Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Gerry Mulligan - After: Second of Two Articles by Leonard Feather

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

"Gerry has a missionary's zeal. He equates jazzmen with the left bank writers in Paris in the 1920s. He goes about things so fiercely that sometimes he may antagonize the very people he's trying to win over. But what's most important of all to him is to be a great jazzman and a great leader. Like Eisenhower, he's a great general who'd have made a very poor sergeant."
- Marshall Brown, leader of the Newport Jazz Festival youth jazz band.

"It was St. Patrick's day. A jazz fan who happened to stop in at a bar near Yankee Stadium glanced idly at the jukebox. This was a typical Irish bar— nothing on the piccolo but songs of old Erin, plenty of Bing Crosby's Irish efforts and, of course, the customary quota of Carmel Quinn. But the box was not 100 percent square: nestled like a jewel in one slot was a card announcing a side by Gerry Mulligan.

That Mulligan today is at a zenith of esteem, among both Irish and non-Irish from Hollywood to Helsinki, is a source of astonishment to many of those who observed his arrival in Los Angeles in the summer of 1951, when his fortunes were at their nadir.

Mulligan's first Hollywood job of any consequence was an assignment to write some arrangements for Stan Kenton. Though the music he wrote (10 charts in all) was not quite startlingly colorful enough to elicit the unbounded enthusiasm of Kenton himself, many musicians both in and out of the band felt that the Mulligan contributions were among the swingingest pieces ever inserted in the Kenton books. Some of them were used only as throwaways on dance dates. But Stan did record two of Gerry's originals, Swing House and Young Blood, and continued to play the latter frequently long after Mulligan stopped writing for the band.

During the Kenton period, Mulligan became friendly with a young man named Richard Bock, then a student at Los Angeles City college with a side job doing publicity and organizing Monday night sessions at the Haig. One day, at the Laurel Canyon home of his friend Phil Turetsky, Bock produced some tapes with Mulligan, and without a piano. It had not been scheduled as a pianoless session. "Jimmy Rowles was supposed to be there," Bock related, "but couldn't make it at the last moment. So we did it with just Gerry, Red Mitchell, and Chico Hamilton." This was in July of 1952, and the records were never released.

Soon afterwards, Bock began to use Mulligan on the Monday nights at the Haig. Only a couple of these gigs had taken place when, said Bock, "one afternoon in September we went up to Phil's home again — he had some fine sound equipment — and made Bernie's Tune and Lullaby of the Leaves, with Gerry and Chet (Baker) and Chico (Hamilton) and Bob Whitlock. This started the Pacific Jazz label, with a single 78 disc. Later, we went into the Gold Star studios on Santa Monica Blvd. and did the other tunes for the first 10-incher, LP-1. This was how the company got started."

By year's end, the LP had been released, lines were forming all around the block at the Haig, and the Gerry Mulligan Quartet was put to work on a full-week basis. Before long, Gerry had reached what is usually the vital point in any artist's career: people needed him more than he needed them.

Soon after success struck, Gerry eloped to Mexico with a young former college-mate of Bock. The marriage was short-lived, and after an annulment, Gerry married Arlyne Brown, whose father was one of the celebrated Tin Pan Alley team of De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson. A son, Reed Brown Mulligan, was born in 1957; Gerry and Arlyne were divorced last year.

During the first half of 1953, Gerry and Chet had a partnership that seemed as historic, in its way, as Venuti and Lang in the 1920s, Tommy and Jimmy in the '30s, and Diz and Bird in the '40s. "Gerry's musical communion with Chet was a fantastic and beautiful things," said a girl who knew them well. "But as a person, Gerry wanted Chet to be so much more sensitive than he was capable of being. Chet was so different as a musician and a person — a real juvenile-delinquent, hot-rod kid in his attitudes."

"The group really came off until Gerry and Chet started hating each other," Chico Hamilton said. "They'd come on the stand and Gerry would face one way and Chet another. A couple of times I had to pull them apart."

The breakup that resulted was inevitable. But, though it seemed to augur disaster, Mulligan turned it to advantage: during Christmas week of 1953 he organized a new quartet featuring the valve trombone of Bob Brookmeyer instead of trumpet.

