Sunday, April 18, 2021

"Gerry Mulligan Feeling More Universal Than Geographical" by Andrew Jones

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Here’s another late-in-his-career piece about Gerry Mulligan which featured in the December/January 1990 issue of Jazziz. Sadly, there aren’t very many to choose from as Gerry, along with Jazz itself, had become somewhat lost to a broader audience.

But the upside, as described in this 1990 interview by Andrew Jones is that Gerry was as busy as he could be preparing and playing his music in a variety of formats as he entered the new decade.

In the main, after recapitulating some of the high points in Jeru’s career, this becomes essentially a review of Gerry’s album Lonesome Boulevard [A&M - Verve 0602527068756] about which Gerry has this to say in the opening paragraph to his insert notes to the CD:

“Around the world with my quartet- New York to London, Venice to Valparaiso - people have come up to me after a concert to ask if they can get a recording of ihe group. But it seems in recent years, when it comes time to record, there's always some special project. I want to do, instead, so it's been a long time since there's been an album of the quartet that plays all the concerts.

This time it's different.

I've been very fortunate over the recent years of the quartet, to have fine musicians who also happen to be good people. I've been lucky to have Tom Fay, Mitch Forman. Harold Danko and Bill Mays on piano: Frank Luther, George Duvivier and Mike Formanek on bass; Billy Hart, Butch Miles and Bob Rosengarden on drums. Sometimes we became a quintet or sextet with John Scofield or Mike Santiago on guitar and Dave Samuels on vibes and percussion.

I've also been lucky that as players leave, for one reason or another, they found their own replacements! For instance. Billy Mays sent Bill Charlap to the group and Frank Luther sent Dean Johnson.

Traveling bauds live very close together for long periods of time, and I value the friendships that have resulted from our association. So, as well as being a presentation of the current group I travel with all the time, this is an expression of thanks to all the previous players in the continuing quartet.

As regards the music, I wrote nine new pieces, the titles of which are fairly self-explanatory, plus a theme of Dave Amram's I've always been fond of.”

GERRY MULLIGAN'S STORY is told in his music. Period. Everything you ever wanted to know about the gifted musician who contributed "Jeru" and "Venus de Milo" on the Birth of the Cool is there in his relaxed, sublime solos. For Mulligan, verbal descriptions of his work — the lyricism, wit, and contrapuntal cool of the West Coast sound, his skill at arranging for small ensembles and big bands, his passion for blazing new trails in compositional jazz, or his single-handedly creating a repertory of symphonic works for the baritone saxophone — fall miserably shore.

Even in his brief fling as an actor in Ranald MacDougall's trashy epic, The Subterraneans, Mulligan easily ambles through Jack Kerouac's bohemian San Francisco landscape as a priest with little more than a confident presence and an enigmatic smile. His acting style, like his playing, says everything. No further explanation is needed.

So it comes as no surprise that, when asked what he would think about appearing in a film on his life (New York filmmaker Charlotte Zwerin has been thinking of Mulligan as a possible subject lor the follow-up to her 1988 Thelonious Monk hagiography Straight No Chaser), Mulligan is mortified at the very thought of the idea. "It would embarrass me to death," he laughs. "I guess it doesn't really dawn on people much who don't have to contend with their name being part of what their living and working persona is, but sometimes it gets to be tiresome talking about yourself all the time. But I realize it's a fact of life and one I don't really suffer from very badly. Once I saw Gary Cooper in the lobby of a hotel in Las Vegas. The poor man couldn't walk three steps without being inundated with people. I felt really sorry for him. But, as a performer, you're in the public eye, and you have to have an attitude towards responding to the public. You want to give energy to people, yet how much have you got? It's like being schizophrenic, being an introvert and extrovert at the same time, and trying to get the best out of both."

