© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
What follows are the Prologue, Table of Contents and Introduction that I prepared for a proposed compilation of writings about Gerry Mulligan [1927-1996].
For a variety of reasons, trade and academic publishers rejected my idea for a Mulligan Reader. In fairness, a few houses did suggest that I consider researching and writing a formal biography of Gerry, including an full analysis of his music. However, such an undertaking would be an immense project, to say the least, for one individual to undertake.
Instead, I plan to post the articles that I would have included in a bound copy to the blog following the Table of Contents as a chronological and topical guide.
“A man is all the people he has been.”
- William Manchester, Prologue,
Goodbye Darkness, A Memoir of the Pacific War
“I think it's time for a reminder about the Gerry Mulligan era in jazz. Gerry left a very large musical footprint from the fifties through the nineties, but he isn't mentioned a lot lately. At the height of his success, Gerry was the dominant baritone saxophonist in the world, and his inventions in big band arranging and in small group structure left a lasting mark on the collective jazz ear.
While he was mastering his instrument, Gerry developed a reputation for being the world's foremost sitter-in. He would walk onto any bandstand with his horn and would prove his right to be there by playing superbly. At the first few Newport Jazz Festivals he managed to sit in with every one of his idols, from Duke to Dizzy. For one festival, Ellington wrote a special composition featuring Gerry and Harry Carney in duet.”
- Bassist Bill Crow, published in Gene Lees' "Jazzletter" Vol 25 #6, June 2008
“Few would try and dispute Gerry Mulligan's stature as a giant in our music. But Mulligan is hard to spot, as you try and see the big picture of jazz. Where is he? In his quartet? His Birth Of the Cool tunes? His meetings with like- (and unlike-) minded masters, from Monk to Desmond to Hodges? His big, gracious Concert Jazz Band? Which Mulligan is the one who matters?”
- Richard Cook "The Elusive Giant,"Jazz Review, October, 2001
“Gerry Mulligan lived through almost the entire history of jazz. It is against that background that he should be understood.”
- Gene Lees, Jazzletter
“Gerry Mulligan's first recording dates from 1945 with the Elliot Lawrence band. His forty-five years' worth of albums are a remarkable archive, even more so when measured against the entire history of recorded jazz, which dates only from the February 1917 sessions of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band for Victor, with jazz itself existing as an identifiable musical form only for a few short years before that. Of the seventy-some years in the history of jazz records, Mulligan's four-and-a-half decades are the greatest part, missing only one epochal style, Dixieland, while including the swing era, in which he debuted, and all the various developments since.”
- Jerome Klinkowitz, Listen Gerry Mulligan: An Aural Narrative in Jazz
“When Gerry plays, you hear the entire history of Jazz.”
Dave Brubeck to Leonard Feather [Klinkowitz, p. 207].
“Although the baritone sax has never been a heavily contested category in jazz polls, the stability of his stature as an instrumentalist was nevertheless remarkable and surely unprecedented. When Mulligan, nicknamed Jeru by Davis, first popped up in the 1949 Down Beat Readers Poll on baritone, he was in fifth place under Serge Chaloff, Harry Carney (the reigning bari’s at mid-century), Ernie Caceres and Leo Parker. Mulligan got 53 votes. Over the next three years he closed the gap, finally displacing Chaloff and Carney in 1953. From then until 1995— 42 years!—he would ring up the most extraordinary string of unbroken victories in the history of the Poll.(The Critics Poll honored him almost as well.)”
- John McDonough, “Goodbye, Jeru,” obituary April 1996 issue of Down Beat:
“Jazz musicians are their music. Absent that, they're just people making a living, eating meals, paying bills — no different from cops or politicos. But that's just the point: the music can't be subtracted: it's the defining essence, which sets musicians apart, makes them special and ultimately a little mysterious. Makes their various complexes and misbehaviors interesting to writers, chroniclers, fans.
- Richard Sudhalter
“A man is all the people he has been.
- William Manchester,
Prologue Goodbye Darkness, A Memoir of the Pacific War
Table of Contents
IN THE BEGINNING: BOP; BIG BANDS; BIRTH OF THE COOL
Peter Clayton, Insert Notes to Gene Krupa Plays Gerry Mulligan Arrangements [Verve MGVS 6008] and [World Record Club LP release [TP 351]
George T. Simon, Insert Notes to Elliot Lawrence Plays Gerry Mulligan Arrangements
Ira Gitler, Jeru and Bird, Swing to Bop
Peter Welding/Gerry Mulligan Insert Notes to CD Reissue Birth of the Cool
THE 1950s: THE QUARTETS, TENTETTE, AND SEXTETS; THE “MEETS” LPs; THE MOVIES
OVERVIEW: Joe Goldberg, Gerry Mulligan, Jazz Masters of the 1950s
Gordon Jack, Interviews with Gerry Mulligan and the following members of the 1952-53 Gerry Mulligan Quartet featuring Chet Baker: bassists Bob Whitlock and Carson Smith; drummers Chico Hamilton and Larry Bunker in Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective [Scarecrow Press]
Will MacFarland, Mulligan - The Sound Alone, Theme Magazine, January, 1954
Herb Kimmel, Mulligan - The Man Behind the Sound [An Unpublished Rejoinder to Will MacFarland sent to Jimmy Valentine, publisher/editor of Theme Magazine]
Arlene Mulligan, Make Mine Mulligan, Theme Magazine, March, 1954
Peter Welding - The Complete Pacific Jazz and Capitol Recordings of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet and Tentette with Chet Baker [Excerpts from the Insert Booklet notes to Mosaic Records, MR 5-102]
Gordon Jack, Gerry Mulligan, Jazz Journal 2002 also used as the insert notes to “After You, Jeru Bud Shank Celebrates the Music of Gerry Mulligan” [Fresh Sound Records FSRCD 5026]
Matthew Ruddick, The Life and Times of Chet Baker; Chapter 4, The Gerry Mulligan Quartet [Melrose Books]
Alun Morgan, The Fabulous Gerry Mulligan Sextet - [Insert Booklet notes Fresh Sound Records FSRCD 418-419]
Gordon Jack, The Gerry Mulligan Sextet, Jazz Journal 3/2016
Michael Cuscuna, Insert Notes to Reunion: Gerry Mulligan with Chet Baker [Pacific Jazz Series 1957 CDP 7 46857 2]
Gordon Jack, Gerry Mulligan Quartet - Newport Rarities from 1957 [intended as sleeve notes for a never released CD; submitted to Jazz Journal, as yet unpublished]
Raymond Horricks, Gerry Mulligan, Jazz Masters Series [Apollo]
Gordon Jack, Stan and Gerry: Occasional Collaborators, Jazz Journal 10/2017
“MULLIGAN MAKES A MOVIE - The Saxist Discusses A Feature Film and Short Subjects,” Down Beat, November 27, 1958
THE 1960s: THE BLINDFOLD TESTS; THE CONCERT JAZZ BAND; BRU & JERU - COMPADRES WITH BRUBECK
OVERVIEW: Nat Hentoff, Gerry Mulligan, The White Mainstreamer, Jazz Is [Limelight Editions] and The New Yorker [3/21 and 3/28, 1959]
Leonard Feather, Before and After, Gerry Mulligan, Down Beat May 26, 1960 and June 9, 1960
Leonard Feather, “Mulligan Stew,” - Gerry Mulligan Blindfold Test, Down Beat, November 14, 1957
Leonard Feather, Harry Carney and Gerry Mulligan - Two of a Kind, Blindfold Test, Down Beat, November 18, 1965
Bill Crow, Gerry Mulligan, From Birdland to Broadway: Scene from a Jazz Life [Oxford]
Gordon Jack, Gerry Mulligan and the Concert Jazz Band [submitted to Jazz Journal, as yet, unpublished ]
Bill Kirchner, Booklet Notes to Mosaic Records “The Complete Verve Gerry Mulligan Concert Band Sessions [MD4-221]
Jerome Klinkowitz, Compadres with Gerry Mulligan, Listen Gerry Mulligan: An Aural Narrative [Schirmer Books]
THE 1970s: THE AGE OF STEAM; THE 1974 REUNION WITH CHET BAKER; THE RECONSTITUTED CONCERT JAZZ BAND
Michael Cuscuna, Booklet Notes to The Age of Steam, A&M CD, Artist House Music DVD
Richard Cook, “Gerry Mulligan - The Elusive Giant,” Jazz Review, October, 2001