This group represented the second of six major phases in Gerry's career as a leading jazz figure. The third was a sextet he led in 1955-56, with Zoot Sims, Brookmeyer, and Jon Eardley or Don Ferrara; the fourth was the 1958-59 quartet with Art Farmer; the fifth was a period of movie-making, during most of 1959, when he had no organized group, and the sixth began a few weeks ago when he formed a 13-piece band in New York.

"Each of my groups has had an entirely different sound, and an entirely different effect on me," Gerry said recently. "It's misleading to talk about 'the quartet' as if there'd been only one. And the sextet was completely different again — there we had the first leanings toward a big band sound, a more concerted thing, getting away from the strictly spontaneous counterpoint." How, he was asked, did he feel about the use of the pianoless format by so many other groups since his?

"I don't think there have been that many, have there? But if there have, that must mean that it's practical, that it works well. However, the way the music is written must have a concerted enough sound to cancel out the need for a piano. It won't work if everybody is just playing long solos all in a row. For instance, there's one group that dispensed with the piano — Max Roach's  — that I thought was doing something musically incomplete. They would play the same number of solos that they'd have used if there had been a piano, and the fellows didn't alter their style. When you play without a piano it does require a different approach. With Max' group, it was a big test for my ears just to be able to follow the soloists through 10 or 12 choruses. It was a noble experiment, though, and I must say that the way Max plays has a concerted enough sound in itself to give the others a very melodic style of accompaniment. But the soloists have to be up to this challenge; you've got to establish some kind of chordal progression, you can't just skate over the rhythm section as you can when the piano is there stating the chords."

Mulligan's innovation was not long in acquiring imitators; by 1954, Lars Gullin in Sweden had taped an LP patterned directly after the Mulligan-Brookmeyer quartet sound. Meanwhile, Gerry had run the gamut from best-selling records (LP-1 ultimately went over 30,000, an exceptional figure by jazz standards) to night club attendance records and jazz festival eminence. Soon the critics, fans and musicians who came to know him realized they had been ignoring an extraordinary personality in their midst.

Perhaps the first qualities with which Gerry became associated, after he had made it, were his musical and personal gregariousness and his penchant for analysis, discussion, and suggestion, no matter what the subject.

George Wein, producer of the Newport festival and operator of Storyville in Boston, said, "At first, when I saw Gerry walk onstage and sit in with Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson and Pres, I thought he was just trying to hog the limelight. Later I realized he just had a love for the music and wanted to be a part of it. Then, at Storyville, I once had him working opposite Jimmy Rushing, and he'd just stay up there and play straight through both sets! He's very eager, very sporadic, and gets upset very easily. As for his urge to play, I think Gerry and Dizzy are the last of the blowers —the men who really enjoy a session."

Ellingtonian Harry Carney, always Gerry's baritone idol, has this recollection: "One night Gerry came over to Duke's record date and we decided to celebrate my birthday by going out to hear Pepper Adams at the Bohemia. We wound up listening to a terrific baritone player with the other combo there, a group from Cornell [Nick Brignola with Reese Markewich] and after he'd listened a long time Gerry just had to get up and play." It was during that evening that Mulligan and Carney conceived the idea of a duet with Duke's band, later consummated at Newport in [Duke Ellington’s composition]  Prima Bari Dubla.

Elaine Lorillard, one of the founders of the Newport festival, recalls one of the greatest sessions ever, at her house in Newport. "Chico came out, and Tony Scott and Art Farmer, and Gerry played piano; Father Crowley and a few other nonplayers were there. It was utterly spontaneous and lasted from 4 until 8:30 a.m., and the sun came up and the roses were blooming —  beautiful sights and sounds. The next evening was the exact opposite, completely formal as Gerry posed for a picture spread for Vogue.

"Gerry may put his foot in it here and there, but he's basically dedicated to the cause. And his ideas are constructive. Everything he said was wrong with the festival, really was wrong; the musicians were the last to be consulted, and he wanted an auxiliary board of musicians to act as advisers. He supplied a whole list of musicians' complaints, from programming of the music to lack of refreshments and toilet facilities. He was firm but friendly; although at first he felt the festival setting was how jazz should be presented, he became more disillusioned every year."

"What galls me at these festivals," Gerry said recently, "is the way they emphasize all the names of the '30s and '40s and wind up minimizing our names. They use the prestige of the people of my generation, but then put us in a subordinate position. They have hurt my drawing power by not drawing attention to how much of a boxoffice name I am. The handling of Monterey [Mulligan played there in 1958] was even worse than Newport. Eventually, I'd like to ease out of the jazz festival scene entirely."