While gracious and laid back in conversation, Mulligan the introvert stands firmly behind his belief that words will never rival the power of a sustained blue note, so Mulligan the extrovert gently deflects discussion of his current work in progress periodically to talk about the jazz festival syndrome ("Ever notice the bigger the jazz festival, the drier your town is the rest of the year when it comes to jazz gigs?"), film scoring, orchestral logistics, the pros and cons of breaking in a new mouthpiece ("They never quite match, but at least I won't have “to retire"), and sightseeing he's done throughout the world in his illustrious 45-year career. There are no in-depth revelations about his pioneering work which brought a brooding, introspective lustre to early 1950s bebop with the Miles Davis Nonet in New York. Nor any candid reminiscences of the now-famous nights with Chet Baker, Chico Hamilton, and Bob Whitlock at the tiny Haig Club in Los Angeles, steering a lyrical, pianoless quartet that had the critics hearing the West Coast sound for the first time. Just a powerfully quiet portrait of a modern jazz master who may have-fallen out of step with the times when John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman blew into town, but nonetheless stayed cool and copped twenty-nine consecutive Down Beat readers' polls as best baritone saxophonist. And who, despite his sixty-three'years, still has a healthy number of irons in the fire.

"I kind of jump from one thing to another," Mulligan confesses. "I'm writing new material for the quartet, and trying to get some orchestral pieces done for a few pop concerts. I'm working on a new piece for a symphony concert, and now I find myself going over some big band chart ideas because of a project I'm going to do in Chicago next June. In fact this is the first time I've had at home in a while to spend uninterrupted time in the studio and get things in order. Working on so many projects at once and then going on the road. I come back and I find all my papers are ultimately confused, I go look for the symphony thing I'm working on and I can't find it. I've spent ten days so far trying to straighten the place up, and I'm starting to make some progress. I find all the jumping around debilitating, but doing so many different projects stimulates ideas between them"

Until fifteen years ago, when he finally settled down in Connecticut, Mulligan fed this obsessive eclecticism with constant travel. "It's hard to say where I've lived, because I've spent most of my life in no place in particular," he quips. Ever since the move at the age of nineteen from Philadelphia (where he was writing arrangements for the CBS Radio Orchestra) to New York to play saxophone with Gene Krupa's band, Mulligan has been somewhat of a jazz nomad. Soon after he was not only arranging for Krupa, but for the Claude Thornhill and Stan Kenton bands as well.

It was in Thornhill's ensemble that Mulligan met the gifted composer and arranger Gil Evans, who ushered him into a group of young jazz lions — John Lewis, Lee Konitz, George Russell, Thelonious Monk, Zoot Sims, and Miles Davis — whose idyllic, subtle musical vision was to set the tone for post-war jazz. While the Miles Davis Nonet went unheralded in its time, the impact of their breakthrough sessions released as Birth of the Cool has been considerable.

The restless Mulligan moved to Los Angeles, assembling his pianoless quartet, the one that turned trumpeter Chet Baker into an overnight sensation and launched the "West Coast" school of cool. He toured Europe as the 1950s drew to a close, played with Duke Ellington at Newport in '58, dabbled in scoring for movies, and found himself handling larger and larger ensembles — the acclaimed 1960 Concert Jazz Band, a thirteen-strong outfit with four reed players, six brass players, and a big space where the piano ought to be, and the 1972 Age of Steam big band.

These days, Mulligan's music revolves around his quartet, with whom he spent the last decade crisscrossing the globe. "The quartet is an ongoing thing. Most of what I write will go to the quartet first, and then depending on what we wind up doing with it will ultimately dictate what I will do with a piece. If I were working with a big band all the time, that's probably where my first thoughts would be."

Typically, Mulligan insists that there was no grand design behind his new collection of material for A&M's Modern Master Series Lonesome Boulevard, other than to provide a memorable snapshot of his current working band. “I enjoy playing with them so much," he says. "I've played all over the world, I realized that when I go to my record collection, I don't have much to play."

In a jazz age dominated by boxed sets of CD reissues, cookie-cutter British beboppers, and market-researched, demographically adjusted nostalgia, Lonesome Boulevard is like a fresh breeze. Opening with an uptempo valentine to a fondly remembered stagehand at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and ending with an openly lyrical coda that would make a hyper-romantic like Kip Hanrahan or Teo Macero blush, Lonesome Boulevard looks backward affectionately to the classic sound of Mulligan's small ensemble records like Jeru with Tommy Flanagan.