Richard Brown, “Gerry Mulligan, Cool Charts Bearish Tone, Down Beat, June 7, 1979
THE 1980s: LITTLE BIG HORN; SYMPHONIC MULLIGAN; MORE CJB; QUARTETS WITH PIANO
Les Tomkins, “Gerry Mulligan: My Approach to the Orchestra,” Crescendo International, June/July, 1985
Richard Cook, “Gerry Mulligan, Big Band, Baritone and Beard, The Wire, No. 25, 1986
Michael Bourne, Gerry Mulligan, Singing a Song of Mulligan, Down Beat, January 1989
THE 1990s: REBIRTH OF THE COOL; DOWN BEAT HALL OF FAME; OBITUARY
Brian Morton, “Born Again on the Little Big Horn,” Jazz on CD, 1992
Mitchell Seidel, “Mulligan Enters the Hall of Fame,” Down Beat, January, 1994
John McDonough, “Goodbye Jeru,” Down Beat, April 1996
INFLUENTIAL WOMEN IN GERRY MULLIGAN’S LIFE AND CAREER
Randy Smith, Gale Madden and Gerry Mulligan [never published]
Gordon Jack, Arlyne Brown Mulligan and Gerry Mulligan [May 16, June 20, July 25, 2019, Jazz Journal]
Gene Lees, Judy Holiday and Gerry Mulligan [from Meet Me at Jim and Andy’s [Oxford]
RECAPITULATION Gene Lees, “Gerry Mulligan: I Hear The Shadows Dancing,” Arranging the Score: Portraits of Great Arrangers [London and New York: Cassell, 2000]
“In his short story, Entropy, the novelist Thomas Pynchon takes Mulligan’s early-1950’s piano-less quartets with Chet Baker as a crux of postmodernism, improvisation without the safety net of predictable chords.
The revisionist argument was that Mulligan attempted the experiment simply because he had to work in a club with no piano.
The true version is that there was a piano, albeit an inadequate one, but he was already experimenting with a much more arranged sound for small groups (to which the baritone saxophone was particularly adaptable) and the absence of a decent keyboard was merely an additional spur …
Mulligan’s piano-less quartet is one of the epochal jazz groups, even if it had no such aspirations, formed for nothing more than a regular gig at The Haig….
In retrospect, it’s the simplest pleasures which have made the music endure: the uncomplicated swing of the various rhythm sections, the piquant contrast of amiably gruff baritone saxophone and shyly melodious trumpet ….
Cool but hot, slick but never too clever, these are some of the most pleasurable records of their time.”
Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD [6th Ed.: p. 1082; paragraphing modified].
The purpose of this book is to provide the reader with a sequential and thematic account of the life and music of Gerry Mulligan [April 5, 1927 - January 20, 1996].
But instead of using a chronological biography, it does this through the use of a select group of essays, articles and notes written by many of the most distinguished authors and critics in the history of Jazz, all of whom were Gerry’s contemporaries; some of whom were also his close friends.
In place of a researched, academic document, it is offered as a companion or guide which supplants one point of view with a collection of perspectives on the important developments in the musical career of Gerry Mulligan.
In its obituary on Harold Bloom, the great Yale professor of English Literature who died on October 14, 2019 at the age of 89 The Economist Magazine wrote:
“[In Professor Bloom’s view] a truly great book was not only an aesthetic pleasure; it also expanded cognitive power. It allowed for the experience of otherness, and the lives of others, that was impossible otherwise. From this the self could take what it found most useful and grow.” [10.19.2019]
Perhaps this concept of “otherness” could serve as a metaphor for why it is important to have other, gifted writers tell the story of Gerry Mulligan as a gifted artist.
Given the magnitude of the footprint that he left on the music, it is almost as impossible to assess Gerry Mulligan’s role in the development of modern Jazz in the second half of the Twentieth Century as it is to underestimate it.
“Some musicians, once they move past their salad days and establish careers as identifiable stylists, rarely leave the confines of their own groups or, if they do, seldom mingle in performances with players outside their own styles or eras. There are many sensible, even laudatory, reasons for such isolation. Some are purely artistic. Some are commercial. Others have to do with preservation of image, which is usually another manifestation of salability. Still others concern sheer preservation of physical and psychic energy.
But there have always been in jazz a few artists at the pinnacle of their profession, admired by their peers, flexible in outlook, quickly adaptable to a variety of circumstances, who love to play in virtually any musical setting of quality … [and] among major jazz artists, it may be that no one has sat in more often with bands playing a greater range of styles than has Gerry Mulligan.
Mulligan, master baritone saxophonist, small group innovator, one of the premier arrangers, is at home in every jazz idiom with the possible exception of the most outré elements of avant-garde.” [Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers, Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1989, p. 229].
Gary Giddins writing in Visions of Jazz: The First Century [New York: Oxford University Press, 1998] summarized Mulligan’s significance this way:
“Mulligan was one of the quintessential jazz musicians of his generation. As much as the silhouette of Dizzy and his upturned trumpet, the image of bone-thin Mulligan, tall enough to dominate the baritone, his hair country-boy red (before it turned great-prophet white) had an iconic familiarity … No musician in the postbop era was more adept at crossing boundaries. Though a confirmed modernist credited with spreading the amorphous notion of cool jazz, he achieved some of his finest work in collaborations with his swing era idols Ben Webster and Johnny Hodges; he displayed a photograph of Jack Teagarden in his studio.
Mulligan fashioned a music in which all aspects of jazz commingle, from Dixieland two-beats and polyphony to foxtrot swing to modern harmonies, yet he remained something of an outsider, set apart by his devotion to certain not always fashionable musical principles, including lyricism and civility. By lyricism I mean an allegiance to melody that, in his case, was as natural as walking … .
By civility, I mean his compositional focus on texture. Mulligan was chiefly celebrated as a baritone saxophonist, for good reason. He is the only musician in history to win a popular following on that instrument, the only one to successfully extend the timbre of Harry Carney and develop an improvisational style in the horn’s upper range … . The baritone best expressed his warmth, humor, an unerring ear for sensuous fabrics of sounds. Yet he insisted he was less interested in playing solos and more focused on ensemble music - even in the context of his quartet. He was, as he proved from the beginning of his career, a master of blending instruments.” [pp. 356-57].
For a number of years, I’ve maintained a blog about Jazz that features not only my musings on the subject, but articles, essays and notes written by many notable authors, critics and reporters.
Occasionally, I have organized these blog postings around a particular theme or topic. One such focal point has been Jazz musicians who have not received definitive biographies, especially those artists who have consistently put forth an interesting and innovative body of work over a long period of time (“long” being a relative term in the Jazz World).
Included in this category are composer-arrangers Tadd Dameron, masterful drummer Joe Morello, composer-arranger and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, alto saxophonist and bandleader Phil Woods, and composer-arranger, bandleader and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, among many others.
Mulligan, in particular has been a worthy subject of these in-depth blog features because as the distinguished Jazz author, Gene Lees has observed:
“Gerry Mulligan lived through almost the entire history of jazz. It is against that background that he should be understood.”
