© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Focused Profiles on Jazz and its Creators while also Featuring the Work of Guest Writers and Critics on the Subject of Jazz.
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
Oscar Peterson - Bursting Out [From the Archives]
Sunday, March 26, 2023
Gerry Mulligan and The "MEETS" Recordings by Raymond Horricks
© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“With an artist of Mulligan's calibre it is not difficult to find good things to say about his talent or his main innovations. Where the problem arises is that, given his all-embracing view of jazz and his being musically footloose anyway, how does one keep pace with every area into which he ventures?”
-Raymond Horricks’ Gerry Mulligan [Jazz Masters Series]
“Since it is only in fiction, legend, and superficial histories of jazz that there is supposed to be either indifference or active dislike among various schools of jazz, there should be nothing at all surprising in the revelation that Gerry and Thelonious have always had strongly positive feelings about each other's music. What may be more surprising is that there is a long-standing bond of personal friendship between them, and that the idea of playing together has long been a very appealing one to both men. Consequently, the suggestion that they record jointly made immediate sense to both.”
- Orrin Keepnews, producer of Monk Meets Mulligan
“ …the resulting records are a studio concept to make outstanding jazz with good and sympathetic partners.
I stress this last point because, in a long recording career, it is not always possible (or indeed necessary) to approach every single session as being of vital importance to the developing history of jazz. The criterion is first and foremost to make music which is intrinsically fine.”
-Raymond Horricks’ Gerry Mulligan [Jazz Masters Series]
“Next came the album with Thelonious Monk. It came about by accident because Thelonious and I were pals. We visited each other back and forth; we only lived a few blocks from each other and spent a lot of time together. I'd be over at his place a lot and, oddly enough, we never played together. We were always hanging out at his house talking about writing, and we'd show each other things we were doing on piano and ideas that we had for orchestration and so on. And I spent a lot of time transcribing some of his tunes that he didn't have written down.
So he had a date with Riverside Records. I found out about this from Orrin Keepnews. He said that he went down to the office one time to talk about this date and it came up in conversation that Gerry Mulligan was waiting outside for him. They said, "Oh, you know Gerry?" He said, "Yeah, we're old friends." They said, "Do you want to make this?" Well, as it turned out, originally they had wanted to record the quartet that Thelonious was playing with down at the Five Spot. He had John Coltrane on tenor and Coltrane was tied up in a contract with somebody else. They couldn't get a release for him to play with Monk on the Riverside album so they were kind of stuck. I guess they were thinking Thelonious would make a trio album, and then when Keepnews found out that we were friends, he said, "Well, do you think Gerry would record something with you?" Monk said, "Sure, sure he would." So, that's how that came about.
I said, "Sure, I'll do it," and I felt like I was walking on a tight-tope because, not having ever played together, I was feeling my way. You know, the way Monk accompanies you and the way he approaches chord progressions really demanded a whole different melodic approach from me. I could hear in places where I was getting it together, like getting into a groove with him that really fit, and in other places I was really stumbling because I couldn't find my way.
For all that, I kind of marvel at my guts to go record something like that, to put myself in the frying pan that way, especially since it turned out to be the only time we ever recorded anything together. And that in itself was kind of a happy accident. I'm glad we did it even if it's got big bruises on it.”
Gerry Mulligan with Ken Poston, Being Gerry Mulligan: My Life in Music 
The following is drawn from Raymond Horricks’ Gerry Mulligan which was published in 1986 by the London-based Apollo Press LTD as part of its continuing “Jazz Master Series.” Mr. Horricks would later follow in 2003 with a more definite treatment on Gerry entitled Gerry Mulligan’s Ark. Based in the UK Mr. Horricks uses English spelling.
The peripatetic Mulligan loved to take his big horn and “sit-in” a variety of settings featuring different musical styles. It was a way of learning, a means of testing oneself and certainly a vehicle for meeting and getting to know other Jazz musicians. I think today’s term for the latter would be “networking.”
To paraphrase Mr. Horricks: “These interliner musical exploits have happened all around Gerry’s existence.”
Thankfully, on a more permanent basis, many of these jam sessions with other musicians grew into a series of “Gerry Mulligan Meets …” recordings which have preserved the music made by Gerry with a wide variety of partners.
Mr. Horricks provides further details about these “meetings” with other major Jazz artists in these excerpts from Chapter Four of his Jazz Master Series Mulligan profile. Although succinct, this portion from that chapter provides a nice retrospective of the recordings in the MEETS series.