This time around, Jeru's quartet is far from pianoless. While Lonesome Boulevard isn't the first time Mulligan has reintroduced the piano to his work (he did that as long ago as Age of Steam), here he's restored the Steinway to its rightful place in a classic quartet formation, giving pianist Bill Charlap plenty of room to soar. Charlap takes a breathtaking solo on "Ring Around a Bright Star" and fiendishly spikes the whirling dervish of "Flying Scotsman" with chords of unsurpassed clarity, and elegance. The spirited tango of Charlap's dawdling piano and Mulligan's husky, cello-like baritone on the jovial "Good Neighbor Thelonious" says all there is to say about why Mulligan decided to use piano again.

The subtle colors that timekeepers Dean Johnson and Richie De Rosa bring to the material are not to be overlooked either. De Rosa deploys his arsenal of cymbal accents on "Ring Around a Bright Star," while Johnson's fluid bass shines when they slow things down with the noir vamp of the title cut or David Amram's "Splendor in the Grass."

With its buoyant, unhurried playing, gorgeous heads, and timeless quarter feel, Lonesome Boulevard could cynically peg Mulligan as returning to his West Coast roots. But Mulligan argues there's more to his new album than just a return to cool. "The 'West Coast' sound is whatever they tag 'West Coast,' they being critics who like to put tags on thing's," he explains. "As long as there are players around who are from the West Coast, and the tag reflects the way they play, of course there will be a West Coast sound. But what I wrote, then and now, has nothing to do with the West Coast in particular. I like to think that my ideas and feelings are more universal than geographical." 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Zoot Sims with Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band Apple Core

"The Flying Scotsman" - Gerry Mulligan and The New Concert Jazz Band


 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Central to the importance of this article by Richard Cook which appeared in the November 25, 1986 issue of The Wire is the statement that closes it: “the 1986 Gerry Mulligan displays more talents, in a far more appropriate context, than the youngster who exploded on the West Coast scene more than three decades ago.”

For someone who was a constant figure in the national Jazz press for the first 25 years of his career, Jeru was an infrequent reference in it during the last 25 years of his career until his death in 1996.

Some of the reasons for this absence are explained in Mr. Cook’s article. [Of course, what’s not mentioned is the fact that the music itself lost its presence in the national Jazz press.]

What is important is that Mulligan continued to grow as an artist and to represent this development in the new and different venues that were available to him in the 1980s as described in Mr. Cook’s article.

“GERRY MULLIGAN'S NAME CONJURES up a bright yet somehow fuzzy image as a jazz-household word. The reason will be clear to anyone who has followed his greatly acclaimed but convoluted career.

He has been a leader and a sideman; a composer and arranger; has headed groups of every size and shape, and has voluntarily been semi-inactive for extended periods. Nevertheless, he has enjoyed what may be an unequalled series of consecutive poll victories, as the No. 1 baritone saxophonist, starting in 1953. For many years Duke Ellington's Harry Carney had a near-monopoly on this full-toned horn. Mulligan and Carney (who died in 1974) were mutual admirers and once recorded together with the Ellington orchestra.

Today, very belatedly, Mulligan has devised a setting that enables him to display his multiple talents. He is leading, more or less on a full-time basis, a 15-piece orchestra that devotes itself primarily to his compositions and arrangements. In recent years he has taken to doubling on soprano saxophone, an instrument that has been violated by so many squeaking, out-of-tune dilettantes that the purity Mulligan brings to it is a rare joy indeed.

Because the band has never played in California, it was good news to me that Jeru (this is the nickname given him many years ago by Miles Davis) had been booked to play the last two of four consecutive week-long cruises out of Miami aboard the Norway  —  the world's longest jazz festival, produced by Hank O'Neal and Shelley Shier. I was on board for the second and third weeks. More than 100 musicians were involved in this unique venture; Mulligan thus was able not only to present his own ensemble but also to join impromptu forces with various small groups involving a few old friends and several promising youngsters.

