Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Peter Bernstein: Jazz Guitarist - Part 1

“Ciao Stefano!
Yes, the gig [in Rome, September, 2009] with Peter was fantastic and we really had a great time. He's a swingin' mother!
Great harmonic and melodic ideas and a real nice ego at all, just commitment to the music. We need more guys like that.”
– Jazz pianist, Dado Moroni

“Peter Bernstein is the most impressive young guitarist I’ve heard. He plays the best of all of them, for swing, logic, feeling and taste. Pete has paid attention to the past as well as to the future. … he is just so intense and white hot all the time. I love it. I’m really glad that he’s there and that he’s moving ahead in his own way.”
 –Jim Hall

“[About his clean, unembellished tone] … Bernstein recalled:the guys that I loved had a touch on the instrument …. I just wanted to deal with the music and develop a relationship with the instrument that came from my hands.’”
– Eric Fine, Jazz Times April/2009

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Growing up as I did in a second generation Italian-American, New England family, it wasn’t long before various combinations of immediate and extended family were congregating around good food and plenty of it.

The quintessential version of these feasts was the one that followed High Mass at the Holy Ghost Catholic Church located very near my maternal, grandmother’s house in the Federal Hill area of Providence, RI [my knees still hurt from the lengthy prayers I mumbled through during these Latinized rituals while trying to keep the lower part of my legs from going to sleep due to a lack of circulation].

These Sunday banquets usually commenced around 1:00 PM and became all-afternoon marathons centered around what seemed like never-ending, multi-course meals.

Food is viewed by Italian families as a blessing from God and, as such, one to be shared with as many people as possible.  Thus, by the time the pasta “plati” [course] was served, it wasn’t unusual for another half-dozen or so chairs to have been added to the table for the friends and family members who “just happened to be in the neighborhood.”

After the final course was consumed, the men usually found a comfortable place to lie down for a snooze, the children went outside to play, and the women cleared the table, made the coffee and chatted amiably while re-setting the table with a dazzling array of desserts.

As everyone was reconvening around the replenished dining room table to re-stuff themselves with various baked, sugared treats, some of the men pushed chairs away and brought out guitars and mandolins and, of course, the ever-present accordion and concertina.

Thus began my early childhood fascination with the guitar, one that has continued to this day.

At these Sunday family gatherings, all of these instruments were played mostly as accompaniment to the signing of Italian folk or love songs and an array of popular songs from what has come to be called The Great American Songbook.

But occasionally, one of my uncles would play a solo on his high gloss varnished, dark-stained Gibson guitar – un-amplified, of course – and I would become absolutely enthralled by the mellow sounds coming from that beautiful instrument.

I was so taken with the sound of the guitar that I even attempted a few lessons, but alas, it was not to be, as winter arrived, the ponds froze over and the ice hockey games once again began in earnest as the future goalkeeping chores of the next, great New York Rangers’ goalie beckoned [the Providence Reds were a Ranger AHL farm team at that time].

While I never achieved the latter aspiration, the warm, engaging sounds of the guitar, this time amplified and played by the likes of Tal Farlow, Barney Kessel and Joe Pass, to name but a few, have remained an allure for me.

Speaking of Joe, I once asked him why there were so few Jazz guitarists compared to those who practiced the art on other instruments. His succinctly put answer was: “Because it’s a bitch of an instrument to play, let alone play Jazz on.”

As a young, Jazz drummer on the Los Angeles Jazz scene of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, I was very fortunate to be able to often work with guitarist Barry Zweig who has gone on to achieve a long-list of distinguished Jazz credits. There were also some gigs with guitarists Ron Anthony, Al Viola and Al Hendrickson.

It was always a better musical environment when the guitarist led these gigs because it usually meant that there was no piano which relieved the congestion generally caused by two percussive, “keyboard” instruments essentially trying to do the same thing in a Jazz combo setting.

As a drummer, I learned very early to under-play when working with Jazz guitarists which may account for the fact that I worked with so many of them so often.

Given this early fascination and later musical involvement with the guitar, I am always very receptive to “new faces” on the instrument and I’m always especially pleased to discover a new Jazz guitarist whose music “speaks to me.”

Imagine my delight, then, when I first encountered Peter Bernstein playing on Hammond B-3 organist Melvin Rhyne’s initial disc for the Holland-based, Criss Cross label entitled The Legend [Criss 1059 CD].

Like so many of the fine recordings by Gerry Teekens, the Dutch producer and owner of the Criss Cross label, I was led to them by my interest in the playing of drummer Kenny Washington [who has appeared on no less than 44 recordings for Criss Cross, a number only exceeded by his usual running mate, bassist Peter Washington – no relation].

As mentioned previously in other profiles, for reasons both personal and professional, I was not very involved with Jazz for most of the decade of the 1980’s. As a result, I didn’t come across Kenny’s playing until I heard him on tenor saxophonist Ralph Moore’s 1989 Landmark recording, Images [LCD 1520-2].

It was “love-at-first-hearing” and I began to seek out recordings on which Kenny appeared which obviously led me to the Criss Cross label, among others. [For a detailed feature on Kenny and many of the recordings on which he plays, please check the JazzProfiles archives under June 28, 2008].

There are many ironies with my first encounter with guitarist Peter Bernstein not the least of which is that I first experienced his playing on an album with a Hammond B-3 organist and with a drummer who plays in a manner very reminiscent of Philly Joe Jones and Jimmy Cobb – an approach to Jazz drumming that I prefer, immensely.

To digress for a moment, before he sky-rocketed to fame with his Verve LPs of the mid-to-late 1960’s, guitarist Wes Montgomery made three, seminal Jazz trio recordings for the much smaller Riverside label in 1959 and then later in 1963 with none-other than Hammond B-3 organist Melvin Rhyne [who appears on all of them] and Jimmy Cobb [who appears on one of them].

Ever since I first heard Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy Smith’s Blue Note recordings, I have always had a fondness for organ-guitar-drums trios and the three LPs that Wes made for Riverside using this format have always been among my favorites.

From 1959-1963, when he was not working with The Mastersounds [a group that included brothers Buddy on vibes/piano and Monk on bass], Wes Montgomery worked with Melvin Rhyne in a trio that included Paul Parker or George Brown on drums [they are also the drummers on the other two Riverside LPs and both also display a Philly Jo Jones inspired style of drumming].

When A&R man and record producer Creed Taylor signed Wes to Verve Records and a whole new world of commercial music and larger orchestras, Melvin, who, like Wes, was originally from Indianapolis, eventually resettled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he essentially remained until rediscovered as “The Legend” on his first of what was to become a dozen recordings for Criss Cross.

Although Gerry has had some notable Jazz artists record for Criss Cross, among them, Pepper Adams, Chet Baker and Jimmy Raney, for the past 20+ years,  Teekens’ stock-in-trade has been to make bi-annual visits to New York in the spring and late fall of each year to record up-and-coming young Jazz musicians, especially those who are highly regarded by their peers.

In this context, the 1991 recording of the “legendary” Melvin Rhyne may have been somewhat of an anomaly from Gerry’s preferred approach but not when one realizes that he had had the benefit of an audition the day before when he had recorded the Rhyne-Bernstein-Washington rhythm section as part of trumpeter Brian Lynch’s At The Main Event Criss Cross CD [1070, which also includes Ralph Moore on tenor saxophone]. The Lynch album gets its name from a club in Milwaukee where Lynch first heard and played with organist Rhyne.

Peter Bernstein found himself on the At The Main Event Lynch date according to Lora Rosner’s insert notes because:

“A few weeks before his record date Lynch heard guitarist Peter Bernstein at the Village Gate and was so taken with his playing that he asked him to be on the date as well. Bernstein predictably gains the respect of every great musician he works with; Jimmy Cobb first asked Peter to work with him in April '89 when he was all of 21 and the guitarist recently led his own quartet featuring Cobb for a standing-room-only week at the Village Gate. Lou Donaldson thought he was listening to a Grant Green record the first time he heard Peter play, subsequently featured him on his CD, Play the Right Thing (Fantasy)….  Criss Cross producer Gerry Teekens was so pleased with the results of Lynch's date that he asked Rhyne to do an impromptu trio recording the next day and Mel was quite happy to have Bernstein and young veteran Kenny Washington under him again in the studio.”

Also from her inserts notes, I find myself to be in total agreement with Lora’s description of Peter Bernstein’s playing when she writes that he:

… incorporates the best qualities of Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. He's an expressive soloist whose horn-inspired lines draw much of their power, beauty and effectiveness from his soulful time.” [Emphasis Mine]

I would go on to add that for an instrument that Joe Pass described as “a bitch to play,” in the all the years that I have been listening to him, I have never, ever heard Peter Bernstein make a mistake!

A walk through Peter Bernstein’s discography will insure a musical “visit” with some of the best musicians on the current Jazz scene.  Here’s a partial list of who he has performed and/or recorded with:

Trumpeters: Joe Magnarelli, Ryan Kisor, Jim Rotondi, Nicholas Payton, Brian Lynch

Trombonists: Steve Davis, Wycliffe Gordon

Alto Saxophonists: Jon Gordon, Lou Donaldson, Jesse Davis, Michael Hashim

Tenor Saxophonists: Eric Alexander, Walt Weiskopf, Joshua Redman, Grant Stewart, Ralph Bowen, Michael Karn, Ralph Lalama, Tad Shull

Keyboardists: Larry Goldings, Geoff Keezer, Mike LeDonne, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Melvin Rhyne, Sam Yahel

When sampling the music from the above [incomplete] list, the amount of excellent Jazz that Peter has contributed on these recordings over the past 20 years is staggering to consider in terms of the depth and breadth of its scope.

Peter Bernstein was born in New York City on September 3, 1967. He probably got his first break while attending the New School in NYC when he first met, and later studied with, guitarist Jim Hall, whose own spare and always swinging style was no doubt a big influence on Peter. Peter also studied with guitarists Ted Dunbar and Gene Bertoncini.

You know when Peter is soloing because your foot starts bouncing up and down involuntarily. He is a “cooker” who selects single notes and phrases and emphasizes them just long enough to create an intense feeling of forward motion in his solos.

This ability to “sustain” notes primarily through the manner in which he spaces them also creates a singing quality to his playing.

The resonance he achieves on the guitar just jumps out at you and it’s almost impossible to repress a smile when listening to Peter as his playing is so pleasing and engrossing.

The sound that comes out of his instrument is so beautiful that one is tempted to describe it as the definitive sound of an amplified, Jazz guitar.

All of these stylistic ingredients are on display in Peter’s solo on Billie’s Bounce, the first tune on Mel’s Spell another of Melvin Rhyne’s Criss Cross CD’s [Criss 1118 CD] featuring the trio with Peter and Kenny Washington.

In his insert notes to this 1995 disc, Jazz DJ and writer, Sid Gribetz declares:

“Peter Bernstein has emerged as one of the finest guitar players of his generation and he’s always in demand. He’s assimilated Wes and Grant Green and all styles in between, and he plays clean crisp lines with a distinctive attack and complimentary sound to fit the situation. It must be daring for a guitarist to play in a trio with Wes’s organist, but Peter overcomes any comparisons and adds his personal voice to the proceedings.”

As was the case with The Trick Bag on The Legend, Mel’s Spell also includes Wes Montgomery compositions from the original Riverside LP’s in the form of Fried Pies and Like Yea and Melvin, Peter and Kenny absolutely nail them with inspired playing.

Peter recorded his first as a leader for Criss Cross in 1992. Entitled Somethin’s Burnin’  [Criss 1079 CD] it included Jimmy Cobb on drums, the then relatively unknown Brad Mehldau on piano and bassist John Webber. The group had been working around NYC as Cobb’s Mob for a few years.

Mark Gardner commented in his insert notes to Somethin’s Burnin’:

“… Bernstein has honed a beautiful sound and his technical ability enables him to play exactly what he hears. His rhythmic suppleness and clarity of thought, good blues feeling and ability to pattern solos of melodic grace will be immediately evident on a first playing of this …CD. It is an unusually brilliant debut, filled with felicities and solo statements that will endure.”

Dating back to 1989 and before his work on Criss Cross, Peter’s formative years were marked by a special working relationship with keyboardist Larry Goldings and drummer Bill Stewart, one that occasionally continues to this day.

In his insert notes to Peter’s 1997 Earth Tones Criss Cross CD [Criss 1151 CD], Damon Smith explains the evolution of how Peter came together with Larry and Bill as part of the larger experience of growing up as a Jazz musician in New York City.

“Peter Bernstein received an in valuable music education simply growing up in New York City. It provided him the opportunity to listen to musicians on a regular basis who are inspiring and motivating him today.  In addition to its formal classroom, New York also offered Peter the opportunity to study with teachers who recognized and encouraged his talent. From Attila Zoller in high school and gene Bertoncini at the Eastman Summer Jazz Workshop, to Ted Dunbar at Rutgers University and Jin Hall at the New School, each instructor uniquely influenced Pete’s playing and career.


Another byproduct of living in New York was that Peter was able to work with young musicians of the highest caliber – two of whom were Bill Stewart and Larry Goldings. He has been working with them as a trio since the summer of 1989.  Peter had just returned from spending a year in Paris and Larry Goldings, whom he had met in 1984, when both were attending the Eastman Jazz Workshop, was working at a club called Augie’s on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Pete and Larry became the regular Thursday night band at the club using various drummers. Eventually, Pete called Bill Stewart whom he had known when both were studying at William Paterson College in New Jersey and the last piece of the puzzle was in place.

Thursday nights at Augie’s became immensely popular. The trio’s reputation grew rapidly and was a factor that led to their recording … [a series of records together].”

… Pete’s playing is not often mistaken for other guitarists.  He has a focused musical concept that features a pure tone and singing phrases Horn players have been prominent influences on his singular style. He chooses notes carefully, making each one count in constructing intelligent interesting solos.” [Emphasis mine].

