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In our research into the music and career of Gerry Mulligan, it appears that this was the first of three “Blindfold Tests” that Gerry participated in with Leonard Feather for Downbeat magazine.
Those published in the May 26, 1960 and November 18, 1965 [with fellow baritone saxophonist Harry Carney] editions of Downbeat were previously published on the blog.
Gerry’s candor (“Somebody will probably kill me for saying that.”) is characteristic of his participation in all of these “tests” of guessing whose music he’s listening to and offering appraisals of it, as is the depth and breadth of his knowledge about the music and its makers.
His comments about the song structure, arrangements and voicings are particularly keen - “... some of the backgrounds sort of don’t add anything to the arrangements” - as are his evaluations of the quality of the improvisations - “ … his chorus sounds sort of hung up all the way - always a little breathless and behind.”
He obviously doesn’t pull too many punches, on the other hand, how many people can listen to a big band arrangement and actually “... [hear] what the second tenor is doing?
“Mulligan Stews” Gerry Mulligan - Blindfold Test, November 14, 1957
By Leonard Feather
Just 10 years have gone by since Gerald Joseph Mulligan, then a 20-year-old recruit in the Gene Krupa band, established himself on the New York jazz scene. That decade has been as eventful for "Jeru" as for jazz itself.
During the early years he was an essential element of the epoch-marking Miles Davis band, writing and playing for the Capitol sides; simultaneously he was involved with big-band writing and playing, for Elliot Lawrence and Claude Thornhill.
Not until 1952, with the formation of the Mulligan quartet, did his name achieve international jazz eminence. Since then he has gassed fans in persons in Paris and London, has shown his extraordinary flexibility as a soloist at ease in any type of jazz group, and has displayed through all his work a keen sense of sardonic humor that reflects the personality of the man.
Gerry is a delightfully easy subject for a Blindfold Test; his comments call for no prodding and a minimum of editing. He was given no information whatever, before or during the test, about the records played for him.
1. Chubby Jackson. Mother Knickerbopper (Argo). Sandy Mosse, Vito Price, tenor saxes; Bill Harris, trombone; Jim Gourley, guitar; Don Lamond, drums. Comp. & arr. Tiny Kahn.
“That sounds like the new version of Chubby's band. It was an arrangement of Tiny's. I think the sound was much better than the original version of it. The whole quality of the band was better. That's not one of my favorites of Tiny's arrangements, but it was well played. The drums were a little strong for my taste, especially in the breaks at the start, but it fit nicely with the general mood. The entire solo was very nice, although a bit extended for the continuity of the arrangement, and I didn't really feel that the backgrounds to most of the solos really added anything.
I liked the second tenor very much. He had a clear, driving sound and that solo was the most integrated into the arrangement, I thought. It was a pleasant surprise to hear Bill Harris in there. It's a good band. I'll give it three stars.
2. Les Modes. Catch Her (Dawn). Julius Watkins, French horn; Charlie Rouse, tenor sax; Gildo Mahones, piano; Chino Pozo, bongos.
This is a weird sounding tune, but nice — interesting. A good balance between Charlie and Julius. That's a good sound they get together with the French horn and tenor. I especially like the way Charlie plays. The bongos seemed to be a little overbalancing in the first chorus but calmed down later on. The piano was lost in the beginning of his solo. I wouldn't say it swung, because it was that kind of breakneck tempo that never settles down and swings but has a different sort of mood—setting up a dynamic tension. I'd give that three stars, too.
3. Thelonious Monk. I Should Care (Riverside).
Like I said, that one long run was a giveaway. Only Theolonious plays that run. I Should Care is the tune. It's an interesting thing, he's doing something I was trying to do with horns, but I can't say I was as successful at it. For a casual sounding thing it's a very studied effect he's doing there — adding voices that have percussive or various kinds of effects and then dropping them. Even though it's a studied and calculated thing, it shows his sense of humor effectively, especially in the notes he leaves in. That has to get four stars—I like that.