Al Cohn, who played on the Norway last year teamed with the late Zoot Sims, was particularly pleased to be reunited with Mulligan during one of the late-night jams. "Gerry and I go back a long way," he reminded me. "I played with him and Zoot Sims on his Mulligan Song Book album in 1958, and I wrote some of the arrangements for the album he did with Judy Holliday." (Holliday With Mulligan, in which the actress sang four songs she had written with Mulligan, is the most tangible legacy of their long romance in the 1960s and early 70s. After her death, Mulligan continued to make the gossip columns during a romance with another actress, Sandy Dennis, that also lasted several years. He is presently married to an Italian, Franca, and has a home in Milan.)

Probably the most surprising ad hoc grouping during the cruise was his alliance with Art Hodes, the Chicago-based pianist who was 81 last November. After playing briefly with a rhythm section that included an old Mulligan teammate, Bobby Rosengarden, on drums, Hodes paired with Mulligan for a slow, pensive blues for which the two men were alone on the bandstand.

Hodes has always taught Basic Blues Piano 101 in his simple performances. Time was when I found his style limited, once writing impetuously (and quite inaccurately) that I could cut him at any session. Hearing him in a more mature light four decades later, I was impressed, not only by the taste Hodes showed within his technical compass, but also by the sensitivity with which Mulligan adjusted his style to a situation that was, for him, quite unusual.

"I enjoyed playing with Art," he said afterwards. "In fact, it's been a kick having so many people around whom I don't normally get a chance to play with."

For some of the less experienced artists present, the opportunity to play alongside such giants as Mulligan, Joe Williams, Dizzy Gillespie and others was a rare learning experience. Cyrus Chestnut, a 22-year-old pianist and composer, was technically on hand as a member of a group of students from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, under the direction of the trombonist Phil Wilson, of Berklee's faculty. It is safe to assume that within a few years Chestnut will be well known in jazz circles for more than his uncommon name.

During the same set Mulligan summoned to the bandstand an onlooker who was not an official member of the festival; Eliane Elias, a gifted pianist from Brazil, had joined the party as the wife of Randy Brecker, the New York studio trumpeter.

For all his pleasure in these unplanned collaborations, Mulligan clearly was proudest of the moments when he presented his full orchestra in concert. Essentially, this is an updated extension of the slightly smaller band, 13-strong, with which he toured internationally in the early 1960s; but the present band's repertoire was almost a cross-section of his variegated 33-year life as a leader.

"Bweebida Bobbida", for instance, with which he opened one recital, brought to mind for me his very first session with a band of his own, in 1951, for which he composed it. Though the original record, by a nine-piece group, sounds a little dated, he has brought to the present version the textures and orchestral diversity one expects from him as both a classicist and a vivid melodist.

"Line for Lyons", named for the Monterey Jazz Festival's Jimmy Lyons, was a product of the 1952 Quartet with Chet Baker; though he has recorded it several times, the 1985 treatment brings it up to date, retaining the simple essence of the song but interpolating solo, sectional and ensemble work that reflects his progress both as writer and soloist.

Outstanding in the band’s library are several compositions from his album Walk On The Water, which won him a Best Big Band Grammy Award in 1981. "Song For An Unfinished Woman" accentuated the band's sedulous attention to subtle dynamic contrasts. On "42nd And Broadway", a delightfully captivating melody, Mulligan switched to soprano saxophone. For Duke Ellington's "Across The Tracks Blues", he virtually duplicated the master's original version, with a splendid reed section passage, clarinet taking the lead, Gerry's baritone supplying the solid foundation. Even the piano introduction by Bill Mays was a note-for-note restatement of Ellington's own.

Mays was one of several inspired soloists. "I moved to New York two years ago because I was tired of doing studio work," he told me. "Now I'm getting all the jazz gigs I want. Playing with this band is a dream." In the rhythm section with him are the drummer Richie de Rosa and an exceptionally supple bassist, Dean Johnson.