As Eric Fine explains in his April/2009 JazzTimes interview with and article on Peter:

“Bernstein looks beyond the guitar for inspiration, a penchant he attributes in part to studying with guitarist Ted Dunbar in 1985. ‘He was the one who told me [to] learn about harmony [by hanging out] with piano players and arrangers,’ Bernstein said. ‘And if you want to learn about phrasing, hang out with horn players and good singers. And if you want to learn about rhythm, hang out with drummers and bass players. Don’t be a guitar player who hangs around other guitar players.”

The Bernstein-Goldings-Stewart trio issued a number of recordings under Larry’s name. Among these is their wonderful bossa nova CD entitled Caminhos Cruzados [Novus 63184-2] which has tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman as a guest artist on some tracks.

Peter’s solo on the Jobim tune that gives the album its name is one of the most beautiful guitar solos I’ve ever heard in over a half century of listening to recorded Jazz. It brings forth so many moody dimensions that it wraps the listener in an evocative hush.

There is so much good music on this CD that I guarantee that you will have a difficult time removing it from your CD player.

By the time trio made Moonbird in 1999 [Palmetto records PM 2045], it’s issuance caused Bob Blumenthal to reflect in his insert notes that:

“With a decade of playing together under their belts, Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein  and Bill Stewart must form one of the most long-lived organ trios in Jazz history. Each member has amassed an imposing individual resume during this period, yet their collective work has signified something more – a reaffirmation, not of the organ trio as a unit capable of satisfying a temporary fashion for things, but as an instrumentation as perfectly balanced in its way as the threesome of piano, bass and drums or, in another realm, the string quartet. ….

A lot could be said about the individual performances. In addition to … [Goldings’] cliché-free work, there are numerous signs of why Bernstein and Stewart are also considered the most important voices to emerge on their respective instruments in the past decade. Still, the overriding impression that the music leaves involves group interaction. … These musicians have played together enough and listened to each other enough to have found their own way, and it shows. They have made the organ/guitar/drums unit not just relevant for the 90’s, but for what comes next.”

In addition Somethin’s Burnin’  [Criss 1079 CD] and Earth Tones Criss Cross CD [Criss 1151 CD], Peter has three additional discs of Criss Cross and a review of each of them will serve to close Part 1 of this JazzProfiles visit with Peter and his music, as well as, introduce us to some of the other artists with whom he frequently plays. Peter’s work as a “sideman” with other artists from the group enumerated above will become the basis of Part 2 of this feature.

Signs of Life [Criss 1095] was recorded at the end of 1994 and finds Peter in the company of three outstanding Jazz musicians representative of the current crop of excellent players on today’s scene: pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Gregory Hutchinson.

As Neil Tesser alludes in his insert notes to the disc, the Jazz world almost lost Peter before it had him.  Put another way, not too many guitarists growing up in the 1970s made the leap from Jimi Hendrik, B.B. King and Jazz-Rock guitarists such as John Abercrombie and Pat Metheny back to a respectful incorporation of the Jazz guitar lineage as provided by Charlie Christian, Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and Grant Green.

Tesser goes on to explain:

“You hear this respect most immediately in his lustrous, spherical tone, and in his remarkably pointed technique.  Bernstein isn’t ‘fancy’ in his technique: he doesn’t try to overwhelm with the sheer multitude of notes. His playing has a hard-won quality about it, communicating the idea that each note should count – that few (if any) of them should simply fill up space.

In his own words, ‘Technique molds itself around what you play; it eventually catches up to where you are. The most important thing is the sound, the voice you project.’ ….

But with all these roots, how does one avoid simply reliving the past? Peter Bernstein manages to make the tradition he upholds sound fresh and true; how does he wriggle out of the neo-classic trap?

‘I try to add something from my own personality …. I’m just trying to establish a personal voice, and the tradition is a vehicle for the way I work now. But everything is drawing on a tradition. People ask why no one’s trying to blaze trails and do new things. Although I do see [some of that] happening as well, but it’s not the style that makes it hip.  It’s the creativity.’”

In Tesser’s insert notes, Peter had this to say when commenting on his use of bassist Christian McBride on the date:

“He just has everything covered … choice of notes, sound, time, musicality – he’s really like an old master before his time. I wanted to be sure that he and I did a duet [My Ideal] , to try to bring out a more intimate side of my own playing.”

Peter’s next recording under his own name for Criss Cross was the 1996 release of Brain Dance [Criss 1130 CD]]. The CD was a point of departure for Peter and, as such, one that we will return to in the second part of the piece, because this disc involves Peter working with horns in the front line – in this case, Eric Alexander on tenor saxophone and Steve Davis on trombone.

Typically in the presence of horns, one might expect the guitar to assume a rhythm section role much like the accompaniment provided by the piano, or to take a turn as a feature soloist. But this was Peter’s session and as its leader, he had other ideas. As Sid Gribetz explains in his liner notes:

“‘… when I do have an opportunity to do my own record, I want to do my own tunes.’ This album therefore, includes four fine original pieces by Bernstein, as well as four jazz standards.

Bernstein also wrote these [original] pieces for horns, with his guitar instead of trumpet for the lead voice, and one reed, and one brass, the trombone ‘to fatten up the sound of the ensemble and make the chords sound bigger than they are.’ Bernstein also notes that ‘my guitar style is not to play many notes, so each note must mean something, just like the approach the trombone must make.”

Peter offers a very lyrical interpretation of Fredrick Hollander’s standard You Leave Me Breathless, a tune I first heard pianist Eddie Higgins play with his quintet on his debut album for VeeJay Records. I gather from Gribetz’s notes that Peter had brought the tune along with the intention of recording it with the horns. Choosing instead to do it as a trio version, he renders a lovely interpretation of this beautiful melody.

For Heart’s Content,  Peter’s next leader date for Criss Cross [Criss 1233 CD], he used Larry Grenader on bass along with two of his oldest musical mates, Bill Stewart on drums and Brad Mehldau on piano.  Brad also did the insert notes for the recording. In them, he provides some unique perspectives on Peter and his music – ones that only another musician could make.

For example, Brad points out:

The hardest thing to express is how someone’s music moves you. With Pete, I always immediately get drawn into the sound he gets from his instrument. He’s emoting with each note he plays. He has this crying tone on his guitar. His notes sustain and ring out, like they don’t want to disappear. It’s a fat tone at the same time, earthy and satisfying. That voice he has on his instrument compels me to listen.

The emotions Pete conveys are wonderfully mixed. One thing he specializes in is communicating an underlying melancholy that tugs at you steadily, at the same time expressing something more in the forefront that’s vital and urgent, not down in the dumps at all.

Brad’s loving and admiring insert notes contain so many instructive comments about why Peter’s playing is so distinctive, that we thought we would quote from them liberally as a way of concluding this first part of the JazzProfiles feature on Peter.

Frankly, after you read more of his writing, I’m sure that you will agree that given its quality, Brad could have a second career as a Jazz reviewer if he ever decides to retire from playing piano.

“I met Peter Bernstein soon after I arrived in New York City in 1988. Many people would have different ideas about what might constitute a 'New York' sound, if anything. I would call it more of an ethos that Pete came to personify for me, one that I still associate with my favorite players who reside in New York. That ethos doesn't form one specific style of playing; it's more like a collection of deeply felt sentiments about jazz music that form the basis for a broad range of possible styles.

Those musical sentiments would include the importance of melody at all times in whatever you're expressing, which means playing phrases that have a shape to them and not just running licks. That in turn implies a healthy distrust of arbitrariness in general. It you're going to play a tune, you don't fudge on learning the melody. Pete was the first musician I met who would make periodic pilgrimages to the New York Public Library to get the original sheet music for, say, an Irving Berlin tune.

That was one of many valuable lessons that I got from Pete early on. If you go to the original source to learn a tune, your arrangement of it will speak authentically as your own take on that song, instead of being your version of Miles Davis' version, for example. I think that's why whenever I hear Pete play a standard, it never sounds arbitrary. He always seems to create a definitive version of a tune, one that intersects gracefully between an unapologetic affection for the original song, and his own personal musical choices for his arrangement. They include the way he phrases the melody, his improvisation, and a host of other factors that make you smile as a listener and say, "That's Pete." Dedicated to You on this record is a perfect example. Listen to how he lovingly treats the melody - it sounds like this is his own song.

The first time I heard Peter Bernstein was at a jam session, playing on a medium slow blues. With me in the audience were several musical peers, including Larry Goldings. Larry was just starting to play the organ in addition to piano, and eventually would form the heaviest, most original organ trio jazz has seen in the last two decades, with Pete on guitar and Bill Stewart, who joins Pete on this record, on drums. ....

The blues had been going on for almost half an hour and everyone's interest had peaked after about 4 minutes. Solo after solo ensued, full of well-intentioned but vapid testifying and shrieking from horn players and scat-singers. Just when it was getting painful, Pete began to solo. He basically annihilated everything that had preceded him and left all of us just shaking our heads in awe. We were emotionally reduced to jelly; he brought tears to our eyes. I left that day shaken.

What was it in his playing? To start with, there was a gravity to what he was doing emotionally that just drew me in - 'Dude, this is serious.' But it wasn't just serious for the sake of being serious. His playing was informed by what I can only describe as a profound love for music, in this case specifically the blues, which is so prevalent in Pete's music. It was like he had discovered something beautiful, and he wanted urgently to share it with all of us. A serious love that urgently needs to be shared with other people - it all translates into something that you might call the humanity in Pete's music. I felt like he was telling me something about myself that day, and I always feel that way when I hear him.

Pete's reading on this record of Strayhorn's masterpiece, Blood Count, is a case in point. In a solo guitar setting, he gives it to us stripped down. The naked desolation of the tune speaks all the more clearly. But Pete doesn't push the point. He never veers into sentimentality. and allows the pathos to speak for itself by giving us a reading that's devoid of affectation. Many other musicians would be tempted to milk this song much more. The melody, with its exotic chord tones and glissandos, and the fragrant Strayhorn harmony that underpins it, almost cry out for an overtly expressive, theatrical reading. That's why this tune is so difficult to play - if you give into that temptation it can easily become sentimental. Pete's approach is to let the sentiment in the tune speak for itself - it's already there, it doesn't need to be magnified. He coaxes the emotion out of the tune instead of loudly stating it. The effect on me as a listener is that I get more from it, not less. This version of 'Blood Count' has a wonderful twofold quality, It has what I usually associate with the song - a raw feeling of mortality, like someone hanging on. But Pete gives you a bittersweet kind of recompense: If you're just hanging on in this music, then as you slip away, losing your grasp, you're finally able to see how beautiful everything really is.

I've come to believe that the sort of 'maturity' that Pete displays on 'Blood Count' is the kind of musical attribute that's more innate than acquired. It's a question of temperament. You start with that temperament already. It can be developed and refined, but if you don't have it to begin with, it can't really be learned. Pete's no slouch, and he has a real thirst for new musical discoveries. Over the years I've seen how he assimilates them into his own playing and writing like early on in our friendship when he got really deep into Billie Holiday, or a few years back when he turned me onto the music of Donny Hathaway. Nevertheless, there are certain qualities central to his music that he had from the gate. That was one of the things that always struck me and other musicians who were playing with Pete early on in our own development. Here we were absorbing all these influences at once, sounding like a different musician depending on what context we were playing in. But Pete, from the first time I heard him at least in 1988, already had his own identity - he sounded like Peter Bernstein in whatever situation he was in. That just blew us away.

One important quality of Pete's is his rhythmic authority. A good example on this record is his own Simple as That. This is the kind of tempo that inspires the cliché, 'separates the men from the boys,' It's a medium-slow groove, and Pete can wax in this vein like nobody's business. In the opening melody, and then in his solo later, his lines are relaxed and poised all at once. Pete's feel on this sort of tempo has always been devastatingly good - he sits a little behind the beat and gets you into this slow-burn state. That quiet authority of his, though, comes from the consistency in his line: He never gets away from his ideas, he never rushes inadvertently, and nothing is ever the slightest bit unclear in what he's communicating. When I'm playing behind him on a tune like this, his mixture of relaxed swing and total clarity has the effect of pulling me into his musical statement completely. I've only had that experience playing with a few other musicians. It's what they mean when they say someone has a 'big beat.'

That quality of Pete's is probably both innate and absorbed. He always had this incredible sense of pacing in his playing, a sort of patience rhythmically. But I definitely remember checking out who he was checking out and seeing what kinds of players in jazz pointed the way for him. He has his guitar heroes for sure, but more often than not, I've noticed how horn players influence Pete. So, that relaxed kind of rhythmic authority might be informed by tenor players that I know he loves - the built-in backbeat of Gene Ammons, the behind-the-beat long eighth-note lines of Dexter Gordon, or the strong, swinging logic of Sonny Rollins' phrases.

That brings up another thing about Pete that sets him apart for me: I've always thought of him less as a guitarist and more as a musician. His swing feel – that 'big beat' that he has - is something you associate more with a horn player than a guitar player. But it goes further than feel. Particularly in his writing, he's more concerned with purely musical matters, and less with guitar stuff. Incidentally, Pete is a competent piano player. It's kind of uncanny. Even when he plays the piano, not on his own axe, he still has a harmonic concept that's completely specific to him and no one else, like in the way he voices chords, or the progressions he comes up with when he's just noodling. I've noticed that Pete often begins writing a tune of his own by getting an initial idea at the piano - a progression or a little voice leading figure - and then moves over to the guitar to continue writing.