4. Claude Thornhill. Lover Man (Columbia). Arr. Gil Evans. Danny Polo, clarinet.
That's a beautiful arrangement. I used to enjoy playing that That was Gil Evans' arrangement of Lover Man for Thornhill. As I say, it was a lot of fun to play. Even the first time I played the thing I sight-read it (my part was in about five sharps) and it just sort of played itself. It was nice to hear Danny Polo. I only wish that he had made more records, because he was really one of my favorite, favorite clarinet players — beautiful sound. Something else that I don't think people had a chance to hear was that he was a really great jazz player. He would have been, I'm pretty sure, the man who really utilized clarinet in the modern idiom. The few times he made sessions with us very shortly before he died, when Lee Konitz and I were with the band, he just knocked us all out completely. He had a beautiful sound and utilized it in a way that fit perfectly. I'd like a set of his records, to hear all the things he made. Four stars for this.
5. Mel Lewis. Brookside (Mode). Comp. Bob Brookmeyer; Jack Sheldon, trumpet; Charlie Mariano, tenor; Bill Holman, baritone; Buddy Clark, bass.
That's a nice record. I started to get a little puzzled there toward the end because the solo certainly sounded like Red Mitchell, and the trumpet— although it doesn't sound like him, on the other hand I'd swear it was Chet. Melodically it doesn't sound like him, but I know that lately he hasn't been sounding the way I remember him anyway. The baritone was very good. That would be probably Bob Gordon. I don't know anybody else who has
that clearcut a sound on the instrument. I don't know the tenor, but it sounded good. All the solos were good.
The whole thing has a sound that reminds me of Clifford Brown — something he wrote or something that is very much in the vein of things he did write. Actually I'm a little hard put to place the whole thing because it could be different groups of people. I'll give it about three-and-a-half stars.
6. Duke Ellington. The Telecasters from Such Sweet Thunder (Columbia). Harry Carney, baritone sax.
I haven't heard that before. That gorgeous sound means Harry Carney. Harry said he was going to be doing a date by himself, so I would assume that was part of the date under his name. It has sort of a reminiscence of Duke's band and yet it doesn't sound like Duke's band. It's a very cute tune. I love that man's sound. Give it four stars.
7. George Russell. Ezz-thetic (Victor). Comp. Russell; Bill Evans, piano; Art Farmer, trumpet; Hal McKusick, alto sax; Milt Hinton, bass.
Mind you, I don't know who it is but the tune is Ezz-Thetic — I think it's a George Russell tune. Sort of has an other-worldly sound on Love For Sale. The piano solo was good — good construction and nice momentum. The trumpet and alto sort of let down and didn't really make the pace of the rest of the people. The bass sounded wonderful underneath. There were some nice little ensemble passages. Give it three stars.
8. Johnny Keating's Swinging Scots. Hampden Roars (Dot). Jimmy Deuchar, trumpet.
That section's got a good sound — brass and saxophones — excellent sections. The solos were good. I especially liked the first trumpet solo. Again, some of the backgrounds sort of don't add anything to the solos. I notice in a couple of places the last eight of two choruses in a row the trombones come in with a sort of unnecessary figure underneath that gets in the way of the solo, but the overall thing is good. It has a good big band feeling with section work. I have no idea who it is. Four stars.
9. Gil Melle. Walter Ego [Prestige] George Duvivier bass, Shadow Wilson drums. Comp. by Melle.
Well, involved progressions on that tune make for incoherent choruses. They never seem to be able to settle down and dig into anything. Everytime they get an idea going the progression is somewhere else. In fact, the bassist played the most coherent and swinging chorus on the record. The baritone on his chorus sounds sort of hung up all the way - always a little breathless and behind. He does sound like he has possibilities as a baritone player. (Somebody will probably kill me for saying that.)
The tune itself is another one of these sort of weird sounding things. It’s an interesting figure, but for me, coming in with the sticks on the cymbal after the figure sounds very much out of character to the mood they’ve started to create with the tune. I’d give that three stars for the bass solo and two-and-a-half for the rest of it.
10. Dixieland Goes Progressive. That’s A Plenty [Golden Crest]. John Plonsky trumpet, Bob Wilbur clarinet, and Urbie Green trombone.
That’s loaded with humor, isn’t it? I’d sort of guess that it might be the band that Bobby Hackett got together. I don’t know whether that’s it or not, but hearing the tuba and a sort of modernized version of an old warhorse like that … I’m trying to place the tune. I know it as well as I know my own name, but I can’t think of the title. I wouldn’t know how to classify this, but it was a lot of fun. They didn’t seem to be taking it particularly seriously.
The trumpet and trombone dug in and got into the spirit, but the clarinet sounded like he was sort of intimidated and underplaying himself when the mood of the thing called more for over
It was cute. I’d say about three stars on this.”