In the sax section was Seldon Powell, a tenor veteran with name band credits from Erskine Hawkins and Louie Bellson to Benny Goodman and Clark Terry, "I’m not a regular member of the band," he said, "but Gerry's tenor player gets seasick, so he opted out. I told Gerry I don't get seasick, so I got the job." Also subbing in the reed team was the alto saxophonist Jerry Dodgion, who toured the USSR with both Benny Goodman and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band.

Mulligan's talents do not end with his writing and playing. "When I Was A Young Man" presented him as a cheerful, quaintly charming vocalist and writer of lyrics to his own song.

True, the tall, crew-cut, clean-shaven, redheaded youth of the old Quartet days has yielded to a tall, gaunt, white-bearded figure, but the effervescent personality seems to improve with age along with his music. In short, the 1986 Gerry Mulligan displays more talents, in a far more appropriate context, than the youngster who exploded on the West Coast scene more than three decades ago.”

Friday, April 16, 2021

Mckinney's Cotton Pickers - Peggy

1930 HITS ARCHIVE: If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight - McKinney’s ...

McKinney's Cotton Pickers - Crying And Sighing

McKinney's Cotton Pickers and The Early Development of Big Band Jazz

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

As Jazz moves into its second century of recorded documentation, I wanted to continue with the “Early Jazz” theme by highlighting some of the nascent developments of the music in a big band format.

While the famous names associated with Jazz big band music in the 1920s - Ellington, Henderson and Redman - are recognized, Redman’s work in the context of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers is often overlooked.

McKinney's Cotton Pickers’ big band was formed in Springfield, Ohio, from the Synco Jazz Band, a group organized by William McKinney shortly after World War I. In 1923 McKinney decided to conduct the band himself, and consequently engaged Cuba Austin as the band's percussionist. At the behest of its agent, in 1926 the band became known as McKinney's Cotton Pickers. With their musical versatility and inspired showmanship the musicians blended comedy routines and light music with jazz numbers arranged by their trumpeter, John Nesbitt. From 1927, when DON REDMAN became music director and principal arranger, the band developed its own distinctive style, which highlighted the precision of the saxophones and brass and emphasized the buoyancy of the rhythm section.

The band's first recordings, in July 1928, helped establish the group nationally, and brought widespread praise for the brilliance of Redman's arrangements and the solo improvisations of Prince Robinson. The Cotton Pickers' golden era took place during the group's long residency at the Graystone Ballroom in Detroit (beginning in 1927 where it gained a reputation equal to that of the two other leading black bands of that era, those of Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson. Claude Jones, who at various times played in all three groups, later claimed that McKinney's Cotton Pickers was the best of the three. Bright-sounding ensembles, good intonation, and effective soloists were the band's principal strengths; these assets, combined with the appealing singing of Fathead Thomas, Dave Wilborn, and Redman, made the Cotton Pickers popular with dancers, listeners, and other musicians.

In 1931 the band suffered a serious setback when Redman left to form his own big band, taking some key sidemen with him. The Cotton Pickers re-formed, and even found superior replacements in the new members Joe Smith, Benny Carter, and Rex Stewart; but the group never regained its former popularity. 

Internal dissension caused many personnel changes during the mid-1930s, and by 1936 almost all the original members had left. McKinney continued to lead the band until the early 1940s, engaging various musicians to direct while he concentrated on administration. Unfortunately the group made no recordings after September 1931.

The band had a happy, raucous sound which was very appropriate for its birth during The Jazz Age, also known as The Roaring Twenties. It’s big, bold sound and joyous approach to music was a perfect compliment to a time when fast dancing, flowing booze, and furious gambling in the stock market characterized an era trying to forget the carnage wrought by the First World War.,

Drawn from John Chilton, Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. 


Crying and Sighing (1928, Victor. 38000); Peggy (1929, Victor. 38133); I'll make fun for you (1930, Victor. 38142); If I could be with you one hour tonight (1930, Victor. 38118); Do you believe in love at sight? (1931, Victor. 22811)


B. Howard: "Old Cotton Pickers Could Out Rock Modern Jazz Orchestras,"

Downbeat .ix/11 (1942),p. 8 

T. Grove and M. Grove: "McKinney's Cotton Pickers," Record Changer (1951), Nov,3