Heart's Content, the title track of the record, is a beauty. It's got some quintessential Peter Bernstein things going on. Check out the simplicity and economy of the melody. Except on the brief bridge and the coda, the melody always stays wonderfully in one minor scale, outlining a specific shape and building off of it. While the chords under it are moving and shifting a fair amount, the melody is a constant; the bluesy melancholy it gives off acts as a binder for all the harmonic activity. A lot of Pete's tunes operate on this principle of placing a largely diatonic, simple melody over some advanced, often dense chords that move a fair amount. The effect on the listener is a great kind of give and take. You get pushed along with the movement of the harmony, responding to the flux, but at the same time are emotionally anchored by the melody. And Pete is never very far away from that melody in his solo statement.

Two predecessors for that sort of jazz compositional approach might come to mind, mainly Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter. I know that Pete has absorbed their music a lot. There's something more about Pete that he has in common with those two jazz composers. His tunes are stitched together so well, there's so much compositional logic to them, that you can't just willy-nilly superimpose your own vocabulary when it comes time to solo. You have to address the tune in some way in your improvisations; it sort of compels you to do so. If you simply paste your own licks onto one of Pete's tunes, you run the risk of sounding strangely irrelevant, like an unwanted dinner guest. ….

I remember Pete telling me what one of his teachers, the late great pianist Jaki Byard, shared with him about playing jazz: "You can't lie." I suspect what Jaki Byard meant is that even if you try to lie as a player, you'll wind up telling the truth to anyone who has ears enough to hear it - that you're up there on the bandstand, just trying to lie, and you're not fooling anyone in the long run.

Peter Bernstein has a rare honesty about him as a musician. Quite simply, that quality comes naturally to him, because he has nothing to lose by being honest. The music that he offers the listener is always something that he's carried within himself first, and then loved into being. It's a beautiful world unto itself, and Heart's Content is a good place to either continue enjoying that world, or discover it for the first time.

Brad Mehldau, March 2003”

... to be continued in Part 2

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Peter Bernstein:Jazz Guitarist

Gerry Mulligan: Part 4

“… Gerry Mulligan lived through almost the entire history of jazz. It is against that background that he should be understood.”Gene Lees

“An orchestrator of ingenuity, wit and originality, Gerry Mulligan was a welcome antidote to the brassy blasts and relentless drive generated by the majority of competitors. Mulligan achieved excitement through color, shading and dynamics.” – Stuart Nicholson

“He knows exactly what he wants. He wants a quiet band. He can swing at about 15 decibels lower than any other band.” – Bill Crow

“My band offers a unique opportunity of learning and development for young players …. What I do with my band is use dynamics – dynamics of attack as well as volume. As a consequence, I think players get a particular joy out of playing that requires them to do things out of a wide range of possibilities.” – Gerry Mulligan in an interview with Charles Fox for BBC Radio 3, broadcast 4, May 1989

© - Steven A. Cerra: copyright protected, all rights reserved.

In his May 1989 BBC interview with Charles Fox, Mulligan further explained that his writing for big bands always stresses “ … a combination of low dynamics, light swing and meticulous attention to inner harmonic movement,” a style which he first put into practice with the 1949 ‘Birth of the Cool recordings’ and one which has been evolving ever since.

When asked about his 14-piece, Concert Jazz Band which experienced a resurgence in the 1970s after Gerry stopped working with Dave Brubeck that continued throughout the 1980s [mostly in Europe], Gerry stated: “From its inception, the Concert Jazz Band was based around the quartet. The orchestration, planning, everything about it was geared around Bob Brookmeyer and me; the valve trombone, the baritone sax and a piano-less rhythm section. And that was the basis for most of the arrangements. In my writing, I always like things more horizontal, evolved into lines with counterpoint.”

Charles Fox explains that “the horizontal style of writing big band arrangements tries to create different layers of melody all driving forward rather than it all being specified by the harmony which is vertical and based on a chord. So you go from chord to chord rather than trying to keep a melody flowing as in horizontal writing. Of course, bits of each technique cross-over, but the horizontal technique was something that Gerry Mulligan was particularly fond of.”

More details about Gerry Mulligan’s approach to arranging and composition can also be found in a series of articles that first appeared in the eminent Jazz writer Gene LeesJazzletter.  

Because of their close and long-standing relationship, not to mention his considerable skills as a writer, many Jazz fans have long thought it logical that Gene Lees is the very best choice to author a biography of Gerry Mulligan. However, a closer inspector of the following essay on Gerry might yield the impression that he has already done so, albeit an encapsulated one.
Rich in detail and conversational repartee, as well as, comprehensive in its overview, there is no finer retrospective of Gerry Mulligan and his music than the following chapter from Gene’s Arranging the Score: Portraits of the Great Arrangers [New York: Cassell. 2000].

As Jeffrey Sultanof expressed in his Foreword to the book:

"… [Gene] knew the people he wrote about – Bill Evans and Gerry Mulligan, for example, were among his closet friends – and they trusted him with information that they would not share with any other writer, because they knew he would use what they said respectfully and accurately.

… He is an American treasure, finding the facts, celebrating the best that popular music and jazz has to offer, and helping us continue to explore their riches.”

Should you wish to contact Gene Lees regarding his Jazzletter you can do so by going here. The editorial staff at JazzProfiles is very grateful to him for allowing it permission to feature his work.

© - Copyright protected; used with permission; all rights reserved.

I hear the shadows dancing: Gerry Mulligan

“When I became editor of Down Beat in May 1959, I telephoned one of my predecessors, Jack Tracy, by then a producer for Mercury Records. I asked him who, of the various musicians I would soon have to deal with, might give me a problem.

"Three guys," Jack said. "Buddy Rich, Miles Davis, and Gerry Mulligan." He added that, personally, he liked all three, but all three had prickly temperaments, and you had to accept them as they were; none of them more so than Buddy Rich. Perhaps because Jack had forewarned me, I had trouble with none of them, and indeed became very fond of all three.

Two of them - Miles Dewey Davis and Gerry Mulligan - were alumni of the Gil Evans "seminars" on West 55th Street, and of the Birth of the Cool records.

Among the bands I particularly liked in my late adolescence were those of Claude Thornhill, Elliot Lawrence, and Gene Krupa. Mulligan wrote for all three.

Gerry said,” I met Gil probably when I was arranging for the Krupa band. I knew about his writing before that. I used to visit Gil with Claude's band when I was working for other bands. One time I came back to New York after leaving one of the bands; it might have been when I left Tommy Tucker. And I stayed at the Edison Hotel. My room was on an air shaft on the west side of the building. And every morning about 10 o'clock, the band started to rehearse, because Claude was just back from the service and they were reorganizing. I would sit hanging out the window, listening to the rehearsals. A friend of mine, a guitar player from Texas, would come by, and we'd listen to the rehearsals.

I went back to Philadelphia, to write for Elliot Lawrence's band. And I lived there for a while. I got a postcard from Gil saying, 'What are you doing living in Philadelphia? Everything's happening in New York. Come back.' So I did. I stayed in a succession of rooms. Finally Gil said, 'Stay here."'

One of the records by the Krupa band that I liked was "Disc Jockey Jump," and I had bothered to note who wrote it: Gerry Mulligan. That was probably the first time I heard his name. I would soon hear it again: in the writing and playing credits on the so-called Birth of the Cool album.

Thirty-three years later, in early 1992, Mulligan would re-create that album for the GRP label, with John Lewis again on piano but Wallace Roney replacing Miles Davis, and Phil Woods replacing Lee Konitz.

Mulligan's interest in the format of those sessions continued beyond the Birth of the Cool sessions, and in January 1953, in Los Angeles, he recorded an LP made up almost entirely of his own compositions, including "Westwood Walk," "Simbah," "Walking Shoes," "Rocker," "A Ballad," "Flash," and "Ontet." I was becoming very, very conscious of this Gerry Mulligan, thinking he was one of the most important composers in jazz - though who was I to judge? I not only loved Mulligan's writing - I soon knew all those charts by memory, and still do - I loved his work as a soloist. He played a sort of rollicking, charming, unpretentious kind of piano, and he produced lovely solos on an instrument usually considered unsuitable for solos: the baritone saxophone, which he played with a light and highly individual tone that is now imitated all over the world.

That ten-inch Mulligan LP was part of the sound-track of my life at that time. By then I knew from pictures what Mulligan looked like: a tall young man with a brush-cut and a body almost cadaverously thin.

By then Mulligan had a quartet featuring Chet Baker on trumpet, which played Monday nights at a club called the Haig. The group had made its first recording for Dick Bock’s Pacific jazz label in August of 1952, a little over four months before the tentet record. The group startled critics because it used trumpet, baritone, bass, and drums, but no piano, always considered essential to communicating the harmony of a tune. Much was made of this "odd" instrumentation. It lay not in arcane musical philosophy, however: the Haig's owner could not afford more than four men. Red Norvo had played there with only vibes, guitar, and bass. Mulligan also got along without piano.

The rapport between Baker and Mulligan was remarkable. The emphasis was on counterline, and it seemed to free both horn players for ever more imaginative flights. Michael Cuscuna wrote in the notes for a CD reissue called The Best of Gerry Mulligan with Chet Baker,

‘The limitation of two voices (and sometimes a third with the bass) seemed to ignite Mulligan's already fertile mind.
Whether remodeling a standard or introducing an original, Mulligan stretched his limits and came upon a sound that was not only new and stimulating, but also incredibly fascinating and accessible to the general public. Four months after their first recordings for a then eight-week-old label, they were stars beyond the jazz world with full-page features in magazines like Time and choice engagements around the country.’

Mulligan was then 25.

So much legend has grown up around Chet Baker that his musical brilliance is often overlooked. Baker was a heroin addict: so was Mulligan. Mulligan would eventually break free of it, but Baker would not, leading a strange, bohemian, itinerant existence, hocking his horn from time to time, sometimes without clothes, sometimes even without shoes, surrounded by people who seemed fascinated by the morbidity of his existence. He got his teeth knocked out by dope-pushers for failing to pay what he owed them. He spent time in a jail in Italy. A story went around that when he met pianist Romano Mussolini, son of the murdered dictator, he said, "Hey, man, sorry to hear about your old man." I thought the story surely was apocryphal, but I asked Caterina Valente about it, and she said, "It's not only true, I was there. It was at the start of a tour."

Time ravaged Chet Baker. I encountered him only once, when he came into Jim and Andy's bar in New York to beg money, which the musicians willingly gave him. He looked bad. By the end, that clean-cut all-American boy face was a barren desert landscape of deep lines and gullies. He died from a fall from a hotel in Holland. It is widely believed that he was thrown from the roof by elements of the Dutch underworld, among the roughest in the world, for not paying a dope bill.

Whatever the cause of the death, the legend obscures the talent, and part of that legend is that he was just a natural who couldn't even read music. 
Mulligan was adamant in rejecting this.

Much of the music that quartet played was Mulligan's own. Only a few leaders, among them Dave Brubeck, Horace Silver, John Lewis, and Duke Ellington, have devoted their recording careers so extensively to their own compositions. What Baker was called on to do was very complex.

Mulligan told me: "People love to say Chet couldn't read: he could read. It's not a question of whether he couldn't read chords or anything like that. it's that he didn't care. He had one of the quickest connections between mind, hand, and chops that I have ever encountered. He really played by ear, and he could play intricate progressions."

"I presume that in blowing, you're playing by ear too," I said.

"Well at my best I'm playing by ear! But I often am saddled with thinking chords, until I learn a tune. And I have to learn a tune some kind of way. And, really, my connection between my ears and my hands is not that quick. Sure, when I've got a tune firmly under hand - which is different from having it firmly in mind - I'm playing by ear. It's taken me a long time to connect up."

"You said he could do that fast?"

"Yeah. Yes. Oh yeah."

"You'd run a tune by him and he'd get it?"

"Oh yeah. And in any key. He had incredible facility. Remarkable. So it's obvious that at some point in his life, Chet Baker practiced a lot. It's all well and good to be able to do that. You're not born able to do that. You're maybe born with a facility to learn quickly. It's like Charlie Parker. Everybody thinks Charlie came along full-blown, there he was. But as a kid, he was a heavy practicer. And Chet must have been too."

In view of its importance in jazz history, it is surprising to realize that the quartet with Chet Baker lasted only a year. Mulligan was arrested on a narcotics charge and sent to a California honor farm for three months, after which he returned to New York, where he established a new quartet with trombonist Bob Brookmeyer instead of Baker. With Jon Eardley on trumpet and Zoot Sims on tenor, the group recorded for Mercury as the Gerry Mulligan Sextet. But the quartet continued, growing constantly better, and it lost none of its momentum when Art Farmer succeeded Brookmeyer. The group (with Bill Crow on bass and Dave Bailey on drums) can be seen at Newport in the pioneering film Jazz on a Summer's Day.

And meanwhile, Mulligan made a series of albums for Norman Granz according to a formula Granz found appealing: mixing and matching various pairs of musicians. Mulligan recorded with Thelonious Monk, Stan Getz, Ben Webster (one of his early heroes), Johnny Hodges, and Paul Desmond, a particularly close friend.

When I joined Down Beat, I was well aware of the extent of the heroin epidemic in jazz: yet the subject was kept hushed. I did a good deal of research on the problem, asking many of the former addicts I was coming to know how and why they had quit. Al Cohn told me that an infection from a dirty needle settled into his eye, resulting finally in its surgical incision. "Losing your eye will make you quit," Al said in his sardonic fashion. Zoot Sims told me that he got into a car with a girl he was going with, left New York, and went through withdrawal in motel rooms as he made his way home to California.

And, later, when I knew Mulligan well enough, I asked him too how he quit. Gerry, not entirely surprisingly, took an intellectual approach to the problem. He met a New York psychiatrist who was interested in the problem of addiction. The psychiatrist said he could lose his license for what he was about to do. He said that he was going to supply Gerry with good syringes and medical morphine to replace the dirty heroin of the street. At minimum it would remove the danger and dark glamour from the practice. Morphine isn't as strong as heroin, but it's pretty good, as you know if you've ever had it in a hospital.

