Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Gerry Mulligan 1927-1996 - The Obituaries

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

As you would imagine, the passing of a legendary Jazz musician such as Gerry Mulligan prompted many formal notices of his death in magazines and newspapers, both domestic and international.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles has selected three of these  to share with you as part of the final segment of our tribute to a Jazz musician who made an indelible impression on the music during the second half of the 20th century as a baritone and soprano saxophonist, bandleader and composer-arranger.

Jeru made Jazz in a variety of formats, but a few bars of listening to his work in any of them and its music became instantly recognizable as the voice of Jeru.

It should be noted that the last of the obituaries by Howard Lucraft, who knew Gerry dating back to his time in Southern California in the early 1950s, contains a reference to Gerry “living with the daughter of famed songwriter Jimmy McHugh.” This is incorrect. She was the daughter of famed lyricist Lew Brown and subsequently became Arlyne Brown Mulligan.

Steve Voce - The Independent

Sunday 23 October 2011 

"With Gerry Mulligan you feel as if you're listening to the past, present and future of jazz all at one time," said Dave Brubeck, who had a musical partnership with the baritone saxophonist for four years, from 1968 to 1972.

The unwieldy baritone was never a popular instrument with musicians and the number of great players was small. They included Serge Chaloff, Duke Ellington's Harry Carney and Joe Temperley, Lars Gullin from Sweden and, from Britain, John Surman, John Barnes and Ronnie Ross. Mulligan, who became the most famous of them, was lauded also as a witty and inventive composer and arranger and for the clarity of his simple and yet profound communication with his audiences.

Although he already played saxophones when he first joined Gene Krupa's big band in 1946, it was as the band's staff arranger that he first attracted attention with his composition "Disc Jockey Jump". In 1948 he worked with a nine-piece band put together by a nucleus of jazz composers including Miles Davis, John Lewis, Gil Evans and John Carisi, who together developed the "cool" style of modern jazz playing. When recorded by the popular hit label Capitol in 1949, rather surprisingly for this was intellectual music, the handful of tracks changed the whole future of jazz writing, and are still potent influences today. Mulligan was never recognised for his major role in this group, the credit going wrongly to Miles Davis in New York. Mulligan wrote also for the bands of Elliott Lawrence and the innovators Claude Thornhill and Stan Kenton.

He hitch-hiked to Los Angeles in 1951 and worked at the Haig Club with a trio. It seems likely that the piano at the Haig was less than good and Mulligan began working without it. The piano-less jazz group was to be the key feature of his next two decades. As he established himself on the West Coast he recorded there with a "tentette" based on the New York composers' band, and developed the famous piano-less quartet with Chet Baker, an inventive and sensitive trumpet player whose life at that period was, like Mulligan's, totally governed by heroin addiction. When Mulligan was gaoled for drug offences the young Stan Getz replaced him in the quartet until he came out. By then the music recorded by Mulligan's quartet had become amongst the best-selling jazz issues of all time and his future was assured.

Baker rightly thought that he could make more money leading his own quartet, and he left, eventually to be replaced by the valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, an inventive composer and player who ranked with Mulligan, and theirs was a uniquely complementary partnership - intellectual as well as musical.

On one occasion Mulligan was being interviewed by an aggressive television- show host. At the rehearsal Mulligan had given the interviewer much information, and had mentioned the fact that he had been in gaol for drug offences. In the live show the interviewer said, as though he was confronting the musician for the first time, "I understand that you were involved with drugs, and did some time because of it." Understandably, this left Mulligan in a corner with nothing to answer. The man followed up quickly. Mulligan employed many black musicians throughout his career but at this time, by coincidence, there were none in the quartet. "I notice," said the interviewer, "that there are no black musicians in your group. Is this accidental, or by design?"

Brookmeyer, who was sitting nearby, glared at the interviewer, jerked his thumb at Mel Lewis and said, "We've got a Jewish drummer. Will that help?"

Although he was revered by his fans, by the critics and by most musicians, Mulligan was often arrogant and self-centred. "I think I managed not to be an adult in just about every imaginable area," he said in 1986. "A band is most fun when you're in rehearsals. When you're working you have no time to enjoy it." Mulligan was an impossible taskmaster at band rehearsals. He demanded perfection and would keep his musicians splitting hairs deep into the night. "One night," recalled Joe Temperley, "he spent so many hours trying to polish just a few bars that I very nearly got up and walked out." Mulligan also liked to play piano in his bands, but typically only as a soloist, being apparently incapable of working in a rhythm section.

