Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Gerry Mulligan - The May 26,1960 Downbeat Blindfold Test

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

Gerry Mulligan’s wit and intelligence shines through once again this time on a Blindfold Test which was conducted by Leonard Feather for the May 26, 1960 edition of down beat - the music magazine.

"Gerry Mulligan has done much for jazz in recent years simply by applying a lack of pompousness. "Jazz music is fun to me," he once wrote. "But some of the people who do the most talking about jazz . . . don't seem to get any real fun out of listening to it. It seems to me that all the super-intellectualizing on the technique of jazz and the lack of response to the emotion and meaning of jazz is spoiling the fun for the listeners and players alike."

That Mulligan is still old-fashioned enough to find uncomplicated pleasure in jazz became evident again to his in-person listeners when, back in Manhattan after a movie-making sojourn on the west coast, he organized his first orchestra. He was beginning rehearsals in New York with this 13-piece group when he took this Blindfold Test, a special complement to the article on Mulligan elsewhere in this issue.

As the ratings make clear, his sense of humor and subjective reactions made it difficult for him to hold still for a star system. His comments were tape-recorded, and he was given no information about the records played.

The Records
1.    Cannonball  Adderley. You Got It (from The Adderley Quintet in San   Francisco, Riverside).  Adderley, alto, composer;  Bobby Timmons, piano.

Wow, that holds memories for me — but I'm not really in the mood for that kind of piece; it's so frenetic. What it does to me is put me in mind of how Charlie Parker would play in a club . . . or rather it was the kind of a number Bird would play in a club while you were waiting for the other numbers. You know — they had to play a flag-waver at the end of the set. Bird would play very interestingly on it, but I'd wind up so nervous that I'd have to go out and gulp fresh air for the next 15 minutes.

I truthfully don't know if that is Bird, but if it isn't, it's somebody who's got his thing, not just his thing in terms of mechanics but a certain personality trait of Bird — somebody who gets ahold of something with their teeth and they won't let go until they've wrung every possible thing out of it.

It also sounds a great deal like Bud Powell. I'm quite sure that was Bud, although at the beginning I was convinced that was Bird and then as it went on . . . you see, you threw me a curve, Leonard. I thought you were playing me new records. Then I thought, "What's to stop him from playing me an old record?" You still have the star system — five for the top? Well, let's see, I'll give 967 stars to Bird, 530 stars to Bud Powell, and truthfully I wouldn't buy the record.

2.   Thelonious  Monk. Remember (from Thelonious Alone in San Francisco,  Riverside).

Well, that record made me laugh all over the place—five chuckles, no stars! Well, I don't know if that was Monk ... It sounded like something he was working on, and I think he picked a very unfortunate choice of songs to do it on, because when he got into the composition, it kept reminding me of Mac-Dowell pieces. The things he did with the accents in the first chorus were the important parts for him ... He wanted to do something with the first part of that tune . . . the changing durations and the shifting accents and making lines out of them.

If you know it is Monk, there is a tremendously humorous approach to it. The humor is in the first chorus of what he does; then he goes on and tries to make a whole piece out of it ...

I think that's one of Irving's duller songs, is all. Monk did an orchestration on the first part—it's really funny . . . And I could see where / would laugh and get a great deal of enjoyment out of it, but I wouldn't recommend it to anybody to buy, but then I don't recommend that anybody buys jazz records anyway. As for a rating—it's Monk! Five chuckles.

3. Gene Krupa. Sometimes I'm Happy (from Krupa Plays Mulligan, Verve). Soloists not credited. Mulligan, arranger.

Worst arrangement I ever heard—no stars! 

Well, it's hard for me to see that out of perspective, to see where it is and what I wrote it for. You know, at the time I wrote it, I did the best things I could with it. It's a question of values — if I had been there at the rehearsals getting the thing together for this date, I might have been able to get it to a point where I wouldn't be too embarrassed by it.

I guess I'm not too embarrassed by those arrangements anyway. 

The alto is either Phil Woods or Gene Quill, and I'm sorry to say I don't know which. They didn't put it on the liner notes, and I wish they would have. The point is that the alto soloist has very much the same approach that Charlie Kennedy had, whom I had in mind when I originally wrote this arrangement. I think Ernie Royal played the trumpet solo — again I'm not sure.

They made too much out of parts of that . . . There again the technical thing, the actual presence of the band made too much out of it. It's an arrangement for a dance band — kind of a jazz-based arrangement, but it somehow sounds different ... It always sounds so much sharper when you hear it with that kind of high fidelity presence on it. And there's a tendency to make a great deal out of something that isn't a great deal.

The way I conceived of the thing was that the trumpet would have a much more lyrical approach, not playing it for high-note grandstanding at that point. I've tried to think of another word than grandstanding, because I like Ernie. What's more, I'd like Ernie to go on liking me!

A couple of times, albums have been made of old arrangements of mine that I had nothing to do with putting together for recording today. A lot of things they did pleased me greatly, but a couple of arrangements in this album are bordering on the inept . . . and understandably so. In those days we used to try to write originals for the bands and try to come up with some kind of idea, a great deal of which never came off.

What was this? Sometimes I'm Happy. I thought I had a happy-type treatment of the tune and tried to make a whole arrangement out of it. Really,

I don't like it; I'd like to give five stars to Gene and the soloists for making the album, and no stars to me. The age of the arrangement is no excuse; after all, I wrote Disc Jockey Jump around the same time, and I have no fault to find with that.

4. Mercer Ellington. Azure (from Colors in Rhythm, Coral). Duke Ellington, composer; Luther Henderson, arranger; Harry Carney, baritone; Jimmy Jones, Les Spann, Gus Johnson, Wendell Marshall, rhythm.

Well, I'm downright confused by that one on account of the writing sounds so much like Duke's band, and yet the rhythm feel of the thing, notwithstanding the addition of other components of the Latin rhythm section, doesn't feel at all like Duke, doesn't even feel like the way they approach Latin rhythms.

It sounded like somebody trying to sound like Carney and doing a pretty good job of it ... It doesn't sound like Harry to me. I'm really up the creek as to what the whole thing means— that's in terms of rating.

In another sense it's not too difficult, because I like the song, but I think I like it better the way I'm used to it than to hear it done in the Latin rhythm, and that's whether it's Duke or somebody imitating Duke.

This sounds like an excellent dance band playing a Duke-style arrangement, and getting real good players to try to make that atmosphere. Maybe that's what you're doing to me here — I think you're trying to trick me! I can usually anticipate Carney's approach to anything, and that's not the way Carney approaches things — but if it isn't Carney, it's the best imitation I ever heard. Maybe the Latin rhythm made him approach it differently.

I don't know how to rate it, because I was listening in terms that would enable me to equate it with anything I know.

5.   Gil Evans. Ballad of the Sad Young Men (from  Great Jazz Standards, World  Pacific).

At the very beginning I said to myself, I don't know who wrote that arrangement, but he's got to write for my band! Then I soon realized that it had to be Gil Evans — and he damn well better write for my band! That was just beautiful — 965,000 stars for sheer beauty.

Afterthoughts by Gerry
Right after hearing that record, the only afterthoughts I can think of are: Gil Evans — Gil Evans — Gil Evans.”

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