at all, his role being reserved for the symphonic duty of joining in with the leader's piano at its peak to create the number's orchestral height.
• Dave Brubeck-Paul Desmond-Gerry Mulligan: "Truth," "Unfinished Woman," "Take Five," and "Rotterdam Blues," from We're All Together Again for the First Time, Atlantic SD-1641, 28 October and 4 November 1972. Same personnel as May 1968 above, with the addition of alto saxophonist Paul Desmond.
The European reunion album with Paul Desmond is just that, an occasion for bringing together the key elements of Brubeck's 1950-1967 and 1968-1972 periods with an eye toward his and Mulligan's futures. That those futures were heading in remarkably different directions is clear from the album's two new numbers, "Truth" and "Unfinished Woman." The former is a Brubeck oratorio, subtitled "Planets Are Spinning," and of all the quasi-classical pieces Brubeck had brought to his collaboration this one is by far the least jazz oriented. Mulligan and Desmond attempt conventional enough solos, but Brubeck's performance speaks of the modernist conservatory throughout. Its back-to-back position with Mulligan's new composition makes for an especially strong contrast, for while Brubeck was heading in a classical direction, Mulligan's piece was one of the first numbers written for his Ark/Orchestra, a fusion group that would propel its leader through the 1970s and 1980s. The number, based on the repetition in two chords of a simple riff, outlines Mulligan's new goals, which include a fresh emphasis on rhythm and a greater interest in sustaining sounds (as opposed to constructing elaborate melodies). His solo builds on these new influences, holding single notes much longer and limiting his phrasing to the major chord, not shifting the direction of his line until the chord structure itself changes.
The balance of We're All Together consists of the original Brubeck quartet (without Mulligan) doing a reprise of one of their more famous numbers, "Koto Song," plus Gerry joining in for a fresh version of "Take Five," in which a softer approach brings new attention to the melody. "Rotterdam Blues" is an improvised encore, as is "Sweet Georgia Brown," the latter lasting just one minute. The blues piece is good-humored barrelhouse playing, in which some of Mulligan's favorite licks from the Meeting sessions of a decade and a half before resurface. But with Brubeck's sixty-second solo curtain call, the lights come down on this period of collaboration—a workshop exercise of sorts that not only sustained the two great musicians through a difficult transitional period but allowed them both to refine key aspects of their playing, reaffirming their jazz roots no matter what the nature of the group's material.”