"Gerry has a missionary's zeal," declared Marshall Brown, leader of the Newport youth jazz band. "He equates jazzmen with the left bank writers in Paris in the 1920s. He goes about things so fiercely that sometimes he may antagonize the very people he's trying to win over. But what's most important of all to him is to be a great jazzman and a great leader. Like Eisenhower, he's a great general who'd have made a very poor sergeant."

'Though Brown's analysis may be right, General Gerry still enjoys nothing better than a barracks bash with GIs of every rank. At the first Newport festival in 1954, he not only sat in with Eddie Condon's Dixielanders but also took part in a fantastic finale that brought Mulligan, Kenton, Condon, and a dozen more of every breed into a wild rideout on I Got Rhythm.

"Gerry loves to play and he loves to talk," Condon said. "You can make some casual remark about the weather or the new Buick, and then he'll go into an hour's oration. He's got guts,too. One time we were in Toots Shor's together and Toots, who didn't know who Gerry was, made some kidding remark about not talking to musicians. Gerry said to me, 'I don't like the way that fellow talks. I think I'm gonna take him outside.' Well, you know the size of Gerry — he couldn't get any skinnier and live. And you know the size of Toots. He could have picked Gerry up and thrown him right through the wall!"

More often than not, Mulligan's belligerence has some reasonable foundation. "Once we had a reservation at a hotel in Frankfurt," said agent Bert Block, "and when we arrived, we found a Russian trade delegation had taken our rooms and we had to go to some beat-up joint. Gerry blew his stack. Here we are financing Western Germany, he says, and we have to give up our rooms to the Russians. He threatened not to do the concert. But after a while everyone cooled down."

"We were almost brought to court in Bologna, Italy," drummer Dave Bailey related. "We were invited to a restaurant after the concert and there were some Communists sent there apparently as troublemakers. One of them said something insulting to Gerry and he just threw some water in the guy's face and said, 'Leave me alone.' It was tough for Gerry to keep his head, but except for throwing the water, he restrained himself. Finally some non-political jazz fans just took this man and threw him out bodily."

Mulligan's European visits, the first of which was a 1954 trip to the Paris Jazz festival, consolidated what was already a firm foreign reputation. In England, where even in 1957 he was able to command $3,500 a week, every London show was a sellout, and Gerry registered more poll victories than probably any jazzman since Armstrong. The only cool European response, according to Brookmeyer and others, was that of the blase audience during a month at the Olympia theater in Paris. ("Gerry tried announcing in French at first," Brookmeyer said, "but he didn't find it as easy as playing.") The press reaction, all over the Continent, was uniformly warm.

Mulligan's eagerness to adapt himself  to any social or musical environment, which made many friends for him during the European trips, did not extend to the glamour world of Hollywood celebrity life.

Around Thanksgiving of 1958, at a party in New York, he had met Judy Holliday, and by the time he had worked in The Subterraneans and The Rat Race, the following summer in California, their friendship was founded partly in a common distaste for the superficialities of the film world, partly in a common concern for all the arts (and a common ability to play a fierce game of Scrabble, aiming exclusively at the seven-letter words). Gerry's assignment to an acting role in The Bells Are Ringing came about through the enthusiasm of producer Arthur Freed, a former songwriter who wrote the lyrics to I Cried For You and many other standards.

"When he wanted Gerry for the part," Miss Holliday, confessed, "I was against it, because I tend to get nervous when any personal friend of mine is acting with me — especially if they're not an actor." It was not long before everyone concerned was fully aware that Gerry was indeed an actor. So successful was this venture that he has been asked often since then if he would care to make a career out of it. Gerry answers that he wouldn't mind it at all if he could continue his life as a bandleader simultaneously.

At the suggestion of Columbia's Irving Townsend, Miss Holliday and Mulligan
recorded a couple of sides together a few months ago; they turned out so well that an album is now in the works. One of the first tunes taped was Loving You, with her lyrics to his music. "At first I didn't know why Irving suggested the idea," Miss Holliday said. "It seemed as if we were from two different worlds. Then I found out about Gerry's talent for writing melodies, and his ability to orchestrate for me in a medium completely different from his usual one. It's almost like Jekyll and Hyde." She has since set lyrics to Tell Me When from the Mulligan-Ben Webster LP, and there will be other such collaborations. 