“As the 1960s Encyclopedia Of Jazz states: "He has retained a casual pleasure in playing in any context and has frequently appeared at jazz festivals during the '60s working with Dixieland, Swing and bebop groups, sitting in with big bands, and generally showing a lust for playing and a rare enthusiasm and communication with his audiences.' 'With Gerry,' Dave Brubeck adds, 'you feel as if you're listening to the past, present and future of ja// all the time, and it's with such taste and respect that you're not quite aware of the changes in idiom. Mulligan gets the old New Orleans two-beat going with a harmonic awareness of advanced jazz, and you feel not that tradition is being broken, but rather that it's being pushed forward.'
From the late 1950s he sat in whenever and wherever he could, toured extensively (including Europe and Japan) and at one stage (1966) experimented with a rather unsatisfactory group involving baritone, guitar and rhythm. Again in 1966 he collaborated with Bill Holman on a longer work, Music For Baritone-Saxophone And Orchestra, which he introduced as its featured soloist with the Los Angeles Neophonic Orchestra. (No commercial record of this exists.)
He also continued the practice of recording with other major figures. In 1957 alone he made more LPs than a lot of 'name' jazzmen can boast in a lifetime. I can only discuss a few I judge to be truly outstanding. (Otherwise, thank God for my discographer!)
It began with the unlikely Mulligan Meets Monk LP for Riverside. Perhaps not so unlikely though, because by this time Gerry and Thelonious had become firm friends. It went back to that same 1954 Paris jam session I referred to earlier as beginning — to borrow the title of Gerry's own signature-tune — in Utter Chaos. Monk whipped out some of his most advanced and previously unheard harmonies, and immediately there were anxious frowns from the other musicians. But Gerry then rallied and the set only ended (abruptly) when Mrs Mulligan reappeared. Yet, it was an important set in that it left the two composers filled with curiosity about each other's music.
Danny Halperin tells how the next day Thelonious was thoroughly depressed about the way European audiences were reacting to his music. 'They're not really listening to what I'm playing,' he complained. Mulligan overheard this and turned to the pianist. 'Don't bother about it,' he said quickly. I’ll be listening to you from now on. I'll be just off-stage listening. If you turn a little that way you'll see me there.’ And Thelonious played his next concert like that, with his imposing figure slightly averted from the piano and turned towards the wings. It marked the beginning of a creative understanding between the two men.
They agreed that for the Riverside sessions they would use the rhythm section from Monk's Quartet at The Five Spot in New York. Mulligan had worked with ex-Count Basie drummer Shadow Wilson previously, but Wilbur Ware on bass was a new experience for him and he expressed delight at the latter's unusually melodic and imaginative playing. He himself partly determined the instrumentation though. Producer Orrin Keepnews had intended to do only one session with a quartet. For the second he wanted to build the two composers/soloists into a larger band. However, after the first evening (when I Mean You, Rhythm-A-Ning and Straight, No Chaser were recorded) Gerry insisted that they complete the album with exactly the same musicians. He particularly wanted, he explained, to explore the modern jazz classic 'Round About Midnight with its composer and without any other soloists coming between them. And he got his way. Keepnews comments: 'The atmosphere on both occasions was one of complete and fruitful relaxation. There was too much mutual respect and affection on hand for there to be any danger of feelings of competitiveness getting in the way.'
Mulligan's exploration of 'Round About Midnight is a two-part affair, first of its uniquely sinister mood, then as Wilson and Ware impose a subtle swing of the theme's internal technicalities. Gerry himself introduced only one of his own compositions to the session, the up-tempo Decidedly based on the chords of Charlie Shavers' Undecided.
After this his appetite had been whetted no matter how diverse the other performers. In the years which followed he embarked upon albums with Johnny Hodges, Stan Getz, Ben Webster, blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon and late in 1977 Lionel Hampton, to name but a few.
Again dating back to 1957 there is a particularly satisfying LP with the late Paul Desmond on alto-saxophone, another expert inventor of long, contrapuntal lines.
The gestation of this Mulligan-Desmond collaboration ('Blues In Time') began — like the Monk one — in 1954. Gerry sat in with the Dave Brubeck Quartet at a Carnegie Hall concert and a Tea For Two resulted which convinced both saxophone players that their ways of making music had, in Gerry's words, 'a natural affinity'. Nothing more happened then during the three years before August 1957 because Desmond was under contract to one record label and GM favoured certain others. Until Norman Granz took a hand and offered to swap an artist from his stable to Desmond's company for an LP if Paul was released to do the album with Mulligan. So, the date duly took place and, apart from Gerry's own fine playing, is — in this writer's opinion — the best record of Paul Desmond's entire output. He was always a seemingly effortless inventor of improvised ideas, but Gerry's presence has clearly inspired him to take a number of daring chances, both tonally and with harmonics, which I do not believe he ever did with anyone else on record. 'I'm very proud of several things we did on the date,' the severely self-critical Mulligan stated afterwards. 'Like sometimes we're blowing passages in thirds, and they come off. It's a little alarming. And there are also the places where Paul comes through so strongly, much more aggressively than he usually plays with Dave. He gets to swing pretty hard at times here in contrast to his more flowing and lyrical work.'