Gerry was playing a gig in Detroit. At intermission he went into the men's room, and he was inserting his nice clean medical syringe into his nice clean bottle of morphine when he stopped, thinking, "What am I doing to myself?"

He telephoned Joe Glaser, his booking agent, in New York, and told him to get him out of the job on grounds that he was sick. "And I'm going to be," he said. And he simply quit, going through the sweats and shudders and nausea of withdrawal. I always thought this was a remarkable act of courage. But Gerry said, "What else could I do? It was destroying the thing that means the most in the world to me, my music. I had a reason to quit. Had I been some poor kid in a Harlem doorway with nothing to look forward to even if he does quit, I don't think I could have done it."

I saw Gerry in person for the first time at the Newport Jazz Festival on the Fourth of July weekend of 1960. He had just organized what he called the Concert jazz Band. In a flurry of publicity, it was to make its debut at Newport. The big-band era was ended. Nobody - well, almost nobody tried to launch big bands any more. The ballrooms and dance pavilions were gone, or no longer booked bands. There's a dance pavilion in the rain, all shuttered down, Johnny Mercer wrote in the lyric he set to Ralph Burns' "Early Autumn." A new big band?

But I wanted to hear it: anything Mulligan did seemed likely to be innovative, as indeed that band was. I was backstage in a tent, talking with Dizzy Gillespie, when the first sounds of the band came to us. It was raining torrents. At stage left, the United States Information Agency had set up a shelter, a sloping canvas roof, to protect their television and recording equipment. They were recording the whole festival. The stage was chin high.

The band began to perform Bob Brookmeyer's lyrical arrangement of Django Reinhardt's ballad "Manoir de mes reves." In front of the stage, rain danced on a garden of black umbrellas. An imaginative cameraman panned across this audience in the rain, then across the stage, coming to rest on a great puddle, in which an upside-down Mulligan was playing an exquisite obbligato to the chart, leading into his solo. I was watching both the image and the reality. It was one of the unforgettable musical moments of my life.

I returned to Chicago, where Down Beat was headquartered. The Mulligan band was booked into the lounge in the Sutherland Hotel on the South Side. It had a largely black audience and booked the finest performers in jazz, black and white alike. Its disadvantage to performers was that they had to play on a high stage in the middle of the racetrack-shaped bar, and a band of thirteen had little room to move.

The group was startlingly fresh. Later Gerry told me he didn't think it was really a concert jazz band; it was a first-rate dance band. But he underestimated it. It was a gorgeous small orchestra, with a sound unlike any other. Gerry told me that he had previously tried to make small groups, such as the sextet, sound like big bands; now he wanted a big band to play with the fleet levity and light textures of a small group. Unfortunately, its book contained little of Mulligan's own writing. He found himself so busy running and booking the band that he didn't have time to write. Much of the burden of the composition and arranging fell on Brookmeyer, himself one of the most brilliant writers in jazz.

Something was going on during that Sutherland gig that none of us knew about, except, I think, Brookmeyer.

Gerry was going with and for some time had been in love with actress Judy Holliday, a gentle woman and one of the most gifted comediennes in American theater. She had just undergone a mastectomy. Gerry was playing the Sutherland in the evenings, then catching a red-eye flight to New York, sitting at her bedside as much of the day as he could, then getting an afternoon flight back to Chicago to work. He must have done all of his sleeping on the plane, and if he was drained and short-tempered at the time, it is hardly a wonder.

Some time during that week, I went upstairs with Bob Brookmeyer for a drink in the "band room," a suite of two or three rooms assigned by the hotel. Mulligan was in a bedroom with bassist Buddy Clark, whom I also knew by then, and they were in the midst of a heated exchange. Buddy shouted, "I'm getting sick of it! I'm tired of pulling this whole goddamn band by myself!" And Mulligan told him he wasn't pulling it by himself; he was getting plenty of help, and who the hell did he think he was? "I felt badly about that," Gerry told me some time later. "I didn't know Buddy was sick." Neither did anyone else, including Buddy. He had a rectal problem for which he later underwent surgery, and, he told me, his discomfort had made him short-tempered. He regretted the incident as much as Gerry did.

Mulligan, whose hair in those days was reddish-blond, came out of the bedroom and stopped in his tracks seeing me, a stranger, in the band's midst.

"Who are you?" he said harshly.

I told him.

"Oh God," he said, "that's all I need: press."

"You don't think I'd write anything about this, do you?" I said. And I never did, until now.

Mulligan stormed out, and the band played its next set.

I do not recall where next I encountered him, but by then everyone in the profession was crossing my path. By the time I moved to New York in July 1962, I knew him fairly well.

His influence, and through him that of Claude Thornhill and Gil Evans, had spread around the world. He had been a considerable influence on the
development of the bossa nova movement in Brazil, for example, and that is aside from all the baritone players on the planet whose sound resembled his.

There is no questioning this influence of Mulligan on Brazilian music. I had just returned from a tour of South America, and in Rio de Janeiro had met Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, both virtually unknown in North America, except to a few musicians such as Bob Brookmeyer, Zoot Sims, and particularly Dizzy Gillespie, always aware of developments in Latin American music. It was said that the album made by Bud Shank and Laurindo Almeida called Brazilliance had also exerted an influence, but American critics tended to deny this, probably on the politically correct grounds that West Coast jazz was unimportant, and even Bud Shank said to me once, "The Brazilians didn't need me." But Bud (who incidentally played alto on the Mulligan tentet album) was wrong. Claudio Roditi, the superb Brazilian trumpeter, told me that in the period of bossa nova's gestation, almost the only jazz records available in Brazil were those on Dick Bock's Pacific Jazz label. The Shank-Almeida album, he said, was indeed an influence. But the major influence, according to Gilberto and Jobim, was Mulligan, and the influence on Gilberto's singing was that of a French Caribbean singer - from Martinique - named Henri Salvador, whose work I knew and loved.

Jobim told me that part of the ideal of the bossa nova movement was to achieve acoustical rather than electronic balances in the music, one of the keys to Mulligan's thinking. Jobim told me at the time, "The authentic Negro samba is very primitive. They use maybe ten percussion instruments and the music is very hot and wonderful. But bossa nova is cool and contained. It tells the story, trying to be simple and serious and lyrical. Joao and I felt that Brazilian music until now had been too much a storm on the sea, and we wanted to calm it down for the recording studio. You could call bossa nova a clean, washed samba, without loss of the momentum. We don't want to lose important things. We have the problem of how to write and not lose the swing."

Jobim came to New York that autumn for a Carnegie Hall concert of Brazilian musicians and, backstage, Gerry became one of the first American musicians I introduced him to. We were often together after that. Jobim's song "0 Insensatez" begins with the chord changes of the Chopin E-minor Prelude and, as a send-up of Jobim, Mulligan recorded the prelude as a samba. Jobim and Mulligan remained friends to the end of their days, and Gerry would see him whenever he went to Rio de Janeiro.

Gerry was not, as everyone seemed to think, living with Judy Holliday. She lived in the Dakota, on West 72nd Street at Central Park West, and he lived a block away.

I saw more of Gerry after Judy's death of cancer, which devastated him. We both lived on the West Side, and, aside from Jim and Andy's downtown, we had two or three favorite restaurants in the area of Broadway and the West 70s and 80s, halfway between his apartment and mine, which was on West 86th. A lot of my lyrics, including those written for Jobim tunes, had been recorded by then.

Gerry loved theater, and we thought we should try to write a show together. We looked for an appropriate subject, and one of us came up with the idea of the relationship between Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell. I learned that Brady's house had stood approximately across the street from my apartment on West 86th a few doors in from Central Park. It had long since been replaced by an apartment building.

One of my happier memories is of that period when Gerry and I ran around to libraries and pored over books, absorbing the life of Diamond Jim, getting inside his mind, acquiring a feel for the New York of his time. We sketched out a script, and I think it was a good one. We wrote some songs. Gerry arranged a meeting with Hal Prince. The receptionist said, "Are you the Gerry Mulligan?"

And Gerry said, "I'm the only one I know."

She showed us in to see Hal Prince. And Hal Prince told us that a Diamond Jim Brady project was already under way, with Jackie Gleason set to play Brady and Lucille Ball as Lillian Russell.

We left Hal Prince's office feeling crushed, and no doubt stopped somewhere for a drink. Gleason and Ball would be perfect casting. All our excitement had been killed in an instant, and I suppose Gerry thought, as I did, of all our work being left to molder in a drawer. This would be the second disappointment of that kind for him. He and Judy Holliday, who was a gifted lyricist, had written a musical based on the Anita Loos play Happy Birthday. And although the songs were superb, Gerry had never been able to get anyone interested. One producer told him it could not succeed because the setting was an Irish bar. And, he said, "The Irish go to bars. Jews go to theater."

Gerry and I abandoned our Diamond Jim project. The show with Gleason and Ball was never made; it vanished into that limbo of unfulfilled Broadway projects.

One night Gerry and I went to see Stephen Sondheim's Company. Later we went to the Ginger Man for drinks and a late dinner. "I hate him," Gerry said. I said, "Me too." For Sondheim had done both music and lyrics, and both were brilliant. Long after, Gerry laughed when I recalled that night and said, "I've been trying to hate him for years and can't. He's too good."

One night in Jim and Andy's bar, Gerry said he had tickets for a new play and asked if I wanted to go with him. We ran down 48th Street to get to the theater by curtain time. We saw Jason Robards in A Thousand Clowns. The co-star was a young actress named Sandy Dennis. She and Gerry would be together for years, and then separate. Sandy is now dead, like Judy, of cancer. And like Gerry.

Being of English origin, I had for some time been noticing the scarcity of WASP English influence or even presence in American music, particularly jazz. Once, over dinner, I said, "Mulligan, you and I must be the only WASPs in the music business."

And, laughing, he said, "Speak for yourself, I'm an Irish Catholic."

Because he was not actively so, I asked him if he felt himself to be Catholic. He thought for a minute and said, "No. But I do feel Irish."

All this led to a series of observations on the ethnic origins of the Europeans in American jazz and popular music. Irish, Scottish, Welsh, yes; Polish, German, Jewish, Russian, just about any nationality you could mention. But very few English. Even those who bore "English" names, such as Joe Farrell, Louis Bellson, Eddie Lang, Will Bradley, and Glen Gray, had changed them to escape the prejudices of America.

It was during one such discussion that Gerry and I discovered we had arrived independently at the same conclusion: white American jazz musicians tend to reflect their ethnic origins in the style of their playing. And although this is not a universal verity, it often will be found to be true. Gerry told me that once, when he and Judy were listening to Zoot Sims, who was Irish, she said, "There he goes again - playing that Barry Fitzgerald tenor." And she imitated Fitzgerald's laughter, Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha, on a falling melodic line. It is a remarkably perceptive insight. But, even more to the point, listening to Gerry on a taped interview, I once heard him say something with the exact, momentarily falsetto, inflection of Barry Fitzgerald. And one part of Gerry's family came to America nearly a 150 years ago.

But speech patterns persist for long, long periods, and the accent of Normandy still echoes the speech of the Viking conquerors who settled there 1,000 years ago, and is in turn the source of the French Canadian accent. Perhaps the speech of Marseille descends from the Phoenicians. You will hear subtly Swedish inflections in Minnesota, even in those whose people have been there a long time.

I hear, I am certain, an Irish quality in Mulligan's playing and writing. It couples whimsy with melancholy, sadness with exuberance, it is at once lyrical and witty, and it is above all eloquent. I find that all very Irish.

In his last years Gerry led a quartet with piano. He continued to write for all manner of formations, including full symphony orchestra. An album on the Par label called Symphonic Dreams was recorded in 1987 by the Houston Symphony under Erich Kunzel. One of my favorite of Gerry's albums is The Age of Steam on the A&M label. Like the late Glenn Gould, Gerry had a fascination with trains. His Christmas cards usually showed one of the big old steam trains, often in a winter setting.

Proust points out somewhere in Swann's Way that fictional characters are transparent while the persons we know in life are opaque. Even those we know well are mysteries. We are mysteries even to ourselves.

So who was Gerry Mulligan? Where did he come from? Why did he love the old trains?

After 1969, Gerry and I never lived in the same city. I moved to Toronto for a few years, then to California. Once he came up to Toronto for a few days, and we did a television show together. We always stayed in touch. On my way to Paris, with a stopover at Kennedy airport, I called him from a phone booth. The conversation lasted an hour; it was mostly about Irish history.

An aristocratic Italian photojournalist named Franca Rota was assigned to cover him on a 1972 recording date in Milan: that's where they met. After their marriage, they lived in a house in Connecticut and an apartment in Milan, not far from the great cathedral and from the castle of the Sforzas, now a museum. I had lunch with them in Milan in 1984. By now Gerry did not smoke or drink. He never was a heavy eater, but his diet had become disciplined to the point of the Spartan. He told me I shouldn't use salt.

In the spring of 1994, we found ourselves on a jazz cruise of the Caribbean, with time for conversation, a little as in the Jim and Andy's days of memory. I asked him about things we had never discussed, in particular his family. I was aware that his relations with his father had been somewhat uncomfortable. It will usually be found that a gifted musician was encouraged by a parent or both parents, but not Gerry.

He was the youngest of four boys, in order: George, Phil, Ron, Gerry. All three of his brothers became, like their father, engineers, and Gerry's father wanted him to be one.

"Don't you think that's affected your work?" I said, thinking of the sense of design in all Gerry's writing and playing.

"Some of the attitude of the builder, the constructor, I suppose," he said.

"What did he do exactly? I asked.