So over a period of about 10 years, I’ve set about identifying, collecting, editing and seeking copyright permissions to post almost three dozen features about Jeru [Mulligan’s nickname] to my blog as my small way of memorializing this important Jazz musician.
A number of these posted pieces are by Gordon Jack, who interviewed Gerry and member of his famous 1952-53 quartet with trumpeter Chet Baker for his Fifties Jazz Talk An Oral Retrospective [Scarecrow Press] and who helped compile and important discography of Mulligan’s recorded music for Raymond Horricks’ Gerry Mulligan’s Ark [The Owlet Press].
The combination of my decades worth of blog postings about Jeru and his music combined with Gordon’s research and writings about Gerry led me to a serious look at attempting to write a definitive biography of Mulligan.
And that’s when I discovered that, in a sense, this definitive biography has already been written, except for the fact that it isn’t all in one place.
By way of explanation, Jeru was a major artist and over the span of most of his career he was treated as such by the Jazz press both at home and abroad.
Indeed, the major developments in the first half of his career - from about 1945-1970 - occurred when Jazz was still regularly covered by a national and an international press.
In that 25 year period of time, Gerry Mulligan became a world famous Jazz star and, as a result, he was written about in and interviewed for major domestic Jazz publications such as Down Beat, Metronome and The Jazz Review and articles about him appeared in countless numbers of British, Scandanavian, French and Italian magazines devoted to the music.
And, what’s more, many of the writers, critics and essayists who created these publications about Mulligan were accomplished literary artists in their own right.
Jeru’s life story and music were in good hands with the likes of Martin Williams, Whitney Balliet, Gene Lees, Leonard Feather, Nat Hentoff, Bill Crow, Joe Goldberg, et al. as his career was essentially documented by a veritable who’s who of distinguished Jazz commentators and observers.
And this list doesn’t include the many other authors who contributed insightful liner and sleeve notes over the years to Jeru’s many recordings.
When a review of the literature about Mulligan is considered, the pieces for a definitive biography are all there, they just need to be collected into an anthology that will serve as a companion of original writings about the man and his music.
It wasn’t always easy to deal with Gerry and his music, especially through interviews, as he could be sarcastically opinionated while displaying an irascible temperament. Needless to say, he didn’t suffer fools gladly.
While working on this project, I was reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant when I came across the following description of Union Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman which by analogy seemed to fit Gerry Mulligan’s personality perfectly [p. 191]:
“About six feet tall weighing less than 150 pounds, the lanky Sherman had close-cropped hair ….
He was a restless, jittery character, who carried more nervous energy than his lean body could contain, his sharp eyes flashing with emotion.
With surplus verve he paced, smoked, stroked his beard and fiddled with his coat buttons.
He had an overly active mind that always simmered with strong opinions, sarcastic asides poured forth in rapid utterance ….
Passionate in his hatreds, he directed withering scorn at the world’s follies ….
Whether people liked or detested him, they found Sherman a fascinating figure, a human dynamo who never rested.
… tough and manly on the outside, but hypersensitive to criticism …”
Richard Brown provides additional references in the following quotations drawn from his Gerry Mulligan Cool Charts, Bearish Tone, June 7, 1979 Down Beat.
"He's very stand-offish and always has his defenses up," a long-time friend of Mulligan's would say days later, with affection. "As he gets to know you he lets them down, but even then it's only to a certain point. He's like a faucet: he runs hot and cold all the time." [The “friend” is unidentified.] …
"At times, Gerry would have fits of anger and perhaps some frustration," Alan Dawson tells me later. Dawson was Dave Brubeck's drummer from '68 to '74, years when Mulligan frequently performed with Brubeck. "Naturally I found him a very emotional person, but also a very caring person."
"You seem very edgy," I [Brown] say to Mulligan.
‘Something about the implications of the questions you're asking,’ he says. "I also have other things on my mind. To have to stop to think and talk about what I'm doing and what I have done ..., but I've got a lot of work to do. So that's really more to do with my being edgy than anything else. And ... I don't really enjoy talking about what I'm doing all that much. Never have.’ …
“Gerry got into trouble with many of his employers because of the wicked tongue lashings he would give a band if its performance level was less than he expected.
Krupa's band had little time to rehearse because it toured so much and Gerry felt their playing had become lax—and it had. After one set, within earshot of the audience, Mulligan lit into the band and Krupa in no uncertain terms.”
‘I told them all to go to hell,’ he says. He was fired the next day.
Composer/theorist George Russell knew Gerry then. "He was clever, witty and saucy, the way he is now," says Russell. "Gerry had a chip on his shoulder. He had more or less the same difficulties that made us all bitter and hostile. He was immensely talented, and he didn't have enough of an opportunity to exercise his talent."
Certain topics could really set Gerry off, especially when he was queried about his association with the West Coast style of Jazz prevalent in California from circa 1945-65 the early years of which included the birth and blossoming of his quartet with Chet Baker [1952-53] and about which he could be particularly dismissive almost to the point of denigrating his own contributions.
“Gerry Mulligan’s stint in California in the early 1950s proved decisive for the emerging West Coast sound. Modern jazz in Los Angeles in the late 1940s was as hot as the asphalt under which the city was then being covered. It took as its primary model the bebop styles of the East Coast.
Mulligan’s L.A. quartet [with trumpeter Chet Baker] changed all of that, questioning the conventional wisdom about jazz music’s rhythmic essence, its melodic impulses, its approach to composition, even its assumptions about instrumentation.
Mulligan’s finely etched baritone sax lines entered into a ruminative counterpoint dialogue with Baker’s trumpet phrases … Never before had the softer extremes of the dynamic spectrum been so finely explored by a jazz band …. [Accompanied by only bass and drums] no piano or guitar cluttered the pristine harmonic textures of the band, and this imparted even greater clarity to the interlocking horn lines. [Ted Gioia, “Cool Jazz and West Coast Jazz,” in Bill Kirchner, ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz, paragraphing modified: p. 336].
And yet, Mulligan seems to have disavowed the importance of his time on the West Coast claiming later in his career:
My bands would have been successful anywhere. I didn’t live in California. I went to California, scuffled around for a while, wrote some charts for Stan Kenton to survive, and started my group – I had very little contact with anything going on out there – and then left.” [Bob Rusch, Gerry Mulligan Interview, Cadence, October 1977, p. 7, as quoted in Gioia, West Coast Jazz, p. 175].
As this excerpt from Ira Gitler’s Swing to Bop demonstrates, Gerry’s criticism of his time on the West Coast involving Stan Kenton was particularly sharp:
… part of the thing that really depressed me and I always hated being called West Coast jazz because to me the influences out of the West Coast in jazz were personified by Stan Kenton's band. And Stan's band to me was some kind of way symbolic of the end of the bands as I loved them. It had gotten too big and too pompous. You know, it took itself so seriously. Like just something terribly Wagnerian about it all.
Well, I once said, thinking I was being humorous, that Stan is the "Wagner of jazz" and then realized afterwards-because he had done a thing with the transcriptions of the Wagner pieces, and tried to conduct them-that he really saw himself that way and didn't see any humor in it at all. But I hated what that band stood for because it was like the final evolution of wrongly taken points. The way the band kept growing.
And the absolute maximum for any kind of use was the five saxes and the three or four bones and the four trumpets. The main reason . . . there's one you can do with four trumpets you can't do any other way, and that's four-part harmony, which only four trumpets together sound . . . OK. The only function for the fifth trumpet is an alternate player. But Stan's band kept getting bigger and bigger - to five trombones. Now five trombones is the most asinine.” [Swing to Bop: An Oral History of the Transition in Jazz in the 1940’s, New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, p. 247].
