Saturday, May 1, 2021

Gerry Mulligan - Jazz America

 Gerry Mulligan - Jazz America

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

In his insert notes to Lonesome Boulevard [A&M - Verve 0602527068756] Gerry observed in the opening paragraph to his insert notes to the CD:

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

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

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

With the 60 minute video Gerry Mulligan Jazz America [MVD Visual 5167D] we have the good fortune to begin-at-the-beginning of what became a rebirth of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet around 1981; one that would continue until his death in 1996.

A “rebirth” in the sense that, as the changes in personnel that Gerry enumerates in the opening statement to this piece explains, a quartet would once again be a mainstay of his performance schedule. And while the quartet was integrally important to Gerry and his music on a standalone basis, it also served as a platform to test and try compositions which might also be suitable for his reconstituted Concert Jazz Band, as well. 

Throughout his career, Gerry was always undergoing phases with small groups and big bands and this film from Gary Keys focuses on the beginning of another one.

The sleeve annotation contains the following description of the film:

“Gerry’s warm tone on the baritone and his delightful stage persona are on full display, capturing a live show at Eric's in NYC in 1981. From his arrangements and playing on Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool to his quartet with Chet Baker, Mulligan will always be associated with Cool Jazz, but the music in this film touches on all aspects of Mulligan's 30 plus years of playing. Filmed with Keys' signature style of many close ups and no special effects, this snapshot features a master taking a look at his long and storied career with a crack band supporting his every move.”

And Gordon Jack wrote this review of the film for Jazz Journal:


17 Mile Drive; Around About Sundown; For An Unfinished Woman; Walk On The Wafer; North Atlantic Run; Song For Strayhorn; K-4 Pacific (89.00) Gerry Mulligan (bar, ss); Harold Danko (p); Frank Luther (b); Billy Hart (d). Eric's, NYC 1981. MVD Visual 5167D

“Gerry Mulligan once a crew-cut iconoclast and much later a heavily bearded elder-statesman was not only a consummate baritone soloist, but also one of the finest post-war arranger-composers. He wrote nearly all the material here during the seventies which was a prolific decade for him although 17 Mile Drive is from the pianoless quartet's repertoire, 1962 vintage. 

Throughout this fine set he creates solos that have logic and form on up tempo selections like North Atlantic Run with its dancing samba-like rhythm, and especially the exciting K-4 Pacific often used as a climax on live performances. Then again, there was always grace and elegance to his ballad readings as he demonstrates on Around About Sundown and Song For Strayhorn.

Full marks should be given for the camera-work concentrating on close-ups of the musicians with no annoying special effects, allowing us to see Mulligan's occasional alternative fingering for the right-hand side keys for instance. He gets sterling support from the rhythm section featuring the excellent Harold Danko who worked with Gerry's quartet and big band until late 1983.

The recording date was February 19th. 1981 although MVD Visuals are not too exact, quoting only ‘1981'. Incidentally, as far as I know For an Unfinished Woman was inspired by Lillian Hellman's book - An Unfinished Woman - and not dedicated to Judy Holliday as has sometimes been claimed.

This is the first time the material has been commercially available in any format and will be an essential purchase for all Gerry Mulligan fans.” 

- Gordon Jack.

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