Gerry said, "By the time my father was mature, they had started to use engineering to improve efficiency and practices in factories. It was the beginning of the time-study period. The pejorative term for what my father did was 'efficiency expert'. Of course, the companies hated to see people like that coming because they knew they were going to have to work hard. And it meant that a lot of people were going to lose their jobs because they streamlined the procedures. So he was schooled in all sorts of engineering.

"I remember when I was in high school in Detroit, he put himself through night school in aeronautical engineering, just to increase his own abilities. But he had his peculiarities. He had this image of having an engineering business with his sons. Dynasty time. My brothers fought that battle pretty well. My oldest brother didn't want to go to engineering school, and my father was only going to send him to school if he studied engineering. And I think he finally knuckled under and went and was very unhappy in engineering. The brother after him liked it, so it was all right.

"My father had a kind of strange attitude. I have realized in recent years, he was kind of anti-education and anti-intellectual. It was too bad, because he missed a lot of things. At the point where I started to be in contact with other musicians, especially the people with education, which I didn't have have never had - I heard Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe. My father's response was, 'Ravel only ever wrote one piece, and that was the Bolero.' Well you realize you can't have much conversation with people who think like that."

"There's a similarity here," I said. "My father had the same anti-intellectual attitude. He once said, 'An intellectual is like a man in a white suit who can't change a tire."'

Gerry mused on that for a moment, then laughed - he liked to laugh, often a short sardonic chuckle, and there was a kind of effervescence in his voice and said, "If I'd been smarter when I was young, and my father had come right out and said that to me, I'd have said, 'Yeah, well I want to be the man in the white suit. Let somebody else change the tire!"' And he laughed again.

I remembered the Gerry Mulligan wind-up doll Bob Brookmeyer invented. You wind it up, put it on the table, and it sends for room service. Gerry later amended that, satirizing himself: "Hello, room service? Send up the concert."

"What was your father's name?" I asked. "And where did the family come from?"

"His name was George. His family was from Wilmington, Delaware. His family must have come over here from Ireland in, probably, the 1850s or thereabouts. My mother was half Irish. Her mother was born in Germany, and her father's family was Protestant Irish. So I came along with a built-in dichotomy.
"I was born in New York, but before I was 1, my father picked up the family and moved to Marion, Ohio, where he became an executive with a company called the Marion Steam Shovel Company: the biggest business in town, a big, big, big factory. To this day, you'll see older equipment with that name on it. And then he was with another company that made Hercules road rollers and stuff like that. So we were out there until I was 10 years old and in about fourth grade." Laughing, he added: "So I always say I did 1 to 10 in Ohio.

"After that he went with a big company, May Consulting Engineers, still one of the biggest, based in Chicago. He did a lot of jobs for them. And because all these jobs would take a year or two, we wound up going with him. From Ohio he went to a job in Puerto Rico for a winter.

"Meanwhile, my grandfather, who was a retired locomotive engineer from the Pennsylvania Railroad, had died. He and my grandmother lived in South Jersey. So we went there for a while.

"My father then went to Chicago. We were there for one school year. I started to go down the garden path, because what was available there was four theaters that had big bands playing. I was old enough to get on the El and go downtown. We lived at 4200 North, near Sheridan Road. Not far from the lake. I went to the grade school whose claim to fame is that Joyce Kilmer and Janet Gaynor went there. I spent my time learning how to run fast. I was the country bumpkin. I guess it was the beginning of various kinds of ethnic warfare. The kids were ganging up on other kids, and I guess I looked like a likely subject, because they'd chase me and beat the hell out of me if they could.

"Then my father went to a job in Kalamazoo, Michigan: we were there for about three years. That's where I first got some training on an instrument, barring the one semester in second grade in grade school that had piano lessons. At the recital, I would get halfway through a piece and forget it. About the second time I started over they came and took me offstage, like amateur night at the Apollo. And the nun told my mother, 'Just save your money. He will never play these things the way they were written! A nun had said it to my mother, therefore it must be the truth.

"In Kalamazoo, I wanted to take trumpet but I got side-tracked onto clarinet. I liked clarinet, because I liked Artie Shaw a lot, and I liked the Thornhill band, with Irving Fazola. I loved the sound of Irving Fazola, and one thing led to another. I wrote my first arrangement in Kalamazoo.

"I went to a public school the first year in Kalamazoo. There was a kid who lived across the street who could play trumpet. He could play things like "Carnival of Venice" and "Flight of the Bumble Bee." I was the most envious kid you ever saw. I admired him and we were best friends.

"The next year they sent me downtown to the Catholic school. The school was right next to the Michigan Central tracks. Every day I'd go out for the recess just as the Wolverine was going by. I used to see the people sitting in the dining car, with the white tablecloths and the silverware. The Wolverine was a very classy train on the New York Central. For a long time the Wolverine had the fastest schedule of any train in the country. Those were the Michigan Central tracks, but the Michigan Central was part of the New York Central. A great train, going by. And here I am in this filthy play-yard in the freezing cold. I was envious then, too."

"Does that explain your fascination with trains?" I asked.

"Well it runs in the family. My father's family had been with the B&O and the C&O, and on my mother's side, her father was a locomotive engineer with the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Irish built a lot of the railroads in this country. So I came by it naturally.

"The next year, they put up a new building and the school moved over there. They decided they were going to have their first school orchestra. They got a teacher and everything, and I learned the basics of the clarinet, and now we had an instrumentation not to be believed: probably a trumpet, a clarinet, two violins, and God knows what. An ungodly conglomeration. So I sat down and wrote an arrangement of "Lover," because I was fascinated by the chromatic progressions. I brought it in to play, and like a damn fool I put the title "Lover" on the top of it. The nun took one look at it and said, 'We can't play that.' So I never heard my first chart.

"But what's more interesting is what prompted me to write an arrangement in the first place. I don't know the answer: I just wanted to do it. I figured I could do it. I'd figured out how to make a transposition chart. I had one of those charts that you put behind the piano keys when you're a kid starting out. I guess I was in about the seventh grade at the time. A lot of us who were arrangers, there was always a kind of fraternity among arrangers, because of the recognition of the similarities. There are things that you know how to do and don't know how you know. I knew the basics of orchestration without having to be told."

"Could you, in grade seven, actually listen to a record and hear the chord content?"

"A lot of it, sure. The thing that I liked about the bands was the textures. I always was hooked on that. What you do with a single instrument is nice. What you do with a whole bunch of instruments becomes an interesting challenge to make it all add up to something cohesive. And to turn this thing that deals with a lot of mechanics into music is a miracle.

"If somebody had said, 'You can't do it, it might have stopped me. But nobody did."

"Let me get this straight," I said. "As a kid in grade seven, you could simply hear the contents of arrangements on records, hear the voices, without lessons?"


"To me, that's weird. Henry Mancini was the same. He could just hear it. He told me, and Horace Silver did the same thing, that he'd play records at slow speeds until he could figure out what was in the chords."

"I wasn't that smart," Gerry said. "I did it the hard way."

"Your parents were not musical?"

"My mother and father were both born in the '90s. So they were in their twenties and thirties in the '20s and '30s of this century. And they both learned enough piano to be able to play.

"My father could read, but he read like an engineer. He could sit down and play a piece of music, but he'd miss all the accidentals, play lots of wrong notes, and just go happily along. But my mother played very nicely. She liked pretty music."

"Obviously you left Kalamazoo eventually," I said.

"We went from Kalamazoo to Detroit. There wasn't music proliferating in the schools. There was no such thing as jazz courses. And no such thing, really, as available lessons on an instrument. Music was a very separate and separated thing.

"But there was music around. Detroit is where I got totally hooked on boogie-woogie piano players. I loved Meade Lux Lewis and Pete Johnson and Pinetop, that whole era. It was such a joyful, funny, dynamic music. In Detroit we had at least one thing: the Michigan Theater played bands. That's one of the days I can pinpoint accurately: I know where I was on the seventh December, 1941. It was Sunday and I was at the Michigan Theater to hear Erskine Hawkins. I loved that band.

"I didn't realize it then, but Erskine liked a very thin sound. And apparently he liked guys in the section to have that sound. As a consequence, when they played even reasonably high, it sounded exciting: it sounded piercing. A high C with a thin sound really sounds high. Then later on, I wrote things for bands with guys with incredible chops; they could play a high C that was so fat that it didn't sound high. They had to go up to an altissimo G or something before it really started to sound piercing. It finally dawned on me that a fat sound on trumpet somehow diminished the impact of the highness of the note. Took all the excitement away. Erskine's band had a crackling excitement, and mainly because the trumpet players had a thin sound: it was great.

"From Detroit we went to Reading, Pennsylvania. My father was working for a company that made an alloy of beryllium and copper. It was valuable because it's non-sparking and they can make tools for working around refineries or any place where sparks are dangerous. It's also unaffected by altitude or temperature. When I finally got a saxophone and clarinet, I wanted him to make me a set of springs, because that alloy never wears out, but he never did.

"I worked at that plant one summer as the mailboy. I saved my money and bought my first clarinet. I went to a teacher at the music store where I bought it and went through the exercises with the books. Sammy Correnti: a wonderful man. Sammy also transcribed a lot of the players he had known in the '20s and '30s.

"One day after I'd been taking lessons with Sammy for a while, he brought in an arrangement he had written in the early '30s on a piece called "Dark Eyes," written for three brass, three saxes, and three rhythm - two altos and a tenor, two trumpets and a bone. He said, 'Here, take this revoice it for four brass and four saxes.' I did. His attitude was, 'You can do this, so do it.' It wasn't 'You can't do it.'

"We had these things to learn, jazz choruses. I learned Artie Shaw's' Concerto for Clarinet' solo and his solo on 'Stardust."'

"Just about every reed player I ever met learned that 'Stardust' solo," I said. "Billy Mitchell told me he could still play it. Did you start working while you were in Reading?"

"Yeah. I started working professionally in Reading. I put together a quartet in high school. My brothers had a good time driving us around to our gigs, because all of us in my group were too young to drive. I was back there a few years ago. I went out to the church where we used to play for dances.

"But I wanted to have a big band. So I started collecting stock arrangements. Then they used to do manuscript charts of various bands. I had things from Les Brown's band, from this band and that band. We used to get gigs. I'd get these guys together and rehearse. Then it would be a mad thing. The band would be playing from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. in a gymnasium some place, and my brothers would be racing back and forth. This guy could make it from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., then they'd have to pick up his replacement.

"In Reading there was a piano player named Dave Stevens, who played with one of the studio bands in Philadelphia. I was a sophomore in high school, but I was playing with the professionals in town.

"Pennsylvania was a blue-law state, which meant that no entertainment was allowed on Sundays: no movies, no stage shows, no nothing. But it was all legal in private clubs, so private clubs proliferated all over Pennsylvania, which meant that there was work for musicians in Pennsylvania when work was dying out everywhere. I remember we played the Fifth Ward Democratic, the Third Ward Republican, the Polish American, the Irish American. Name it, all the ethnic groups in town, the labor unions, and they all had their own clubs and each one of them would hire a band, and a couple of them even had big bands. The Eagles had a thirteen- or fourteen-piece band. That was the most desirable one in town. I used to play in the band at the Orioles. These were good musicians I played with: I was very lucky."

I said, "Well this bears on what Bill Challis told me. He said that in the'20s, around Wilkes Barre, the musicians played dances in clubs. The coal barons had their clubs, the miners had their clubs, and the miners loved to dance. And when you think of all the musicians who came out of Pennsylvania, all the guys who came out of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the Dorsey brothers, Benny Golson, Henry Mancini, Billy Strayhorn, Red Rodney, it's a remarkable list."

"That may well have been a factor," Gerry said. "The blue laws and the clubs. Not only that, after the war, when work started to fall off for musicians, there still was that outlet in Pennsylvania for professional musicians."

I said, "Artie Shaw told me that in the heyday of the bands, you could play a solid month of one-nighters in Pennsylvania."

"Hmm. Well, those are all things that are impossible for people nowadays to understand. How many bands there were. There really was a lot of music available."

"What came after Reading?"

"From Reading, we moved to Philadelphia, and I found myself in West Philadelphia Catholic High School for Boys. About 2,000 boys, and no girls. That was the first time I had encountered that, and I hated it. Especially because down the street two blocks was the girls' school, and they started rehearsing their symphony orchestra in October for a concert in April. Envy again. There was no music in the school I was in.

"Dave Stevens of Reading had told me to go down to see Johnny Warrington, who had the house band at radio station WCAU. I took myself down to WCAU and saw Johnny. Now I think what kind of bemusement it must have fostered in him, to have this junior high-school kid come in and say, 'I want to write for your band.'

"And sure enough, he assigned a piece to me and said, 'Make me an arrangement of this. It will be for our Saturday night show.' I took the piece and spent a couple of weeks writing the arrangement. I brought it back. He went over it with me and he said, 'Well, let's see, you could have done this, you could have done that. Why didn't you do that here? Take it back and rewrite it and bring it back.' So I'd lucked into a teacher, somebody who helped. And he bought it and played it and assigned me something else.

"But the way that I got it written was even wilder. I really hated the school. There were a couple of teachers I liked and a couple of subjects that were fascinating. I had looked forward to chemistry as being probably an interesting subject, because you had laboratory work and it would be fun doing experiments. I had a teacher who ruined it for me. He spoke in a monotone, and he was a very dull man, and I remembered nothing.

"The school was taught by Christian brothers. Brother Martin was in charge of the band. When I transferred into this school and talked to Brother Martin, he never even asked me or even suggested that I play with the marching band. He explained that the marching band was not very good. The guys only went out for the band to get a letter and go to the ball games free. He said, 'The facilities are here. Any time you want to use the band room, it's yours.'

"Because it was such a big school, we had staggered lunch breaks. There were four lunch breaks. I had one of my own and three others. I started a band out of what I could get out of this marching band. I would have one of them come to my class and say, 'Brother Martin wants Gerry Mulligan in the band room.' So I would spend three out of the four lunch breaks in the band room, writing my chart for WCAU."