But as Bob Gordon points out in his effort at an even-handed assessment of Gerry’s tenure on the West Coast, while it may have been brief, it also brought him his initial fame and helped to give a wider public recognition to many southern California musicians and their music:
“When Gerry Mulligan returned to New York at the close of 1954, …, the catchphrase West Coast Jazz was being bandied about in the Jazz press and, much to his irritation, Gerry’s name was often linked to the music. Gerry was quite right in rejecting this linkage; his quartet was sui generis and belonged to no school save that of Mulligan himself. At the same time, though, the national popularity of the quartet did much to draw attention to Jazz in southern California and helped smooth the way for other musicians who were trying to be heard … Pacific Jazz [Records] owed its very existence to the Mulligan quartet, and that label and other independent companies that sprang up in its wake were largely responsible for launching the careers of many southland musicians who had been anonymous before Gerry arrived. Gerry Mulligan’s help may have been inadvertent, but it was indispensable nevertheless." [Jazz West Coast, London: Quartet Books, 1986, p. 85].
Mulligan came of age in the Jazz World just as the big band Swing Era was ending and the Modern Jazz Era was beginning.
The major signposts in Gerry’s career are fairly well known:
1. From Whence He Came - Family Background and Early Musical Training.
2. The Big Band Years [Tommy Tucker, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, ClaudeThornhill, Georgie Auld and Elliott Lawrence] and the Kai Winding Group with Brew Moore
3. The 1949 Birth of the Cool session with Miles Davis
4. The early 1960s West Coast Days [Stan Kenton Orchestra, the Original Quartet with Chet Baker, the recordings with alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and the Tentette]
5. The Quartets and Sextet - [1954 quartets with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer - trumpeters Tony Fruscella and Jon Eardley; the sextet recording at San Diego with tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, Eardley and Brookmeyer; 1955/56 the sextet in Europe; 1956/57 Quartet with Brookmeyer; the Lee Konitz Carnegie Hall December 1957 Carnegie Hall concert date; 1958/59 Quartet with trumpeter Art Farmer; the 1957-1958 quartet recordings with Chet Baker]
6. Peripatetic Gerry - "Plays With" tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, tenor saxophonist Ben Webster and vocalist Jimmy Witherspoon LPs
7. Jeru in the Movies [Jazz on a Summer's Day, The Rat Race, I Want To Live, Bells Are Ringing and the Subterraneans]
8. 1960-64 Concert Jazz Band; the 1963 Sextet with Brookmeyer, Farmer and guitarist Jim Hall; 1968-1972 association with pianist composer Dave Brubeck’s trio
9. The 1970’s Carnegie Hall Reunion with Chet Baker, 1971 Age of Steam LP for A&M Records and the Reconstituted Concert Jazz Band
10. New Music, Some Symphonic, and New Settings in the 1980s
11. The Final Years
Because his peripatetic baritone saxophone found its way into so many Jazz settings during the first quarter century of his career, the esteemed Jazz critic and author Nat Hentoff fondly referred to Gerry as he “Huck Finn” or “Johnny Appleseed” of Jazz.
James H. Billington in his opening remarks at the inauguration of the Gerry Mulligan Library of Congress Exhibition, April 6, 1999 put it this way:
"Gerry Mulligan, whose career spanned five decades, worked gracefully in many styles and with many artists, defying the categories that so often narrow our vision of a creative spirit.
"Gerry Mulligan would not, could not, be categorized, and he flourished through changing times, in many cultures, and with many musical voices ranging from the baritone saxophone that was his principal instrument, to the full orchestra."
At times, I think of his music as something of a throwback. It reminds me of an earlier time in Jazz when the principal point of the whole thing was making music that was fun to play and fun to listen to.
While there are highlights in abundance from Gerry Mulligan’s later musical career, the small combo recordings that he made with various groups during the decade of the 1950s holds a special place in modern Jazz lore. The reasons for this have as much to do with serendipity as they are to do with Mulligan’s talent, highly developed musical skills, and dogged determination to succeed in Jazz on his own terms.
To put a slightly different spin on the well-known adage – “I’d rather be lucky than good” – in Mulligan’s case, this became – I’d rather be lucky and good - which he was, hence luck and competence became the main reasons for his enduring success.
During the early years of his career, Gerry Mulligan developed into a very proficient composer-arranger. While he would continue to refine these music writing skills, during the decade of the 1950's, he also became one of the premier baritone saxophonists in Jazz.
As Larry Bunker, who replaced Chico Hamilton on drums, with the original Gerry Mulligan Quartet from January – June, 1953 recalls:
“Gerry was enormously knowledgeable and skilled in harmonic structure and chord changes - all of that. He could solo in a very linear fashion as well, but he may have wanted to play in a more vertical way because we didn't have a piano. He played the piano sometimes himself, and although he wasn't a great pianist, he knew what he wanted to do on the instrument. On baritone he was amazing, but sometimes it was a little hard to play with him, especially on a double-time thing where he would blow so many notes that he would get behind the time. I would be scuffling along, trying to drag him with me, but that was because of that big, awkward horn he was playing. Unlike an alto or tenor, it takes a long time for the air to get through. I have great respect for him both as a writer and a player.
I remember he did something really wild when we recorded those tentet things. We rehearsed one of the pieces, and after we made a take on it, we listened to the playback. Gerry flopped down on the floor in the middle of the studio, concentrating in a really dramatic, Christ-like pose, with his arms outstretched and his eyes closed. When the recording was finished, he got up off the floor and said, "O.K., guys -pencils." He then proceeded to dictate a new road map for the chart, which completely rearranged it, and when he counted us in, it was like a brand new piece of music. His writing had a magical quality, and he probably influenced both Bill Holman and Bob Brookmeyer, because he was a fantastic arranger.” [As recounted to Gordon Jack, Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004, p. 149].
As to the serendipity-in-combination-with-skill part of the-Mulligan-equation-for-success-in-Jazz, Ted Gioia offers these observations:
"Certainly Mulligan had hardly been in California long enough to get a suntan when he teamed with Baker to form one of the most creative combos ever to grace a Los Angeles bandstand. This was an unlikely turn of events for the pair. Only a short while before, Baker had been laboring in obscurity with a local Dixieland band at Sea] Beach-the leader had hired him because Baker's playing reminded him of Bix Beiderbecke.
Mulligan’s profile was so low that he had traveled to California by hitchhiking, rather than purchase costly train or plane tickets. But now this duo was poised to legitimize and publicize West Coast jazz to a greater extent than anyone had done before. The Mulligan Quartet's distinctive approach-open, clean, smooth, lyrical with a dose of the cerebral-would come, for many, to define the West Coast sound. …
…, the public image of the Mulligan-Baker quartet was that of a well-oiled machine. There was no wasted energy or empty emoting in their music. Each note struck the mark. Seldom had a jazz combo played more effectively together. And not since the days of Jelly Roll Morton had a band shown such a knack for creating a collective sound, a perfectly balanced give-and-take between all members.
The simplest ingredients underscored this success: active listening; an acute sensitivity to instrumental textures; a studied avoidance of the easy licks and empty clichés of bop and swing; in their place, fresh, uncluttered lines, cleanly played. Above all, the band overcame the jazz musician's greatest fear: the fear of silence.
Emerging on the scene during the sturm und drang of the bop era-a time when musicians seemed to be paid piece rate by the note-these players clearly served a different muse, judiciously balancing sound and quiet, happily understanding the poet's dictum about the sweetness of unheard melodies."[insert notes, from West Coast Classics - Gerry Mulligan: The Original Quartet with Chet Baker, Pacific Jazz, CDP 94407, paragraphing modified].
Michael Cuscuna comments as taken from the insert notes to The Best of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker [Pacific Jazz CDP 95481] may help to put all that happen on that magic carpet ride that was the 1952-53 Gerry Mulligan Quartet featuring Chet Baker in a more temporal context:
“It seems hard to imagine that such an influential group, still revered in nostalgic and historic circles, lasted a mere 11 months. Through their appearances at The Haig and their singles for Pacific Jazz (the first of which was recorded in August of '52), the group developed an ever-spreading and deserved following.