Regardless, though, of what his future may be as a popular-song writer or motion picture actor, Gerry at present is very much wrapped up in his new band. So far, the general reaction among musicians both in and out of the orchestra, and among critics and the more attentive listeners at Basin Street, has been uniformly enthusiastic. During several visits I found enough excitement, both in the writing and in the spirit that formed the interpretation, to produce some of the most genuine and unpretentious swinging big-band jazz this town has heard in years

Just before he opened at the club I interviewed Gerry in an hour-long session over WNCN-FM, New York. The dialog that follows combines excerpts from this broadcast and passages from a tape-recorded private interview.

Feather: Let's talk about the new band, your personnel, and your plans.

Mulligan: Well, first and foremost, let's say we have Bob Brookmeyer and Bob Brookmeyer and Bob Brookmeyer . . . playing valve trombone and writing; Wayne Andre on trombone and Allan Raph on bass trombone; on trumpets Phil Sunkel, Danny Styles, and most of the solos are taken by Don Ferrara. The reeds are Eddie Wasserman on clarinet; Bill Holman on tenor —he came east to do a lot of writing for us. [Holman played only the first week at Basin Street, then withdrew to concentrate on writing, and was replaced by Zoot Sims.] We also have arrangements by Al Cohn, and some by Johnny Mandel of themes from his I Want to Live score. The alto is Dick Meldonian, the baritone is Gene Allen, bass is Bill Takas, and on drums another old face from quartet-sextet days, Dave Bailey.

The instrumentation problem was, I think, one of the things that kept me from getting a band together. I started one a couple of years ago, and I was thinking in terms of four trumpets, three trombones, and five saxes, and I wrote arrangements and even started on an album. But after I got halfway through, I decided it was bottom-heavy, too full, and didn't allow the kind of freedom I'd come to enjoy with the small bands. Also it didn't have that kind of clarity of sound that I liked, with the interplay of lines, in the small groups.

Now the present band gives us most of the possibilities that we had with the other one, but it also allows for a great deal more clarity. And of course a practical consideration is, if you've got people sitting on the bandstand, you've got to have them playing. If they don't play enough it's bad for their lips and their horns get cold; they tire of not playing, they lose interest, and contribute nothing.

Feather: Are you using the clarinet a lot in the reed voicing?

Mulligan: We've used it not so much as a reed section sound, but rather as a sound that contributes to the ensemble as a whole. We've been trying to avoid the clarinet lead effect.

Feather: Are you aiming this band purely at listening audiences, or do you think it might be adaptable to dance dates if you're interested in playing any?

Mulligan: What I'm really building is a concert band. It's a jazz band for listening, and there are only a handful of clubs in the country that can handle a band like that. I don't want to think about dance dates yet, until we've established ourselves and are working the way we want to. But it's fun to play dances occasionally, fun to play a prom, when we get to feeling like the old folks sitting up on the stand watching the kids have a good time. We play differently. You get very sentimental and all that sort of thing.

Feather: The reason I asked is that John Hammond said recently he feels jazz is essentially a functional music and is coming back to that.

Mulligan: I'm really not too concerned about where jazz is going, what it's doing. I'm concerned about the entity that I've tried to put together, which is really quite separate from the entire field of jazz. My answer to John is, there are jazz musicians who have never gotten away from that. Now if you're talking about jazz in terms of what the avant garde has been doing, or what's the most influential thing with the younger musicians now, that's not what I'm basing my ideas on.

But anyhow, by taking the band out on dances now, I would dissipate the band's power as a jazz band, a listening band, a show band. The bands in the '30s and '40s did it the other way around. They were basically dance bands; then the theater shows came along, and the bands that could put on a good show were successful. But at this point there would seem to be a good field for a real out-and-out jazz band, which is what I want. Most bands that have been put together lately have been trying to reach a happy medium, and this doesn't exist; they spoil the possibilities in both directions.

Feather: Do you find it easier to get sidemen than it was years ago? That the level of musicianship has advanced a lot?

Mulligan: Well, they cost more! But there have always been good players around. In fact, several in this band are guys I played in bands with in years past. There were always plenty of guys that had technical proficiency, but it took someone like Lester Young to come along and turn everybody around and show them a new way to use their technique; and then the same with Charlie Parker. So the kind of technical facility that these people brought into jazz has come to be an accepted thing —  you either play that way or you can't play.