I said, "People forget that aside from the radio networks, which not only used to broadcast the big bands but had symphony orchestras on staff, even local radio stations employed bands, and pianists, and small groups. They generated their own music. They didn't just play records, as they do now. Radio was a tremendous generative force for music."

"Oh yeah. And given the opportunity, bands in all kinds of work tried to do their best. That's not to say all bands were good. There were a lot of sloppy bands around. But the best of them, which was a lot of them, were always trying to make music better. We always felt we could learn something, try something. So it was a good time for bands, all through the '30s and '40s.

"This brings up one of the areas where musicians got into a wrongful kind of relationship to the rest of the society, because of the attitude of the musicians' union. The union started in Chicago, and it was very much like a gangster organization, the way it went about doing things. For instance, their attitude in a town like Philadelphia. They would go into a radio station like WCAU and say, 'How many musicians do you employ?' The station might say something like, 'We employ ten.' And the union would say, 'All right, from now on you employ thirteen. How much are you paying them?' And the station might say, 'We're paying 75 dollars a week.' And the union might say, 'From now on you're paying 100.' It was done without discussion, it was: This is the way it's going to be or we'll pull the music out altogether.

"You'd be surprised how many radio stations said, 'Well, screw it.' And they got rid of the musicians. Those kinds of practices, I think, did musicians a great disservice. It made an antagonistic relationship that was harmful and wrong. And of course Petrillo, who was very much a dictatorial type, arbitrarily, against the advice of many people in the union, including the bandleaders, pulled the recording ban. That was the coup de grace for the big bands. Of all the times when he pulled it, when the guys were coming back from the service and needed all the help they could get!"

"But you still had WCAU and Johnny Warrington," I said. "Were you still in high school?"

"Yeah. In fact, at the school, I decided to put a band together. There were a lot of clarinet players in the marching band. There was only one kid who had a saxophone. I went and bought an alto so I would have at least two saxophones. We had a bunch of trumpets and we had one kid who played decent trombone. I wrote arrangements for the band, using this instrumentation. It came out sounding like Glenn Miller, because it was heavy on the clarinets. But because of that, I made something happen in the school, and we became the heroes that year, playing at various schools, playing at their assemblies. We even went down and played at the girls' school. So I suppose the girls' school was envious that we had a dance band and they only had a symphony orchestra.

"I went into the senior year. Chemistry had been destroyed for me, and I was bored to tears by the rest of the school. In senior year they had physics. They had lecture classes: it was like college - you're a big kid now. I go into the lecture room for the first thing on physics, and who have I got? The same guy who ruined chemistry for me. My mind did a trick on me that day, and I realized it started this at other times and it frightened me. Have you ever forgotten how to do something automatic, like tying your shoes or tying your tie? I watched this man. His lips were moving but I forgot what words meant. I totally lost the connection with language. I got up at the end of the class and went down to the office of the school and said, 'I'm leaving school. I have my father's permission. I'm going on the road with a band.'

"I didn't have a job and I didn't have my father's permission. I went to see Brother Martin, who didn't try to talk me into staying. He's one of the people I wish I'd had sense enough to keep contact with. He must have been a remarkable man. He didn't do any of the judgmental things that all the other grown-ups I remember from childhood did. He really treated me like a human being with the intelligence to try find my own way and as someone determined to find my own way.

"I went home and told my family what I was doing. My father didn't put up a big argument because, I think, he had lost his taste for trying to direct us. And obviously I was so far removed from his ideal of engineer that I didn't even warrant consideration.

"I thought unkindly in later years that he was probably relieved: he wouldn't have to think about paying to send me to college of any kind.

"I really would have liked to go to music school, but I never even broached the subject with him. I knew it was out of the question. That's what I mean by anti-intellectualism. I don't understand having that kind of an attitude toward your own kid. I never was that way with my own son, and can't be that way with young people."

(Gerry had one child, Reed, a son by his first and brief marriage to Arlene Brown, daughter of Lew Brown, of the Henderson-Brown-DeSylva songwriting team.)

He said, "I like to help young people have whatever opportunities there are, in whatever ways I can, without pushing them, without telling them the way Sammy Correnti did with me.

"I was now out of school, with no job to go to. I had to get a job in a hurry so I didn't have to go back to school ignominiously.

"I had met an agent named Jimmy Tyson. He was the agent for Alex Bartha, who had been the bandleader on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City for maybe fifteen years. What I didn't know was that every year he had this desire to take the band on the road and be a name band. I was infected with that! He promised he was going to take me on the road with him. Great! This was the job I thought I had. So I went down to see the agent. Jimmy said, 'Alex has been saying that for years. He's not going to take a band on the road.'

"And I thought, Oh God. I parked myself in the office of Jimmy Tyson's agency and waited for somebody to call up. Every band that came through to play at the Earle Theater, somebody would call up and say, 'I need a trombone player,' or something. And I would hear Jimmy say, 'Do you need a tenor or alto player? I was playing tenor and alto then. And nobody ever did.
"Then Tommy Tucker came to the Earle. Same thing. He didn't need a saxophone player. So Jimmy said, 'Well do you need an arranger? And Tommy Tucker said, 'Send him around, let me talk to him.' So I met Tommy Tucker backstage at the theater. He gave me a try. He signed me to a contract, 100 dollars a week for two jump or three ballad arrangements. Ballads being fewer pages than the jump tunes. Copied: I had to do all the copying."

Mulligan's career detour through the Tommy Tucker band has occasionally raised eyebrows: it seems somewhat incongruous.

The band, whose radio broadcasts began with the signature announcement, "It's Tommy Tucker Time!", was in that group that drew votes in the Down Beat poll's King of Corn category, usually won by Guy Lombardo. To the hip fans of the bands, that is to say those who thought they were hip (or, in those days, hep) there was a sharp division between the "jazz" and "mickey" bands, the latter including such as Blue Barron, Freddy Martin, Sammy Kaye, Russ Morgan, Kay Kyser, Shep Fields and his Rippling Rhythm, Lawrence Welk, and Wayne King. But to the professionals, the demarcation was not that sharp. I know saxophone players who thought Freddy Martin was a fine tenor player, and Benny Carter told me that one of his favorite saxophone players was Wayne King, not because what King did was jazz but because it was excellent saxophone playing.

Mulligan too has this breadth of view, and I was always baffled by his stated admiration for the Guy Lombardo band, which he shared with Louis Armstrong. I was baffled, that is, until I actually saw the band in the 1970s and got to know Guy late in his life. I realized with a start, after only a tune or two from the band in person, that what I was hearing was a museum piece: an authentic, unchanged, perfectly preserved 1920s tuba-bass dance band. And it did what it did extremely well. It was, as Gerry had always insisted, a damned good band.

Many of the "mickey" - meaning Mickey Mouse - bands contained excellent musicians, and some of them, including the bands of Kay Kyser and Sammy Kaye, could play creditable swing on occasion. Some excellent arrangers cut their professional teeth in those bands. George Duning, for example, wrote for Kay Kyser. And for a short time, Gerry Mulligan wrote for Tommy Tucker.

Gerry said, "That was my first experience on the road with a name band as an arranger. That was 1945, I guess, and that would make me 17 going on 18. It was the last year of the war. We traveled by cars. When we hit a town, I would be out of the car like a shot and into the hotel. Is there a room with a piano? It was always a search for a piano. And I never managed to make the three ballads or two jumps a week. But I got pretty close, wrote a lot of music for Tommy. It was a three-month contract.

"We did a lot of one-nighters. We did a month or six weeks or something at a big hotel in Chicago. I was a pig in mud. All the bands were coming through. Billy Eckstine's band came to a downtown theater, with Dizzy playing trumpet with him. Earl Hines had a great band. Artie came through and Lena Horne was singing with him.

"My arrangements for Tommy started to get more and more wild, although I think Tommy liked what I did. There's one thing of mine on a Hindsight record, taken from an aircheck. It's called 'Brass Hats.' I used plungers and hats. Years later, when I heard this thing, I fell off my chair, because I had copied Erskine Hawkins'  'After Hours.' I didn't mean to copy it, but it was very close.

"After the three months, Tommy said, 'It's been very nice, and you've done a lot of good things for the band, but I think you're ready to move on to another band because I think my band is a little too tame for you. I want you to know, Gerry, that if you ever want to go into business or anything like that, I really would be glad to help you - in anything except a band.'
"I never got to see Tommy after he retired, and then I found out a few years ago where he was, because a lot of friends went to Sarasota and saw him. I no sooner found out where he was than I read that he had died. I did call up his widow, a lovely woman. They were great people, and he was good to me.

"That's one thing I was lucky about. The men that I worked for were such nice people: Tommy Tucker, Gene Krupa, Claude Thornhill, Elliot Lawrence.

"After I left Tommy, I went back to Philadelphia. Johnny Warrington was no longer at WCAU. Elliot Lawrence had taken over. Elliot had been kind of a child star in Philadelphia. He had been the bandleader on the Horn and Hardart kiddies' hour. He kind of grew into the bandleader job."

And Mulligan began to write for Elliot Lawrence. In the 1950s, some of the writing he did for Lawrence was re-recorded in an album for Fantasy.

"It was all right," Gerry said of that album. "But it wasn't as good as some of the performances the band did at the time. Once, at a rehearsal, they played some of my music so perfectly that it made my hair stand on end. There was a unison trombone passage. The Swope brothers were in the trombone section. The section sounded like one trombone, the unison was so perfect."

Gerry was born on 6 April 1927. Earl Hines and Louis Armstrong had not yet made their pioneering records. The Duke Ellington band would not open at the Cotton Club for another eight months. Though the Paul Whiteman band was immensely popular, the so-called big-band era had not dawned. Benny Goodman was still with Ben Pollack. The Casa Loma Orchestra would not make its first recording for another two years. And network radio had just come into being. Some people still owned crystal radios.

Like Gerry, I grew up, ear to the radio, on the sounds of the big bands in the  1930s. Network radio was an incredible cultural force, presenting - live, not on records - music of immense cultural diversity, almost every kind of music that America produced, and making it popular. Network radio made Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman famous and, a little later, Glenn Miller. It made Arturo Toscaninii and James Melton household names. On Saturday afternoons, the broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera could be heard everywhere from the Mexican border to the northern reaches of Canada.

How long jazz has been with us depends on how you define jazz. If you refer to Buddy Bolden's music, which you have never heard (nor has anyone else) or Scott Joplin's rags, as jazz, then it begins early in the century. Others would call this earlier music proto-jazz. But jazz begins at least by the late teen years of the twentieth century. If you define it even more strictly as the art of the great, improvising soloist, then it begins in the 1920s, and its principal founding figure is Louis Armstrong. As Dizzy Gillespie said of Armstrong, "No him, no me."

So if you accept Armstrong as the defining figure, then jazz was, as Bud Freeman used to argue, born in Chicago in the 1920s. Gerry Mulligan was born with jazz, just before the big-band era.

The big-band era lasted roughly ten years, from 1936 to 1946, when the major orchestras began to disband. If you want to push it back to the 1920s, with Whiteman, Goldkette, and early Ellington, then it is longer. And its influence persists, with the fundamental format of trumpets, trombones, saxophones, and rhythm section still in use. The evolution of that instrumentation is like that of the string quartet or the symphony orchestra: it works, and will live on. But as a vital part of America's commercial entertainment, the era has long since ended.

It was an era, as Woody Herman used to say, when "jazz was the popular music of the land."

Many years ago, Gerry said to me that the wartime gasoline tax had helped kill the big bands. And a thought occurred to me: I said, "Wait a minute, Gerry, the kids who supported the bands didn't have cars, and since they weren't making them during the war, our fathers certainly were not inclined to lend theirs." And it was precisely during the war years that the bands were most successful, even though many of the best musicians were in the armed forces. The dance pavilions and ballrooms were packed during those years with teenagers and uniformed servicemen and their girlfriends.

How did we get to the ballrooms and dance pavilions? On street railways and the inter-urban trolleys. And the street railways and trolley lines were bought up and dismantled by business elements whose purpose was to drive the public into automobiles and buses: this helped kill the ballrooms.

And network radio was dying as the broadcasting industry discovered how awesomely lucrative television advertising could be, and to the purpose of attracting ever larger audiences began seeking the lowest common denominator of public taste.