The interplay between Mulligan and Baker was empathetic and uncanny. Freed of the piano's conventional role and its domination in the scheme of arranging, the group developed ingenious charts which emphasized melodic elements over the harmonic and encouraged interplay among the horns and freer thought in solo flights.
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. Through records, their popularity spread with immediacy into England and Europe.
Thanks to Dick Bock, a healthy slice of that innovative and Popular quartet's life was documented.” [paragraphing modified]
Fortunately, Gerry’s “Huck Finn” recordings were well-documented as during the first 25 years of his career both he and Jazz in general were well-served by coverage from a national and international Jazz press. As an additional benefit, because Jazz was still culturally and artistically important from 1945-1970, the quality of its reportage remains unsurpassed in the history of the music. Those that wrote about it were in many ways as talented as those who played it.
Ironically, as the Los Angeles Jazz scene was growing stylistically during the 1950s, Gerry Mulligan, one of the main catalysts for this expansion, was returning to the East Coast.
Once there we would re-establish the quartet with other front line instruments, create a piano-less sextet, tour Europe and perform at Carnegie Hall, appear in movies and as a guest artist on a number of “plays with” Verve LPs, all of which were to become important milestones in his evolution as a Jazz artist.
An important impetus for Mulligan’s future career occurred in 1957 and passed almost unnoticed at the time because the recorded music that paved the way for this major phase in Jeru’s career wasn’t released until many years later in the form of the Columbia Legacy CD Mullenium [CK 65678].
Among the eleven tracks on this disc are 26 minutes of big band music, an amount deemed insufficient for a full LP when it was recorded on April 19 and 20, 1957. But from this inauspicious beginning would come one of Mulligan’s signature achievements - The Concert Jazz Band.
As Bill Kirchner explains in this excerpt from his insert notes to the 1998 release of Mullenium:
“Over forty years later, neither Bob Brookmeyer nor producer George Avakian could remember why Mulligan never recorded enough arrangements with this band for a full album. [Gerry had died in 1996]. Three years after these sessions  he formed the Concert Jazz Band, one of the finest and most unique Jazz ensembles of the 1960’s. In an interview he gave to Burt Korall at that time Mulligan spoke revealingly: ‘The band is the product of seven years of thinking and trying. Typical instrumentation - seven brass, five reeds, four rhythm - didn’t work out; the sound was too heavy and full. The flexibility I had been so happy with in the small band was missing. We finally came up with the current set up - six brass [three trumpets, two trombones, one bass trombone - tuba], five reeds, drums and bass - which allows for a variety of tone color, and the flexibility and clarity of a small band.
Regardless of the sizes or types of bands he chose to write for, Gerry Mulligan belongs in the pantheon of Jazz composer-arrangers. He left his imprint on every bar of score paper he touched, and his influence as both a writer and a player will last as long as Jazz does.”
To my mind, the Concert Jazz Band [CJB] has to rank as one of Gerry Mulligan’s special musical achievements - right up there with the 1952 quartet with Chet Baker.
Gary Giddins elaborates on the nature of the musical focus of the CJB:
“A purely musical big band-no dancers, no singers, no hits, no nostalgia-was a risky proposition, despite a large and growing number of innovative jazz composers, among them Gil Evans, George Russell, Thad Jones, Bill Holman, Chico O'Farrill, Ernie Wilkins, Frank Foster, Manny Albam, Bob Brookmeyer, Neal Hefti, Johnny Mandel, Gerald Wilson, Oliver Nelson, Gary McFarland, and Mulligan himself. If anyone could make a go of organizing such an orchestra, Mulligan was the man. A bona fide jazz star steeped in big bands since his teens, he had the autocratic temperament to enforce discipline in the ranks and the easygoing charm to allay suspicion in the audience. He also had, at least in the beginning, the financial backing of Norman Granz and Verve Records. In case anyone doubted his intentions, Mulligan called his ensemble the Concert jazz Band. It debuted to critical acclaim in 1960 and lasted long enough to issue five recordings and spur a big band restoration.” [Visions of Jazz: The First Century, New York: Oxford, 1998, p. 361].
And here’s more from Gerry about how he envisioned the CJB as taken from Dom Cerulli’s liner notes to Gerry Mulligan Presents A Concert in Jazz: The Concert Jazz Band [Verve V6-8415].
“We wanted this to be more a writer's album than what we had done before. The first album was cut in the studio with staples out of our book. It wasn't particularly concert material The second album was of the band in person, with the feeling you get at a live date. Here we have concert material, some of it pretty extended, and we have a band playing it that is a band rather than a good gathering of musicians.
I think that this band feels so much like a band now that we can play pieces like these for ourselves and feel how they would build for an audience"
Dom Cerulli also offered this excellent description of the textual qualities that Gerry was looking for when he organized the CJB when he offered this concluding statement to his notes:
“More than anything, this album proves that the band has achieved that lightness and flexibility so valued by Gerry, and that it has arrived at the point where it can tackle intricate and extended works without sacrificing the sensitive qualities which have been the hallmark of Mulligan 's style over the years.”
Many other Jazz writers and musicians offered their perceptions on the inventiveness of the Concert Jazz Band’s texture [sonority] among them:
“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. Gerry told us at a rehearsal: ‘We can have just as much dynamic effect going from mezzo-piano to forte as we can from forte to triple-forte But at the softer level, you can hear all the inside parts, and that’s what I want to hear.’ We concentrated on blend and tone quality, and the sound of the band was always rich.” – Bill Crow
“Gerry was always a meticulous arranger, particularly in crossing parts, to avoid repetitive notes.”
- Howard Lucraft
“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
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.”
Or as Mulligan authority Gordon Jack once phrased it: “... [An] emphasis on subtle interplay with clearly defined inner voices … [would] characterize Gerry Mulligan’s work over the years ...”
Throughout a career that spanned 50 years, the Concert Jazz Band may have been the ultimate stylistic expression of Gerry Mulligan and his music.
Sadly, the sparkling music of the CJB would last only four short years and by the middle of the decade of the 1960s it would disband. One could say that it was a miracle that it came into existence in the first place as keeping a big band working is challenging under the best of circumstances. The general public was losing interest in Jazz during this period and Gerry’s always difficult personality didn’t help matters, either.
As his long-time bassist Bill Crow explains:
“Oh, he was an egomaniac. But very likeable. I think that was part of what gave him that star quality, that made it possible for the rest of us to work … But he set a different standard for himself. I mean, he was good, he could really play well and he really knew what he was talking about when he talked about music, but sometimes he tried to hold his musicians to a higher standard of dedication to his music than he held himself. He used to drive me crazy sometimes, but in retrospect I must say that without Gerry I probably wouldn’t have learned as much about music as I did.”
[Matthew Ruddick, My Funny Valentine: The Story of Chet Baker, p. 27, Note 72, Bill Crow in John Fordham, Jazz Heroes, emphasis mine]
Much of what transpired in Mulligan’s life in the 1960s resulted from qualities of character and personality described by Bill Crow in this excerpt from Joe Goldberg, Jazz Masters of the 1950s [emphasis mine]:
“One friend has said that Mulligan's former agent, Joe Glaser, was less concerned than he might have been with the fortunes of the big band because his primary objective was to groom Mulligan as a personality, a possible replacement when another Glaser client, Louis Armstrong, eventually retired. And he might not have made a bad choice. As Bill Crow says, ‘He's an unusual looking guy, a good talker, playing a very unusual instrument. A lot of the interest in him doesn't have much to do with music."