The LP is once more pianoless, the interweaving of the saxophones superb and both men contribute compositions of their own: Desmond with the title-number and Wintersong, Gerry with Stand Still and Fall Out and his familiar Line For Lyons. But another impressive feature of the album's programme of music is the ultra-slow rendition of Body And Soul. Although this is still the much-played 32-bar standard by Johnny Green, both GM and Paul play it as if they are a couple of blues singers, pulling out the kind of ‘soul searching' we normally associate with Billie Holiday or the great Ray Charles. And, of course, it hints at why Gerry could later make such a good record with Jimmy Witherspoon.
A later collaboration between Mulligan and Desmond entitled Two Of A Mind is not quite so evenly fine as Blues In Time but includes a genuinely outstanding track based on Out Of Nowhere, one of the best bright-tempoed duets Gerry has played with any other musician. In unfortunate contrast, the full potential and promising beginning of the sessions with Stan Getz was marred by their deciding (or being persuaded) to swap instruments for the second side of the LP and then each sounding distinctly uncomfortable with an alien horn.
Different again, but this time in fascinating contrast with the Desmond recordings, since it involves Gerry with another of the legendary alto-saxophones of jazz, is the 1960 LP with Johnny Hodges. And also this time a pianist is involved in the person of Claude Williamson, an excellent technician and soloist who had been a West Coast resident from long before GM's move there. In the course of the LP, Gerry Mulligan Meets Johnny Hodges, he inserts a marvellously sensitive solo passage, for instance, during What's The Rush, which is in turn an instrumental version of one of the songs Gerry had been co-writing with Judy Holliday. But let us concentrate here on the subject of Mulligan and Hodges, because whereas the recordings with Desmond had achieved inventive excitement, the album with Hodges offers an example of jazz created from unadulterated sensual beauty. Which, in effect, was Hodges' musical trademark.
To anyone who ever travelled with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Hodges, alias 'The Rabbit', could come across as a very prickly character indeed. … On the other hand, once it became a matter of playing solos, especially on records — and with ego still to the fore — he could be relied upon to blow like an absolute angel. He was (and remains on his LPs) one of the supreme alto-saxophone stylists of jazz music. By comparison with his peers (Benny Carter, Charlie Parker, Lee Konitz, Paul Desmond and Eric Dolphy) he would improvise amazingly few notes, but then project them with a poise, a romantic and languid line and, above all, a satiny tone which made Mulligan, among many young players, a consistent admirer.
Gerry already had a much-praised LP with another former Ellingtonian (Ben Webster) under his belt and was as keen to do something with Hodges as he had with Paul Desmond and just before that Monk. 'Johnny,' he said [to Nat HentofI], 'has been one of the men I most enjoyed hearing for as long as I can remember. I started playing alto in my teens, after clarinet, and became particularly interested in Hodges's work with the Ellington band.' And he hit out at certain critics who were knocking the work of these older jazzmen. 'The compulsion to say something "new" every day is a significantly immature way of looking at life. The constant drive to force musicians and other artists to constantly invent something "new" is one of the banes of the creative life; and this particular kind of pressure, incidentally, also reveals something of our whole culture. In any case, if there are people who cannot hear how thoroughly mature and individual Hodges is, I'm sorry for them.'
Norman Granz flew Hodges to Los Angeles for the recordings. Meanwhile Gerry had been preparing three of his compositions for the sessions, What's The Rush and two brand-new ones, Bunny and 18 Carrots For Rabbit. He himself plays with what I prefer to think of as dutiful sincerity on the album. He shows his immense respect for Hodges by letting the overall sound be like that of the typical Ellington small groups of the 1940s — and as a result the senior soloist is at his most composed and rewarding. What's The Rush would have been a credit to one of the Duke's own recording sessions; while Hodges's own notable slow ballad in turn features Gerry at his most perceptive and sonorous (Shady Side). Only 18 Carrots For Rabbit breaks the pattern, having a more boppish line and chord sequence. But Hodges is plainly enjoying himself by this time and drummer Mel Lewis then trades passages with Mulligan and Williamson.
A further affirmation of jazz roots was bound to occur when Gerry agreed to play the 'live' shows (and resulting LP) with Jimmy Witherspoon which took place at the Renaissance Club in Los Angeles on 2 and 9 December 1959: in fact just as plans were being worked out for the collaboration with Johnny Hodges.