When the big-band era ended and the musicians went into nightclubs to play in small groups, their admirers followed them, for they were now over 21 and could go to places where liquor was served. But a younger audience could not follow them. A few nightclubs tried to solve the problem. Birdland had a bleachers section where young people could sit without drinking liquor. But this was at best a Band-aid, if you'll pardon the pun, and knowing the names of the musicians was no longer an "in" thing for young people. They were turning at first to "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window" and "Tennessee Waltz," then to "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Hound Dog." The Beatles were coming.
The exposure of jazz to a new, young audience was restricted. Thus you will find that by far the largest part of its audience today comprises older people. There are some young admirers, to be sure, and they always give one hope. But the music is hard to find; they must seek it out. It is no longer common in the culture. It is not on the radio in most areas. And fewer and fewer radio stations are presenting jazz. When I met Gerry Mulligan in 1960, he was only 33 years old. I know lists are boring, but I would ask you to read this one: Pepper Adams, Nat and Cannonball Adderley, Gene Ammons, Benny Bailey, Dave Bailey, Chet Baker, Kenny Barron, Keter Betts, Ruby Braff, Bob Brookmeyer, Ray Brown, Ray Bryant, Monty Budwig, Larry Bunker, Kenny Burrell, Frank Butler, Donald Byrd, Conte Candoli, Frank Capp, Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, Sonny Clark, Jimmy Cleveland, Jimmy Cobb, Al Cohn, John Coltrane, junior Cook, Bob Cranshaw, Bill Crow, Kenny Davern, Arthur Davis, Miles Davis, Richard Davis, Alan Dawson, Willie Dennis, Gene DiNovi, Eric Dolphy, Lou Donaldson, Kenny Drew, Allen Eager, Jon Eardley, Don Ellis, Booker Ervin, Bill Evans, Art and Addison Farmer, Joe Farrell, Victor Feldman, Maynard Ferguson, Clare Fischer, Tommy Flanagan, Bob Florence, Chuck Flores, Med Flory, Carl Fontana, Vernel Fournier, Russ Freeman, Dave Frishberg, Curtis Fuller, Stan Getz, Benny Golson, Urbie Green, Gigi Gryce, Jim Hall, Slide Hampton, Herbie Hancock, Jake Hanna, Roland Hanna, Barry Harris, Hampton Hawes, Louis Hayes, Jimmy and Tootie Heath, Billy Higgins, Bill Holman, Paul Horn, Freddie Hubbard, Dick Hyman, Frank Isola, Chuck Israels, Ahmad Jamal, Clifford Jordan, Richie Kamuca, Connie Kay, Wynton Kelly, Charlie Kennedy, Jimmy Knepper, Lee Konitz, Teddy Kotick, Steve Kuhn, Steve Lacy, Scott LaFaro, Pete La Roca, Lou Levy, Mel Lewis, Melba Liston, Booker Little, Dave McKenna, Jackie McLean, Mike Mainieri, junior Mance, Johnny Mandel, Herbie Mann, Warne Marsh, Don Menza, Jymie Merritt, Billy Mitchell, Blue Mitchell, Dwike Mitchell, Grover Mitchell, Red Mitchell, Hank Mobley, Grachan Moncour, J. R. Monterose, Buddy Montgomery, Jack Montrose, Joe Morello, Lee Morgan, Sam Most, Paul Motian, Dick Nash, Oliver Nelson, Jack Nimitz, Sal Nistico, Marty Paich, Horace Parlan, Sonny Payne, Gary Peacock, Duke Pearson, Ralpha Pena, Art Pepper, Walter Perkins, Charlie Persip, Oscar Peterson, Nat Pierce, Al Porcino, Bill Potts, Benny Powell, Seldon Powell, Andr6 Previn, Joe Puma, Gene Quill, Jimmy Raney, Frank Rehak, Dannie Richmond, Larry Ridley, Ben Riley, Red Rodney, Mickey Roker, Sonny Rollins, Frank Rosolino, Roswell Rudd, Willie Ruff, Bill Russo, Don Sebesky, Bud Shank, Jack Sheldon, Sahib Shihab, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver, Andy Simpkins, Zoot Sims, Jack Six, Jimmy Smith, Victor Sproles, Alvin Stoller, Frank Strazzeri, Ira Sullivan, Grady Tate, Arthur Taylor, Toots Thielemans, Edmund Thigpen, Bobby Timmons, Cal Tjader, Ross Tompkins, Cy Touff, Nick Travis, Stanley Turrentine, McCoy Tyner, Leroy Vinnegar, Cedar Walton, Wilbur Ware, Randy Weston, Bob Wilber, Phil Wilson, Jimmy Woode, Phil Woods, Reggie Workman, Eugene Wright, and Leo Wright. What do they have in common? They were all actively performing in the United States in 1960, the year I met Gerry. And they were all under the age of 35. And that is by no means a complete list.

Max Roach, Sonny Stitt, Terry Gibbs, Sarah Vaughan, Paul Desmond, and Shorty Rogers were 36, and other major figures, such as Dave Brubeck, Milt Jackson, and John Lewis were under 40. Indeed, if you add to the list all those under 40 who were at the peak of their powers, factor in all those who were not well known to a national public, such as Gene Allen, Wayne Andre, and Phil Bodner, all the excellent jazz players of Chicago, such as Jodie Christian, Eddie Higgins, and Larry Novak, whose names have never made it into the encyclopedias, and then remember that almost all the pioneering and founding figures, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Don Redman, Benny Carter, and Earl Hines, as well as such lesser figures as Frank Signorelli, were alive, you see that the depth of jazz in the United States in that year was astounding. The problem is that we took it for granted, and looked on genius as a commonplace.

By comparison, the current jazz revival is very shallow indeed and merely imitative. This is not to say that there are no excellent young players. But none of these figures is original, and whereas the Ellington music was a constant adventure in innovation and the bands of the 1940s were ceaselessly pushing into the future, all that is now embalmed in jazz repertory programs that concentrate on the music and styles of the past. The jazz of the past has become, truly, a classical music, disinterred from its original context.

You start to wonder if jazz has at last run its creative course, as Oscar Peterson a few years ago predicted it soon would. Not that the new reconstituted food doesn't contain nourishment for a younger audience that is just now discovering jazz. But it hasn't much savor to those who grew up in its great age of innovation and remember its unmistakable individualists. And Gerry Mulligan lived through almost the entire history of jazz. It is against that background that he should be understood. [Emphasis, mine.]

To jazz musicians, of course, the question "Where is jazz going?" has always been anathema. But a new question arises: "Where has jazz gone?" I put it to Gerry. He replied: "Where jazz has gone relates to where the country has gone. It's pretty hard to separate the progress of one without taking the other into consideration.

"There are a number of things going on in our society that we wonder how they're going to turn out. We have no way of knowing what the effects are because we've become a society of guinea-pigs, trying out new technologies. We've had a whole century of it, and God knows where we are. A rather precarious psychic state. By that I mean the numbers of things that have changed, not just in the ways people live but in the ways their minds work.
"I've been conscious of it lately because, doing university level courses of jazz history, I've found it's very hard to get people to imagine the world that musicians inhabited in 1910 as compared to now. It's hard for people to imagine how different everyone's life was, how life must have been before there was artificial music being thrown at them from every side. All along the way, there were the good and bad accumulations of the various technologies and the industries that grew out of them and the effects that they've had. Many of the effects of the phonograph record and radio were the very elements that made jazz develop the way it did; they probably were responsible for making it into an art form and not just being forgotten as an offshoot of popular music, something of a passing character.

"There were, even early in the century, statements that jazz was immoral and would lead to the breakdown of society as we know it." He laughed. "Listen, with the outcome we see, the state of our popular music, they may well have been right.

"However, I make a big distinction between what jazz was and is and what's going on in popular music.

"At this end of the game, where big business is involved with exploiting
whatever available audiences there are - and you usually start with the kids now - they've affected people's thinking about what music is, what music should do, how music should be used, and what music sounds like. So, unless you take the one into consideration, you can't figure out the other.

"Sometimes, of course, I wonder if it's just the usual generational sour grapes. A young generation comes along and they tend to put down what you're doing. You look at 'em with a kind of jaundiced eye and say, 'Well, young whipper-snappers, in my day they said jazz was an immoral music and now they're saying it about rock.' After you examine that, one has to carry through to what has happened to the content and the intent of popular music. Two elements come to mind. One is the music itself, which, a great deal of the time, as you know if you ever see MTV, is calculated as a destructive force, breaking down the good old enemies, the middle class, the bourgeoisie, and all of those causes of all our troubles. It's a music that's based on raw emotion, or at least the illusion of raw emotion. This is very prevalent in that music, easy ecstasy. There's the matter of volume: if you do it loud enough it sounds like you're having fun. And distortion. The day that somebody discovered the intensity that happens to the sound of a guitar when you over amplify it, they created a new world of easy access to excitement. You don't have to work for it, you don't have to think about it, you don't have to develop a craft, man. It's there, it's built into the vacuum tubes and the transistors. The equipment.

"Then there is the actual content of the words. We see a couple of generations that have grown up on a dissatisfaction, a disaffection, with the society that produced them. You only have to watch sitcoms to realize that the parents are always bumbling idiots and the children are all smart-talking, wise-cracking little bastards. So we've got an odd view of what our culture is and should be. These forces don't give a damn. The people who are exploiting our kids don't care about the effect. In fact they'll fight to the death to prove to you that violence on television doesn't have anything to do with violence in the streets.

"If people are so busy convincing themselves of nonsense like that, how can you persuade them to assume responsibility for anything? This has become the key to our time. It's always: 'It's not my fault.' We have become a nation of victims. It's always somebody else's damn fault. This is what has led to all this political correctness crap. You mustn't hurt anybody's feelings! Bullshit, man. What has that got to do with the real world?"

"The television people," I said, "try to convince you that their commercials can alter public behavior by selling products, but the entertainment part of their programming can't. It's a contradiction in their position. It's nonsense."

"Well," Gerry said, "there's a lot of the texture of our social structure that is just as contradictory. This is why you can't say what is going to happen to jazz without observing the society that produces it.

"There are a couple of things that have come out of the educational things I have done. I've been very interested to learn how it appears to other people, usually younger than I am. People come to some of these college classes because they want to go to school or they're interested in the subject. But a lot of it has to do with students who are looking for an easy credit." He laughed.

"It's fascinating to see how people react to their own time, to see how aware they are that they're being ripped off, to see whether anything can be done about it, or to contemplate the future. There is a lot of questioning about where we're going. We see immense changes going on in the United States and don't know what to make of it all.
"One thing I do know: in the States, people are terribly insular. jazz musicians, a lot of us, travel around the world a lot, so we see a great deal more of the world than the average Statesider. We come home and realize that people have a very, very unrealistic view of the world. We're politically awfully naive, and we are being manipulated at all points by the press and various other special-interest groups. It's an oddity. I don't know whether to worry about the suppression and repression from the right or the left or whether just to accept them both as the enemy equally and try to protect my niche in the middle. Because I know that I am the enemy. Anyone who walks the middle ground is gonna have very strong enmity from both sides."

I mentioned that Nat Hentoff had written a new book whose subtitle is: "How the left and the right relentlessly censor each other."

Gerry said, "That's interesting that a writer like Nat should arrive at that, because when he was first writing, he was very much a writer of the left. My feeling was always: I don't care what color the uniform is and I don't care whether your ideology is leftist or rightist, man, when you come around and tell me what I can and can't do, it amounts to the same thing. I don't care if you're beating me up in the name of Lenin or Hitler, it hurts with the same kind of bruise."

I said, "I met someone to whom that actually happened, a Hungarian symphony conductor, I can't think of his name. He told me, 'I've had my nose broken twice, once by the Nazis and once by the Communists, and it felt exactly the same both times."'

"Perfect. I sometimes wonder if this is why Americans have dedicated themselves to such sloppy dress. Dress styles today have gotten to the point of grotesque. A lot of these things, it's very hard for me to get a grasp on. You read the expensive magazines and you see the advertisements of the expensive companies. Giorgio Armani, he's got these beautiful young men lying out on the beach - with torn jeans! Wait a minute, man? What are you trying to sell here?"

"Torn jeans," I said.

"Anything to be in!" Gerry said. "It's a peculiar time. But then I wonder what it must have been like to live through some of the strange transition periods of cities or countries. Germany in the '20s must have been an insane place to be. And then in the '30s, the insanity came out of the closet. There have been a lot of times like that, the idiocies. Look at Bosnia. What must it be like for intelligent people to live through this? Or Argentina under the colonels? We've had such insane things happen in the world. And I wonder why. Why? Why do people want to do that to each other?

"The Puritans of New England would meet strangers at the city limits, and if they were Quakers or Catholics, they'd grab them and put them to the stake, because they were heretics. And always with the admonition, 'I'm going to burn you at the stake, but understand, this is for your own good."'

I said, "You've got the same thing with the anti-abortion people on an overpopulated planet, what I call the kill-for-life crowd."

"Absolutely!" Gerry said. "It's taking on the kind of ridiculous stature that one would expect. This is why the whole movement for political correctness is a dangerous thing.

"It is the justification of the suppression of other people's rights and opinions in what appears to them to be a good cause. And I say, 'Whatever reason you burn me at the stake, I'm sorry, the cause is not good enough."'

I said, "We can't talk about jazz alone, I agree. We have to talk about the evolution of the big bands, the movie industry, network radio, which were all interlinked. Bands on radio, bands in the movies, playing songs from Broadway shows. Network radio, which young people today cannot grasp, was a major linking force in the American culture. . .

"Absolutely," Gerry said.

" . . . whereas later, disc jockey radio became a force of destruction."

"Absolutely. That's exactly what I'm talking about. The effect of radio in the early days, when it was still struggling to find its audience and find itself, was good. But the man who invented Top Forty radio. . .

"Todd Storz of New Orleans," I said.

"I'd rather not know his name," Gerry said. "I'd rather think of him as someone anonymous hanging by this thumbs somewhere."

"No, he's probably swinging in a penthouse. Or a mansion."

"It's rather remarkable," Gerry said. "He succeeded in destroying radio and music with one idea."
When I was at Down Beat, I met all the founding figures of jazz, most of whom were still alive. I had conversations with Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, Don Redman, Ben Webster, Benny Carter, and many more. But Gerry not only knew them all, he recorded with a great many of them. What Gerry and I know of early jazz history comes largely from the people who made it.

I said, "When our generation is gone, there will be no more direct oral links. Future writers will be getting it all from secondary sources, such as newspaper and magazine clippings and previous books, some of the material very unreliable and sometimes downright wrong."

Gerry said: "I remember John Lewis and I walking down 55th Street
one day. We'd just left Gil Evans' place. John said, 'Gerry, there's one thing you've got to understand. Jazz as you and I know it and love it will die with our generation.' And I of course reacted with indignation, saying, 'How can you say that, John?' He just smiled like the sphinx and said, 'Remember this. We grew up playing with these men. We've had the chance to sit and play with them as professionals, we traveled with them, we know them, and knew how they thought and arrived at it. After we're gone, it will all be hearsay and records."'