And many of Mulligan's interests have little to do with jazz. Crow says, "He's become one of the golden people, and that can be strong wine,’ referring to the show business elite, a loose-knit international group that exists on mutual exclamations of affection.”
And also from Goldberg’s book is this statement by Gerry: "Jazz," Mulligan says, "is only one of many things I want to do. I'd like to make another movie. And every once in a while, you just have to get away from all of it."
Goldberg continues with the following assessment and more personal observations from Gerry which seems to describe a career at a standstill, one that is searching for direction.
“His charming, often poignant melodic lines and personal harmonies have made him one of the great popularizers in jazz; it is no wonder that Mulligan records and the Ella Fitzgerald "song books" are side by side in many "aware" homes. Seemingly one can have, with his music, all the pleasures of being involved without paying the inevitable price of true involvement. Which is not to say that Mulligan lacks conviction; he obviously does not. Very few musicians are capable of presenting a naked emotional experience in jazz, and few listeners can take it if offered. Mulligan himself seems to come closest on the rare occasions when he plays piano, and, significantly, Art Farmer says, "He only plays piano when he's bugged."
Probably, Mulligan's ultimate reputation will be as a writer, mentor, and organizer. He is a superb catalyst: musicians love to play with him, often play better in his company, and the list of excellent musicians with great regard for him encompasses such diverse men as Miles Davis, Paul Desmond, Rex Stewart, and George Russell. He may be one of those men who, more by example than deed, helped shape the course of jazz.
In the meantime, Mulligan, still a young man, has a long career ahead of him. With his wide range of interests and accomplishments, and his dislike of specialization, it is difficult to speculate on what direction that career might take. Brookmeyer, a close friend who seems essential to Mulligan's musical and personal well-being, once said of a famous bandleader, "It must be a terrible thing, living in your own shadow." In one sense, that remark could apply to Mulligan. But he is certain to endure as a personality. He once told Nat Hentoff of his reverence for George M. Cohan: "I've always been a sucker for the debonair, big-time, old-style show business attitude," he said.
Which comes close to defining the embodiment of the jazz- musician-as-craftsman: debonair, big-time, old-style Gerry Mulligan.”
John McDonough described it this way in his obituary “Goodbye, Jeru” which appeared in the April 1996 issue of Down Beat:
“He wore the mantle of celebrity with great charm and flair, and cut an Astaire-like figure of lean and classic elegance in a double-breasted blazer. He had a wide range of friends that reached beyond the jazz world. His long friendship with Judy Holliday came at the height of her Broadway and film career in the '50s and '60s. He had a film career of his own, after a fashion, when he became the offscreen centerpiece of Johnny Mandel's score for I Want To Live. It was the true story of a California woman who liked jazz and Mulligan in particular, was convicted of a murder charge, and sent to the electric chair. In those days modern jazz was the filmmaker's all-around symbol for drugs, sin and, by 1960, beatniks (Man With The Golden Arm, Sweet Smell Of Success. The Wild One, The Subterraneans, etc.). Later Mulligan was associated with Sandy Dennis, whom he first saw with Jason Robards in the original production of A Thousand Clowns. He moved between these world of jazz and theater seamlessly.”
Having “star quality,” “... being one of the golden people,” “ … cutting an Astaire-like figure,” dating Broadway and motion picture actresses like Judy Holiday and Sandy Dennis - is it any wonder that Jazz may have occupied a back seat for a while following the folding of the Concert Jazz Band in 1964?
It took another major Jazz artist who was also in the midst of a major career change to help transition Gerry back into Jazz - enter Dave Brubeck.
“Brubeck and Mulligan found themselves suddenly alone in 1968, uninvolved in ongoing groups and gigs for the first time in their professional lives.” Jerome Klinkowitz points out in Listen Gerry Mulligan: An Aural Narrative in Jazz [New York: Schirmer Books, 1991, p. 164]:
What has come to be referred to as The Classic Dave Brubeck Quartet - Dave along with Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums - was in existence from 1956-1967 having played its last concert in Paris on November 13, 1967.
As Dave explained in Fred Hall in It’s About Time: The Dave Brubeck Story [Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1966]:
“The hiatus lasted one month. ‘George Wein [promoter and producer of jazz festivals] called me and he said, 'I need you, Dave, in Mexico. They won't take the festival unless you come. You're gonna put a lot of guys out of work unless you sign on! 'George had done a lot of favors for me. He really helped me get started. I thought, 'What am I gonna do for a quartet?' George said, 'I've got Gerry Mulligan already hired.' I replied, 'I've got Jack Six, who's a great bass player' — he had sight read my oratorio, Light in the Wilderness, and played it at its premiere.
"When it came to drummers, George said. 'There's a lot of good drummers,' and I said, 'Yeah, but are there a lot of good guys? A couple of hours later, we had Alan Dawson, thanks to George's wife, Joyce. And Alan met both qualifications."
In May 1968, this new Quartet, with Gerry Mulligan, was playing in Mexico City. Mulligan, by the way, was an old friend from the Blackhawk days [a San Francisco Jazz club] who was destined to be partnered with Dave on many occasions into the mid-nineties.”
“Brubeck’s and Mulligan’s histories had intersected at several previous points, but their unison was still surprising - and, to the anticipation of some ears, potentially jarring. …. Mulligan had made his first claim to fame by publicly renouncing the piano and its supposedly inhibiting effect; now he was to work in tandem with one of the era’s most distinctive and imposing keyboard figures - not a light-fingered session man willing to add the minimum of rhythmic fills but a self-described heavy-handed and chordally inclined master, whose voice and presence in a quartet had even been more forceful than the group’s horn. Mulligan himself took pride in the commanding presence and distinctive voice of his own solo playing …. The possibilities of a collision were certainly present.” [Jerome Klinkowitz, Listen Gerry Mulligan: An Aural Narrative in Jazz [New York: pp. 164-65].
Geoffrey Smith makes a similar yet different stylistic comparison in terms of a Mulligan-Brubeck collaboration in his insert notes to Dave Brubeck Trio and Gerry Mulligan: Live at Philharmonie [Legacy/Columbia 481415 2]:
“Obviously, the Brubeck quartet with Mulligan is quite a different animal from the classic group with Paul Desmond, and not just because of the rumbly timbre of Gerry's baritone compared to Paul's limpid alto. Gerry's playing is much more extrovert, even garrulous. Desmond's famous description of his ideal sound as the musical equivalent of a dry martini wouldn't fit Mulligan. Though he and Paul were close friends and shared a wry, literary sense of humour. Gerry's style is closer to the robust intoxication of a beer and a shot.”
John McDonough puts it even more directly: “With the Dave Brubeck Quartet in countless concert and festival appearances, Gerry produced booming, aggressive, hard-swinging improvisations.” [Down Beat, April 1996].
The five LPs that Mulligan and Brubeck recorded are vastly underappreciated by fans of both artists assuming they are aware of them at all.
In view of the following assessment by Brubeck, to a certain extent, it’s a miracle that the Jeru and Bru discography exists at all.
“Although the billing of the group is ‘The Dave Brubeck Trio featuring Gerry Mulligan,’ Brubeck invariably refers to it as “the quartet.” He is thinking of it now in more long range terms than when it was first put together in the spring of 1968 to play a few concerts in Charlotte, New Orleans and Mexico City. Then Mulligan seemed to be a visitor whose place might be taken by someone else at other concerts. But he is settling in as a regular part of the format.
‘I never thought that things would work out this way with Gerry,’ Dave admitted. ‘He hates piano players.’”
- Willis Johnson, liner notes to Blues Roots, CBS CS 9749].