This is very much a Witherspoon outing, characterised by his earthy, swinging and totally urban interpretation of the kind of blues first pioneered by Jimmy Rushing and 'Big' Joe Turner in the 1930s. But to back Spoon's individual updating of their work we have in attendance Gerry, the formidable Ben Webster, Jimmy Rowles on piano, Leroy Vinnegar (bass) and Mel Lewis again on drums. Obviously the themes had to be chosen to feature the singer, ranging from Ma Rainey's C.C.Rider and Leroy Carr's How Long to VV.C.Handy's St.Louis Blues and the well-known, but still composer-untraced Outskirts Of Town. However, it does need to be added that Gerry seems to have the capacity to turn other jazz people on, whether they be Paul Desmond, Johnny Hodges or, as in this case, Witherspoon, Webster and the rhythm section. As a longstanding collector of Spoon's records the one under discussion here has definitely become my favourite. And the baritone solos, obbligatos and general pieces of accompaniment are no small part of the play. Ben Webster too makes good contributions, reminding us that he was the one musician on the dates who played these same blues behind Rushing and Joe Turner in the famed Kansas City clubs.
The only technical flaw on this particular LP (issued from Milan, Italy by Servizio Joker) is an abrupt editing into the audience applause at the ends of certain tracks. Mechanical fades on the remixed master tape would have sounded much cleaner.
Finally among these reviews, I will briefly touch on the Gate LP with Lionel Hampton. With an artist of Mulligan's calibre it is not difficult to find good things to say about his talent or his main innovations. Where the problem arises is that, given his all-embracing view of jazz and his being musically footloose anyway, how does one keep pace with every area into which he ventures? So I will confess to having an ongoing weakness for the album with Hamp; yes, even though it has its obvious blemishes, apparently as the result of some bad organisation and Lionel having to double between performing (albeit not on every track) and his other function as the record's producer. For all that it is a very swinging set, with much interpolated wit by both Gerry and the vibes virtuoso. Moreover it contains one masterly Mulligan ballad solo with an equally sincere one by Hampton during the Song For Johnny Hodges track. Gerry has managed to give a soaring, lyrical impression of 'The Rabbit' in his composed lines; while Hamp is clearly remembering with emotion his great 1937 recording with Hodges of On The Sunny Side Of The Street. Otherwise this is an LP devoted to fun and happiness; and jazz music has a requirement for these as well. As Art Blakey put it, 'If I'm playing and I don't see people tapping their feet and having themselves a ball, that's when I get worried . . .' [Also Alun Morgan points out in his sleeve-notes the cleverness of Gerry's theme Blight of The Fumble Bee: a 12-bar blues wherein the soloists have the option of playing different chords over bars 9 to 12.]
Standing somewhat apart from the various Mulligan collaborations with other jazz luminaries, though also superb, are two albums made in the GM vintage year of 1964 with another Sextet: Butterfly With Hiccups and Night Lights. The presence of Brookmeyer and trumpet and flugelhorn specialist Art Farmer with Gerry here suggests at first perusal a recreation of the travelling Sextet of the mid-1950s, but in fact this isn't so. Zoot Sims has been replaced not by another tenor-saxophone but with Jim Hall on guitar; and the resulting records are a studio concept to make outstanding jazz with good and sympathetic partners.
I stress this last point because, in a long recording career, it is not always possible (or indeed necessary) to approach every single session as being of vital importance to the developing history of jazz. The criterion is first and foremost to make music which is intrinsically fine. As I have been writing in the book thus far, other exploits by Gerry Mulligan have been influential to jazz: his work with Elliot Lawrence, Miles/Gil Evans, Young Blood for Stan Kenton, then his own Quartets, and Sextet, plus his continuing big band, of which more later. These are the major events of the essential Mulligan canon — and which, if he had achieved nothing else, would still guarantee his lasting position in jazz.
But alongside them are the remaining creative efforts, like the sessions with Desmond, Hodges et al; and we can enjoy these simply for being what they are: unique one-offs. The Sextet sessions of 1964 belong in the same category. They intersperse new themes with old GM standards like Line for Lyons and with other, 'classic' standards by Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, etc: You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To, Old Devil Moon, In The Wee Small Hours. Together with one real classic, a jazz investigation of Chopin's Prelude in E Minor. Above all though they portray consumate musicianship. Brookmeyer by this date had fully matured as a soloist while Art Farmer has seldom played better on record. Jim Hall reaffirms his standing as the most delicately exciting of jazz guitarists. And Gerry (often switching to piano) is both an inspiring general and the ultimate enricher of the two sessions. So, definitely not to be missed.”