Feather: How about your soloists?

Mulligan: Well, I've approached this band on a very strict premise, which possibly doesn't always meet with the complete happiness of all the fellows in the band. In the sextet there were four soloists. To simplify our own problem and that of the audience, in this band, too, we have four basic solo chairs: I'm one, Brookmeyer is another, the trumpet and tenor are the others. To a great extent we restrict solos to these four chairs; as time goes on we'll find things that will provide a solo outlet for others. But first we want to establish some sort of basic approach to the band.

I've seen a lot of bands fall into a trap of spreading the solos around so everybody can play. Now these are known as musicians' bands, and one of the reasons they can never establish themselves with an audience is that the audience takes time to be able to understand the playing of each man, and so many players go by that they never really have a chance to hear anybody, so nothing really sticks in their minds.

Feather: Did you want to have Art Farmer on the band?

Mulligan: Well, all I can say is, I hope Art's band is a big failure so he has to come back with my band! No, actually, of course, Art's band was just wonderful when I heard it. I wish him nothing but ill.

Feather: About your movies. Do you think I Want to Live got the recognition it deserved for its musical achievements?

Mulligan: Listen, the fact that they not only didn't give Johnny Mandel an Oscar, but didn't even nominate him, just convinces me of the closed doors, the private little club that the movie composers have. And they say this is the first movie music Johnny wrote. Actually it's just the first he ever got credit for — a good part of the good jazz music that was heard in segments of other pictures was written by Johnny. They call that ghosting.

Feather: You did a little ghosting yourself, didn't you, I mean ghost playing?

Mulligan: Yes, in The Rat Race, they told me I was to play a bandleader on a cruise ship, but it turned out they were just throwing me a bone. It was a very small acting role and they really wanted me to play baritone for Tony Curtis — a ghost baritone voice. Well, I like Tony and I didn't want to be a bad guy, so I wound up doing it anyway.

In The Bells Are Ringing, my scene with Judy comes right at the beginning of the picture and the whole thing is slapstick. She told me she'd had no experience with this kind of thing, and I'd had less than none, so it's a wonder we didn't kill ourselves! Hitting each other in the head and breaking glasses and catching on fire ... But this opening is supposed to be building to a love story, and it should be a gentle buildup to her first love song, which she sings beautifully. But coming right after this comedy sequence really kills it for her, so I asked them, I said, "Well, it's nice, let's all show it to our grandchildren and all that sort of thing, but please cut it out of the picture." So they cut out one of her songs and they cut this scene and that scene. But our own scene, the one that was the root of the trouble, they left in!

Feather: Gerry, let's project a little into the future. What would you like to be doing, say, when you're 50 years old?

Mulligan: When I'm 50? Well, I'd like to be doing some of the same things as now — but I'd like to double on other horns, and play a lot more piano than I'm playing now. And I'd like to be a producer in various other fields besides jazz. I'd love to do some television production, with jazz used on a popular level.

I'd also like to produce for Broadway, because I love the theater. I think Leonard Bernstein created a great innovation when he integrated an orchestra into a show as he did with West Side Story ... Of course, these are all idle dreams at the back of my head, but they are possibilities.

As far as the immediate future is concerned, I'm glad to be getting into the position where I feel I'm able to call my own shots. I want to take this band out on the same level of prestige as my small bands. I'd like to package my own show built around the band; I'm sick of being booked on these miscellaneous package shows and I feel my name has drawing power enough to fill a hall.

The powerful sound-wave on the crest of which Gerald Joseph Mulligan is currently riding seems unlikely to diminish in intensity in the foreseeable future. After a long siege of hard times, he has found the artistic and economic security that for so many years seemed hopelessly out of reach.

Perhaps the best summation of Gerry's story, during the weeks I spent talking about him to past and present friends and associates, was offered by Chubby Jackson, who knew Jeru (as Miles Davis nicknamed him) back in the hungry '40s.

"Some people," said Jackson, "would say Gerry was stupid in his attitude, but in so many ways it was the most commendable thing he could do. Gerry wouldn't conform, would never give up his musical principles, even when it meant starvation. He played true to life the defiance that every musician of a creative nature feels. And he's finally made it. And I say, more power to him."  


1 comment:

Please leave your comments here. Thank you.