Mulligan extended the "piano-less" theory first to a sextet and then to his hugely successful 13-piece Concert Jazz Band, first formed during the Fifties. Unusually the band used low volume and sensitive dynamics. "Our band shouts but it doesn't scream. When you overblow, the tone quality goes." The group triumphed with fine soloists like Brookmeyer, Zoot Sims and Clark Terry. The Concert band toured the world financed by the impresario Norman Granz, for whose Verve label it recorded. When Granz sold the label in the mid-Sixties the band was left without work.

This was a bad period for Mulligan, for his partner the film star Judy Holliday died of cancer in 1965. The two had composed songs and recorded together, and Holliday had drawn Mulligan into the world of Broadway musicals. However, she didn't like her singing on their records together and the material was not issued until 1980. Mulligan later married another film star, Sandy Dennis.

Mulligan's gaunt face suited the cameras, and he appeared in several films, including I Want to Live (1958) and Bells are Ringing (1960) with Judy Holliday, also playing and composing the music for innumerable soundtracks. He recorded outstanding small group albums with a succession of top jazz soloists, notably Ben Webster and the altoists Johnny Hodges and Paul Desmond, and in 1972 reformed the big band as the Age of Steam, so called because of his love of steam trains, this time experimenting gently with electronic instruments and rock. This band expired to be succeeded eventually by a new big band in 1978 which won a Grammy in 1980. Mulligan cut back to a quartet with piano in 1986 and continued to discover brilliant young players like two of his pianists, Bill Charlap and (his final one) Ted Rosenthal. He reformed the big band for a tour in 1988 when he appeared at the Glasgow Jazz Festival, and he toured and recorded with symphony orchestras playing his own compositions.

Mulligan shared with Duke Ellington the distinction of working as a composer and being able to hear his music immediately played back to him by his band.

Gerald Joseph Mulligan, saxophonist, bandleader, composer: born New York 6 April 1927; married three times (one son); died Darien, Connecticut 19 January 1996.”


The Washington Post, January 21, 1996

Martin Weil

“Gerry Mulligan, 68, the jazz musician, composer and arranger who was known as a virtuoso on the baritone saxophone and as a pioneer in the "cool jazz" movement, died Jan. 20 at his home in Darien, Conn.

His wife, Franca, said in a brief interview that Mr. Mulligan's death stemmed from complications of a knee infection precipitated by a cut and exacerbated by a somewhat rundown physical condition.

Mr. Mulligan, who started making music as a boy and continued for six decades, was a flexible, resourceful jazzman who toured widely, taught at universities, appeared in a few movies, and could appreciate and adjust to new styles as they developed in the fast-moving world of popular music.

As a composer, arranger, instrumentalist or leader of his own combos he was associated throughout the post-World War II period with many of the great names in jazz, and he kept playing virtually until his last days.

In October, he and the latest incarnation of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet were booked on a jazz cruise, according to his wife, and the next month, he and a friend gave a benefit concert in Milan for refugee Tibetan lamas, improvising as the monks played the instruments of their land.

Possibly the foremost exponent of the baritone saxophone, Mr. Mulligan was closely involved with many of the major changes in jazz since the 1940s, including bebop and cool jazz.

As what is sometimes called the bebop revolution succeeded swing in the 1940s, so cool jazz, sometimes termed "progressive jazz," is said to have evolved from bop.

The groundbreaking cool jazz arrangements of the late 1940s by Gil Evans, John Lewis and Mr. Mulligan, as performed by Miles Davis in the famed "Birth of the Cool" recordings, are often cited as landmarks in jazz history, and have also influenced the spoken idiom.

Citations by specialists include one from 1955, asserting that "cool jazz to most musicians and students denotes the understated, behind-the-beat style typified by the arrangements and soloists on the {Miles} Davis records."

Gerald Joseph Mulligan was born in Queens, N.Y., on April 6, 1927, and moved frequently as a child according to the job needs of his father, a management engineer. As a 7-year-old, he composed "You and Me and Love," which later was copyrighted.

Continuing to be musically active as a youth in the Philadelphia area, he was paid as an arranger while still in his teens and played the tenor saxophone in a band in Atlantic City in 1944. He left high school to go on tour as an arranger with an orchestra and later performed with Dizzy Gillespie in Philadelphia.

Moving to New York, he arranged and played tenor and alto sax with Gene Krupa's band. Out of a job after a year, he sold all his instruments but the baritone sax that became his trademark. Following the period of cool jazz creation, the slender, bearded Mr. Mulligan worked for a time as instrumentalist or arranger or both for such figures as Benny Goodman, Claude Thornhill, Kai Winding, Charlie Parker, Stan Kenton and Davis.