I said, "Bill Crow told me once that the older musicians told him that on record sessions in the 1920s, drummers had to back off, because if they played hard, it would jump the cutting needle. So we can't really know how those rhythm sections sounded live."

"Sure," Gerry said. "Because of these lectures I've been giving, I've been doing a lot of listening to old things, in some cases to records I'd never heard before. I've become very conscious of what those drummers were doing. A lot of those dates through the'20s were done with brushes, brushes on a telephone book, anything to make an illusion of propulsion without knocking the needle off track. You seldom could hear the bass, which is mostly, I think, why the guys used tuba or bass saxophone, 'cause they had to be heard."

"Rollini, for one."

"Rollini was already into something else. He was a line player. I didn't remember hearing him. I probably did when I was a kid, because I listened to all those bands on the radio every night, and Rollini played with a couple of bands I remember hearing. But later on I had a record of Red Nichols' band, with Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet, Miff Mole on trombone, Adrian Rollini on bass sax, Joe Sullivan on piano, and I think it was Davey Tough on drums. There were two sides of an old ten-inch that Ion Eardley gave me. He said his father had made a copy for me. And it was 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic.' The first side starts out as a slow thing, with Joe Sullivan playing it as a kind of a blues piece. And you turn it over and they take it up and make it into a swing piece. And Adrian Rollini plays an entrance to his chorus on it, which knocked me over, because it sounds so much like an entrance of Charlie Parker's on 'Blues for Norman,' recorded on one of the Granz tours." Gerry sang the Parker passage. "It was almost the same phrase that Adrian had played on that record."

"Do you think he might have heard it?"

"That could be, because Bird was all ears when he was a kid."

"He said he hired Chet Baker because his playing reminded him of Bix."
"I loved Louis's comment when he heard Bix. I have to paraphrase. He said they were aiming for the same thing. Which seemed very odd to people, because their styles were so totally different."

I said, "Everybody talks about how pretty Bix played. But he had a real sting on the edge of his tone."

"Oh yeah. But we can only have the impression we get from the records. This is something I was very conscious of, listening to the records he made with Frankie Trumbauer. Those were intricate arrangements. And they were intended to be - highly sophisticated music. And again, they suffered because they had to hold the rhythm section back. So it's likely that those things neither sounded nor felt quite the way they do on the records. Bix's sense of style and form alone were obviously unique. I would love to have heard his sound.

"You know, Bird had an incredible ability to sail through pretty complicated progressions, especially if the progressions were going somewhere not just a sequence of chords, but a true progression. I was listening to some Tatum records the other day and it suddenly dawned on me: I wonder how much time 
Bird spent listening to Tatum? Because Tatum could do that. He could do the damnedest transitions, and the damnedest alterations. It will make your hair stand on end! And even when he was doing it fast, it was such a remarkable sounding thing.

"Bird had a tremendous amount of facility in a lot of directions. He had so much facility, I've always thought he really didn't know what to do to survive. He didn't know how to be a beginner again. He needed to move on from where he was. It wasn't satisfying enough. And he became more and more frustrated. He loved a lot of different kinds of music. He loved things like Debussy's Children's Corner. Whenever he would come by Gil's place, he would want to listen to some parts of the Children's Corner."

"I was told he loved Prokofiev's Scythian Suite."

"Oh God yes! We were all hooked on the Scythian Suite. It was the Chicago Symphony, and it was a dynamite recording of it. It's a wonderful, dynamic piece. It was a youthful piece of Prokofiev's. There are a few pieces that different composers wrote around the time The Rite of Spring was written, but so much has been said about the outrage caused by The Rite of Spring, this supposedly chaotic music, that people didn't pay much attention to other pieces. And I think the Scythian Suite is one of those. But it's a piece that just swings relentlessly from beginning to end. It has a momentum, a forward propulsion to it, through all the movements, through tempo changes and everything. And that particular recording was very good. I've heard a lot of
recordings of it since then, but it's impossible to get that one any more. Every time I see a recording of it, I buy it. But I'm always disappointed. I say,’ That’s the wrong tempo!' One man's opinion."

And he laughed at himself, as he was wont to do.

If some of those in the audience now in its forties, growing jaded with a rock and-roll that has now survived for 40 years - four times as long as the big band era - are discovering jazz and saying "Oh wow!" to young players whose every influence Mulligan and other older jazz musicians can instantly detect, that's all right. Imitative jazz will doubtless continue for some time.

But Gerry's generation lived through an era of innovators, Hines and Tatum and Wilson and Cole and Powell and Evans, Hawkins and Webster and Young, Armstrong and Berigan and James and Dizzy and Miles, Redman and Carter and Sauter and Evans, each with a thumbprint you could not miss. The experienced ear can detect Benny Carter in two bars; no one of the new generation has that kind of individuality.

I try to resist thinking about the 1960s, but sometimes I can't help it, and I remember all the friends Gerry and I have lost, including Zoot and Mel Lewis and Nick Travis and Willie Dennis, all of whom were in Gerry's Concert jazz Band.

When I wrote a piece about the end of the big-band era, which is in my book Singers and the Song, I used a phrase of Johnny Mercer's "Early Autumn" lyric. I called it "Pavilion in the Rain."

This essay, Gerry told me later, caused him to write a tune he called "I Heard the Shadows Dancing." Then Nancy Marano told Gerry she wanted to record the tune. Gerry called and asked me to put a lyric on it. And so I did. I remembered seeing abandoned pavilions on beaches and in parks, where the Ferris wheels no longer turned. I used those images in it.

Gerry was even slimmer than in his youth, but he wore a beard, and the strawberry blond hair had gone as white as paper. Did he have regrets? Who doesn't? I daresay he regretted that he and Miles Davis never got to do the tour they had planned to perform the Birth of the Cool music. Miles got sick, precluding it, and Gerry toured without him.

Another regret, apparently, was our abandoned Diamond Jim Brady project. A few years ago I asked if he still had the music. He had lost it. The lyrics? I lost them. The script? Gone.

"We should have finished it," he said on the phone one day.

Other regrets?

"I wish I'd gone to music school."

Then, in early November 1995, Gerry's current quartet went on a jazz cruise of the Caribbean on the SS Norway. For months rumors had been circulating that his health was failing rapidly. I heard he was undergoing chemotherapy in Boston. Gerry would tell me it was for treatment of a liver condition consequent of a case of hepatitis years ago.

Phil Woods was on the cruise, performing in the same week as Gerry's group. Phil and Gerry had had their collisions, both of them being very crusty Irishmen. Gerry once hired and fired Phil on the same evening, and at one point he called Phil an Irish drunk, which infuriated Phil at the time. As Phil said to me on the ship, "Talk about the pot calling the kettle green!" (In recent years, neither of them drank anything at all.) They reconciled, of course, and Phil is on the 1992 Re-birth of the Cool album Gerry did. Phil also said on the ship: "I love Gerry."

Johnny Mandel came along as a passenger, just to hang with his friends, and the week developed into that, a hangout of Mandel, Phil, Gerry, and me. But Gerry was very weak. His skin now had a transparent look: the veins in his hands stood out quite blue. And he was in a wheelchair much of the time, using a cane the rest of it.

There is a theater on that ship that I don't particularly like. It gives me what Woody Herman used to call the clausters. But I could not miss Gerry's performance there. He hobbled on-stage and sat on a stool. And the quartet began to play. It was one of the finest groups Gerry ever led. And it was some of the finest and most inventive playing I ever heard from Gerry in the 36 years of our friendship, not to mention the years long before we met, when his Us were high on the list of my favorite records.
The rapport of the group was amazing, particularly Gerry's telepathic communication with the outstanding pianist Ted Rosenthal. I was in awe of what I heard. It had a compositional integrity beyond anything I have ever heard in jazz. From anyone. I do not know what was going on in Gerry's mind, perhaps the atmospheric awareness of his mortality. It is not that his playing was abandoned, although it certainly was free: it was as if he had a total control of it that he had been seeking all his life. There was one piece that he played in which the byplay with Rosenthal left me with my jaw hanging down. I don't even know its name; one of Gerry's pieces. For certainly he was one of the greatest composers in the history of jazz, as well as its primary baritone soloist. Yes, I have known other baritone players who soloed well; but none of them had Gerry's immense compositional knowledge and instinct. So exquisite was the structure of what he, and bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Ron Vincent did, that, afterwards, I told him, "Gerry, I am not sure that this should any longer be called jazz. It seems to be some kind of new end-of-the-century improvised classical music." Franca told me later that he quoted that with pleasure several times.

There were to be two performances by the group that evening. Leaving the theater, I ran into Phil Woods and Johnny Mandel. Both of them felt as I did: they couldn't endure a second performance. Such was the tearing of emotions in two directions: ecstasy at the level of Gerry's music and agony at the frailty of his health. Next day he asked us all to come by his room. And we went up to the top deck. Gerry was never enamored of the sun: with his blond, now white, eyelashes, its glare bothered him. But we went up, and I took a camera. Franca photographed the four of us. There were days in the 1960s when you could have found the four of us together in Jim and Andy's bar in New York, one of the favorite hangouts of jazz musicians in the 1960s. Mandel and Gerry had been friends since they were habitués of that Gil Evans pad on
West 55th Street. As Franca took the pictures, I think we were thinking the same thing, that the four of us would never be together again.

On New Year's Eve, the last evening of 1995, he was cheerful and said he was feeling well and lectured me a little about taking care of my own health. Had I been fully alert, I would have realized that that call - warm and affectionate, more overtly so than was typical of Gerry - was a farewell. I later learned he had called Bill Holman, Johnny Mandel, and other friends about the same time.

On the morning of 20 January 1996, I received a telephone call from Franca. When I heard her voice, with its slight Italian accent, I asked, "How's Gerry?"
And Franca said quite softly, "Gerry's dead." She paused for a breath, then said, "He died a few hours ago." As she told me later, he slipped away between 10.45 p.m. and 11 p.m. on the night of 19 January.

I burst into tears at her words. Yes, yes, I should have known. He had been lying to all of us. Why didn't Gerry admit to his friends us that he had liver cancer? Perhaps he wanted no sympathy. When our close friend Paul Desmond was terminally ill with cancer, Gerry had kept me posted on his condition. It seems that all the highways to New York City's main airports run past cemeteries, and Paul left orders that he be cremated, saying with that sardonic wit of his that he didn't want to be a monument on the way to the airport. Perhaps Gerry didn't want to hear the hushed voice of solicitous inhibition in conversations with his friends. Whatever his reasons, he didn't reveal his true condition, and so I was at the same moment quite unsurprised and totally surprised by her news. Certainly I was shattered, and it was for more reasons than the loss of a friend. As you grow older, you get, if not inured, at least accustomed to such tidings.

But she had lost her husband, and I tried to control my feelings out of concern for her. Then she said, "Gerry always thought of you as his brother. He would say, 'I have to talk to Gene about this. He'll know what I mean."' And that only made matters worse; I cried quite helplessly after that. I wanted to get off the phone, but Franca wanted to talk, and the least I could do was listen.

She told me something Gerry had said to her that will remain with me as long as I live. He said, "A life without ethics is meaningless."

Gerry could be feisty; and he did not suffer fools gladly. But he was at heart a kind, warm man.

The best evaluation of Gerry that I saw in print after he died was a column by Robert Fulford in the Globe and Mail. He noted that Gerry's "boyish eagerness" made him always eager to participate in whatever kind of jazz was being played, and quoted Whitney Balliett's wonderful remark that Gerry would "sit in with a treeful of cicadas."

Fulford wrote of the first Mulligan quartet's "inventive charm and rueful humor." He said:

Over about seven years, the Mulligan quartets demonstrated that there were
more possibilities in jazz than anyone had imagined, not all of them necessarily momentous. His own tunes were amiably sophisticated essays, musical equivalents of James Thurber's stories or Ogden Nash's poems. The sounds Mulligan made colored their era. And when I heard the original records ... four days ago, they sounded as fresh as they did more than four decades ago.

Gerry Mulligan ... was a catalyst, a splendid performer who was also the cause
of splendid performances by others. John Lewis ... once remarked that Mulligan's influence was so vast and general that it became hard to spot. It melted into the music of the time, became part of the climate.

Yes. What began with Gil went out to the whole world. Including Brazil.

On that New Year's Eve 1995, Gerry told me how much he loved my lyric to "I Hear the Shadows Dancing." "It makes me cry," he said. The lyric is about the vanished big-band era that nurtured and shaped him.
On 12 February 1996, a memorial service was held in New York at Saint Peter's Church. It was titled A Celebration of the Life of Gerry Mulligan. Many of his old friends and musical associates, including Clark Terry, John Lewis, Chico Hamilton, Dave Grusin, Jackie and Roy Kral, Art Farmer, Bill Crow, Dave Bailey, Lee Konitz, and more, performed. George Shearing and Dave Brubeck, with whom Gerry had often toured, played piano solos. The speakers included George Wein, Herb Gardner, Elliot Lawrence, and Alan and Marilyn Bergman.
I couldn't be there. Franca arranged that the last song Gerry and I wrote be performed, the lyric he told me on New Year's Eve made him cry. It was sung by Annette Saunders, accompanied by Ted Rosenthal on piano. I realized later that I had written it on 13 February 1991, five years and one day earlier. The lyric goes:
A ferris wheel abandoned,
a silent roller coaster,
a peeling carousel
whose painted horses revolve no more.

Within a grove of willows,
in shadows made by moonlight,
a dance pavilion dreams,
its shutters fastened, the music gone.

It dreams of bygone dancers
Who filled the floor with motion
And fell in love to songs
that almost no one remembers now.

The ferris wheel reverses,
the carousel runs backwards.
The horses start to prance,
the roller coaster begins to roar.

Then softly from a distance
the blended sound of trumpets,
and saxophones and drums.
A wondrous music returns and then
I hear the shadows dancing once again.