The beginnings of the next phase in Mulligan’s career take shape toward the end of his tenure with Brubeck. As Jerome Klinkowitz describes it:
“Following their 1970 Berlin appearance, Mulligan and Brubeck collaborated on two more albums, each of them taped at festival appearances: The Last Set at Newport from 3 July 1971, and the reunion with Paul Desmond given the apt title We're All Together Again For the First Time, a collection of takes from late October and early November 1972 in Berlin, Paris, and Rotterdam.
On these LPs Mulligan's direction is clear, taking less of a creative role in the Brubeck combo while showing evidence of writing for his own new group, which had recorded the Age of Steam album in the months preceding Newport.”
Put another way, while Mulligan maintains a commanding presence as a soloist on these later Brubeck LPs, his own creative efforts are heading elsewhere into what may be described his Age of Stream era [after the A&M Records LP of the same name] with its emphasis on electronic instruments, elements of Jazz-Rock Fusion and percussionists to enhance the rhythm.
“The changes that occurred to the post-seventies jazz scene were obviously difficult for musicians of his era to negotiate. Until that time, there seemed to be something exciting happening with his career which made a visit to your friendly local record-store a voyage of discovery.” - Gordon Jack
But that’s exactly the point - Gerry was on a “voyage of discovery” in the 1970s, one that took him into the world of Electronics, Fusion, Rhythm and beyond. In the wake of John Coltrane’s legitimacy of the soprano saxophone, Gerry even went so far as to adapt himself to it. I mean, a scion of the baritone saxophonist playing the soprano sax!?
All of these changes also took him “back to the future” as he reimagined his quartet, his sextet, and his approach to composing and arranging.
However, not everyone welcomed let alone valued these forward looking changed as is exemplified in the following assessment of the latter part of Jeru’s career by Richard Cook in his article “The Elusive Giant,” which appeared in the October 2001 issue of the Jazz Review.
“From the 70s onwards, though, Mulligan's music seemed to turn a little pale. The Age Of Steam, an album he made in 1972 featuring a middle-sized ensemble, has some lovely music, especially the serenely nostalgic "Grand Tour", but for once modish elements such as the rock beat for "A Weed In Disneyland" defeat him. When he was granted the resources to return a big band to the studios, it resulted in Walk On The Water, which seems irretrievably thin next to the great achievements of the CJB.
Most of his activity, in any case, took place away from jazz recording schedules - film music, songwriting, concerto-like works for himself and classical ensembles. Mulligan continued to tour in various situations, and was always received with affection. Married to an Italian lady who was his solicitous companion, he turned into a white-haired elder statesman, always impeccably turned out. Yet one promoter who worked with him in these later years recalls how the gracious gentleman could still be impossibly difficult when he wanted to be: "if there was a glass of water which hadn't been poured in the right way, it was a problem".
He might have been a shade resentful of his standing, whatever it was, in the jazz pantheon at this point, and when the opportunity came to revise a little of his own history, he quickly grasped the nettle. Re-Birth Of The Cool was a corny title for the project, and since Mulligan had spent much of his career trying to persuade that 'cool' was not all he did, there was a hint of sourness in it. But the 1992 recording was still engrossing. Mulligan had asked Miles Davis to take part the previous year, but Davis was already ailing and whether his capricious temperament would have allowed him the humility to become involved is doubtful (in the end. Wallace Roney was the capable sub). The main difference in the record is the presence of Phil Woods rather than Lee Konitz: Woods is in his diamond-cutter mode, and he plays the hell out of the occasion, which is enlivening but not really the cool in question. Bop, ironically, plays a stronger role than it did in the more atmospheric originals. Yet Mulligan seems to have enjoyed it, and he must have drawn a zesty satisfaction out of pulling his name on the marquee front this time.
It was his last notable achievement. In his final years, denied another major-label association, he made three albums for Telarc, none of them especially vital although each has its felicitous Mulligan moment or two. Dream A Little Dream Of Me featured him in quartet settings with the two pianists who worked most closely with him towards the end, Ted Rosenthal and Bill Mays. If his career went public in a pianoless quartet, it reached its twilight with keyboard harmony - which he never meant to abjure - in a restorative role.
His death in 1996 was attended by comparatively little in the way of memorialising, as if many thought that Mulligan had quietly slipped away some time before. Predictably enough, most returned to the quartet records in paying their respects -despite Mulligan's lifelong involvement with big ensembles of different kinds. Perhaps hidden in the folds of his numberless scores is the real Jeru - a sentimentalist with a twist of wry, not quite holding out his heart, but welcoming any kindred spirit.”
Richard Brown also takes Mulligan somewhat to task for standing on his laurels. [Gerry Mulligan Cool Charts, Bearish Tone, June 7, 1979 Down Beat].
“Like his writing, though, his baritone sax playing — stylistically and otherwise — has changed remarkably little since the '50s: the gritty, constricted bass clarinet-type tone, punctuated with honks; the many solo phrases with a short, simple motive he permutates until the tail end; the solos that seem chained to middle register; the well-crafted lines—seldom exciting and seldom dull; his usual avoidance of ballad playing. (He also started performing on soprano sax about five years ago, but it's not yet as natural as his baritone playing.)
In fact, even by the late '50s he had fallen behind the mainstream. His Concert Jazz Band and sextet in the '60s were lost in the flood of new and exciting jazz artists.
‘Pipe and slipper jazz is what I want,’ he explained in 1954. ‘Just lazy, I guess . . .’
This attitude still seems to hold him back. ‘I'm not concerned with changes in my style or techniques," he says now. ‘What I'm concerned with are the ideas that I'm working on now, and I don't think about whether they're different or the same as old ideas. It's not a consideration to me.’
But later in the interview he says wistfully, ‘I might have been able to accomplish more had I been more ambitious, more something, I don't know. ... But I don't know if a person can do things differently. We do what we can
do. What we can do is try to organize our present and future priorities, but we still have to accomplish what we're doing with the equipment we have.’
For a period in the late '60s and early '70s Mulligan worked on and off as a guest performer with the Brubeck trio, and for the first time since 1951 there was no Gerry Mulligan band, big, small or in between. ‘It's easy work,’ he said at the time. They rarely rehearsed and Brubeck took care of the bookings.
About this time, also, his music — tunes, arrangements and solo improvisations — was branded "unadventurous" by critics in such publications as down beat and Jazz and Blues. He still wins some jazz fan popularity polls— he's held a down beat monopoly since 1953, usually with a dearth of competitors—but he felt he was ignored by some media.
He told Leonard Feather in December 1973, ‘I've noticed in recent years my name was not even placed on the nomination list in the Playboy poll in the voting for bandleader or combo leader or composer. For a couple of years my vanity was kind of piqued. I felt left out, hurt. ... Then they did it again this year and I really got mad. Even if they didn't notice what I was doing in previous years, how could they not have known about Newport? Readers may look at these lists and assume I'm not active.’
He returned as a band leader early in the '70s, but the bands were short lived and made little impact. There were moderately successful reunion concerts with Chet Baker in '74 and '75, but these were like bittersweet memories, the "Remember me?" comeback attempt of a star who hadn't changed with the times. Indeed, they were a reminder of the unfulfilled promise that is Gerry Mulligan.
Mulligan deserves praise, though, for his ability to survive solely as a jazz performer and for never compromising his musical integrity.”
Messrs Brown and Cook's somewhat dismissive comments about the quality of Gerry's work during the second half of his career [ circa 1971 until his death in 1996] fail to take into consideration that the earlier sources of inspiration - The Swing Era Big Bands, the Great American Songbook composers and lyricists, the Bebop era which used the chord structures of classic songs as a vehicle for their own melodies and improvisations, the Gil Evans, John Lewis, Jeru - Birth of the Cool and the West Coast Cool style of Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre, the Hard Bop era that produced Jazz Standards from Horace Silver, Hank Mobley, Elmo Hope, Tadd Dameron, Sonny Clark, the melodies built on modal scales from Kind of Blue and the odd time signatures of Brubeck - all of this was gone by the time Gerry left Brubeck and started work on The Age of Steam project.
The subsequent stages of his career until his passing had to be built around different sources of inspiration: big bands with electronic instruments, percussion sections and elements of Rock inspired fusion; sextets and septets with different instrumentation, symphonic pieces, quartets, this time with pianists, music with Brazilian inflections, et al.
From the mid-1960s onward with the popular music landscape dotted with the likes of The Beatles the Beach Boys, Carole King, and James Taylor, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendriks, Santana, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Bob Dylan, among many others, Mulligan also had to stay relevant.
As Jazz author and historian Gordon Jack phrased it in an email to me dated 11/18/2019: “Mulligan reconciled his music to the demands of a younger audience without in any way diminishing its quality.”
It was a tumultuous time to be a Jazz musician as popular taste was turning away from the music and had been for some time. Many of the Los Angeles based Jazz musicians went into the studios as did some of their counterparts who were resident in New York. Some went to Europe to live and play.
Others, like Gerry adapted by reinventing and reimagining themselves in familiar and in different contexts.
And even the familiar became different as witnessed by his famous 1974 Carnegie Hall reunion concert with Chet Baker where Gerry brought along a rhythm section that featured a guitar [John Scofield] an electric piano [Bob James] and bass and drums, Ron Carter and Harvey Mason, respectively, occasionally augmented the trumpet - baritone sax front line with vibraphone [Dave Samuels] and brought along four relatively new original compositions to play alongside the more familiar melodies that Jeru and Chet had helped make famous like Line for Lyons, My Funny Valentine and Bernie’s Tune.
The following excerpt from Doug Ramsey’s liner notes to Gerry Mulligan Chet Baker Carnegie Hall Concert [CBS Associated CD ZGK 40689] embody the spirit that Gerry brought forward to reshape the second half of 50 year career:
“What’ll we do first,” Mulligan wondered aloud on stage.
“Line for Lyons?,” Chet suggested.
It’s something to warm up on.” …
Chet is inclined to worry more than Gerry. After Baker’s set with his quintet, he confided to Mulligan backstage.
“I didn’t feel comfortable.
“You’re not supposed to feel comfortable,” Gerry grinned.”
Later in his notes Doug comments: “As for Mulligan, he had simply never played better than in the past three or four years, and his unfailing energizing presence is beautifully represented here.”
Gerry’s “unfailing energizing presence” would continue to manifest itself in various ways, but the one constant in all phases of Jeru’s career was that regardless of instrument, instrumentation and style, he kept composing. The amount of original music he turned out in the second half of his career was enormous.
I’ve long held the opinion that as we progress through life, it’s almost impossible to maintain the same level of intensity and ingenuity in the later years as was present in the early time. The bold brio gives way to a more mature and reflective mellowness; less powering through the music and more stopping to look around so as to better explore the journey along the way.
Gerry seemed to have had periods throughout his career when he simply detached and moved on described in the following excerpt from Bill Kirchner - Booklet Notes to the Mosaic Records boxed set The Complete Verve Gerry Mulligan Concert Band Sessions:
“But possibly the CJB had simply run its course. In a 1970 Down Beat interview, Mel Lewis revealed that “Gerry’s always had a stopping point. I guess we were actually starting to take over and he’d feel that. He didn’t resent it, but he couldn’t let it go beyond a certain point.” Thad Jones added, “It’d be going like a sonofabitch, and all of a sudden it would hit a brick wall. Not a brick wall, but a velvet wall.” For that matter, Brookmeyer also has spoken of having wanted to take the CJB musically further out than Mulligan was comfortable in going.”
Klinkowitz reflects on Mulligan’s abortive tendency this way:
“ … so many of Gerry Mulligan's projects had seemed to be short-term busts: the Miles Davis Birth of the Cool ensemble, which couldn't get enough gigs to survive, Mulligan's writing for Stan Kenton, his romance and musical collaboration witli Judy Holliday, his premature attempts at fusion with pop-rock and easy listening music in the mid-1960s. The list goes on to include successful groups aborted by his own choice, including the mid-fifties sextet that made him fear for comfortable boredom and the Concert Jazz Band's 1957 precursor, which somehow didn't sound quite right.” [p. 206]
In terms of Jeru’s reluctance to continue on the same path be it with his piano-less quartets, sextets, or with his Concert Jazz Band, perhaps the explanation lies in this excerpt from Doug Ramsey’s insert notes to Gerry Mulligan Chet Baker Carnegie Hall Concert :
“Why all this greater or lesser reluctance, you may ask? Because creative musicians tend to think about what they are doing and what they are going to do rather than what they’ve done ….”
The results of stopping to look around so as to better explore the journey along the way resulted in a “... stylistic fulfillment [that] brings Mulligan into the 1970s and 1980s, a consistently productive stretch of years in which he is almost constantly writing new material and shaping new formats for his decidedly contemporary-sounding group. Throughout the Age of Steam, Walk on the Water, and Little Big Horn albums one finds him expanding and contracting the size of his ensembles, from four to as many as eighteen yet always playing new compositions that exploit those particular groups' rhythmic properties.” [Klinkowitz p. 222]
A symphonic Mulligan emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, which included appearances with Zubin Mehta and Erich Kunzel, along with a reimagined CJB as did new quartets, this time with pianists Bill Charlap and Ted Rosenthal. The piano quartet format drew the following comment from Gordon Jack in his review of Dream a Little Dream [Telarc CD-83364] which featured Gerry with Ted Rosenthal, Dean Johnson and Ron Vincent on piano, bass and drums, respectively.”For many listeners of a certain age the Gerry Mulligan Quartet will always mean the piano-less group he led on and off from 1952-1965. However, for fifteen years prior to his death in 1996 he often performed in the context heard here with piano, bass and drums. I once asked him about the instrumental change and he said that playing with piano gave him a chance to play the melody a little more.”
And lest we lose sight of their contributions in support of his career, the Reader concludes with essays on the key women in his life - Gale Madden, Arlyne Brown Mulligan and Judy Holliday - with an Afterword by Franca Rota Mulligan, who married Gerry in 1974. For as Gerry has so eloquently phrased it:
"I've been very lucky in the women that I've known; fine, beautiful, interesting women. I've learned a great deal from them. I have no complaints. It's a great deal in life to have the kind of companionship that's inspiring as well. Otherwise it gets to be a lonely road out there." Franca often acts as his manager—though, Mulligan laughed, "not really voluntarily. Franca makes it possible for me to do a lot of things because she makes sure that the business responsibilities are in control. Sometimes it gets to be busy, but it all runs smoothly.” [Michael Bourne, Down Beat, January, 1989].
All these milestones, including Mulligan's 42 consecutive wins in Down Beat's baritone category, point to a musician who continued to grow and develop through his almost 50 year career and one who had a major impact on the history of Jazz in the second half of the twentieth century. In Metronome’s 1959 reader’s poll to find the Most Popular Jazz Musician Of All Time, Mulligan finished third behind Miles Davis and the winner, Charlie Parker.
Along with his personal papers in the Library of Congress Performing Arts Research Center, Mulligan’s enduring popularity is also highlighted in four books that have been published about him, two by Raymond Horricks and one each by Jerome Klinkowitz and Sanford Jospehson, and his commercial recordings have been the subject of comprehensive discographies by Arne Astrup, Tom Lord and Alain Tercinet. There’s even a discography of Mulligan’s unissued public performances as compiled by Gordon Jack.
Hopefully, this reader will become a suitable companion volume to these biographies and discographies as it helps to create a fuller appreciative of what the late, esteemed British Jazz author and critic, Alum Morgan referred to as “ … the undoubted genius that was Gerald Joseph Mulligan.”
[April 6, 1927 - January 20, 1996].