His period of greatest fame began in the early 1950s, when he began forming quartets and sextets, making well-received recordings. He remained at the top of the Down Beat magazine polls for four decades. In 1953, according to one reference work, he served a 3 1/2-month prison sentence on a charge stemming from drug use.

In 1960, he formed a 13-member "big band" and had led groups ever since. In the 1980s, he often played with symphonic ensembles.

In recent years, he spent much of his time in Milan, living in an apartment near La Scala.

On the jazz cruise, he and the other members of the quartet "were playing his music," his wife said. "He had been playing it for 60 years."

In addition to his wife, survivors include a son from an earlier marriage, Reed, who lives in Florida.” 


February/March, 1996, Crescendo & Jazz Music

Howard Lucraft

“With the untimely death of Gerald Josep (Gerry/Jeru) Mulligan, jazz lost a vital part of its living history. Gerry died, at age 68, on January 20th, at his home in Darien Connecticut. For some time reports had indicated that he was receiving treatment for cancer at a Boston clinic. He played almost to the end on a week-long Caribbean cruise last November.

Mister Mulligan always epitomised real jazz — baritonist supreme (he won almost every poll for years), ultra creative composer/ arranger, leader of epoch-making small and large groups, and, yes, sometime pianist, too. None of us will ever forget that commanding,  hirsute figure, latterly with snowy hair and beard but, earlier, with a shock of flaming red hair, swaying with that large horn and swinging vigorously with those incisive, logical and melodic phrases. His contrasting ballads were warm, lyrical and, oftentimes, sensuous. I first met Gerry in the early fifties, on the opening night of his pianoless quartet. This was at the long-defunct jazz spot, The Haig, on   Wilshire Boulevard. It was trumpeter Chet Baker's first L.A. gig. Rhythm was Bob Whitlock (bass) and Chico Hamilton (drums). A few days later I recorded an interview, for my Jazz radio show, with Gerry, at his Laurel Canyon apartment, where he was living then with the daughter of famed songwriter Jimmy McHugh. Gerry was extremely nervous at the time. The  conversation  was  not remarkable.

It was many years earlier that the innovative, provocative Mulligan started to make his mark on our music. He was just 20 years old when, in the reed sections of both Claude Thornhill's and Gene Krupa's orchestras, he made his real debut as a composer/arranger. (Who can forget 'Disc Jockey Jump'?)

In 1948 he joined Miles Davis at the Royal Roost. From this came his arrangements of 'Jeru', 'Boplicity', 'Venus De Milo', and 'Godchild' for those epoch-making Capitol "Birth of the Cool" sessions, initiated and supervised by Pete Rugolo.

During the fifties Gerry toured both the United States and Europe with the quartet. Chet Baker was first replaced by Bob Brookmeyer on valve trombone, then by trumpeter Jon Eardley. Red Mitchell eventually joined as bassist. Mulligan continued to write big band numbers. His 'Young Blood' became a staple of the Stan Kenton library.

Gerry always was a meticulous arranger, particularly in crossing parts, to avoid repetitive notes. At one time we had a blindfold test programme on our Los Angeles jazz radio station. They played one of my big band charts and I was especially flattered when Hank Mancini said: "It sounds like one of Gerry Mulligan's compositions."

In 1957 Gerry appeared as a solo on "The Sound of Jazz", on CBS television. The memorable and oft repeated blues with Billie Holiday from this show will never be forgotten. The very youthful Mulligan playing then with Hawk, Prez and the others is something impressed in our minds.

In the late fifties Gerry's group, with trumpet man Art Farmer, appeared on various TV shows and in the film Jazz on a Summer's Day. In 1958 Gerry was also seen in the movie I Want to Live and he played the part of a priest in The Subterraneans.

My association with Gerry Mulligan evinced a very personal "note" in 1962, at the Monterey Jazz Festival. In the bar, following the afternoon performance, I said to Gerry: "I've just met this lovely girl. I want to take her to dinner but I'm rather short of cash. Could you lend me a fin (five dollars) Gerry?" 

With Gerry's five bucks we went to dinner and the lady eventually became my wife. So I really have something for which to thank Mr. Mulligan! I didn't see Gerry for a year to pay him back and, of course, he had forgotten all about it. In 1960 Gerry formed his 13-piece Concert Jazz Band touring Japan and Europe, evoking life in the depressed big band scene. From 1968 to 1972 Mulligan played with Dave Brubeck. This was a remarkable jazz collaboration. Gerry and altoist Paul Desmond constantly fascinated with       their improvised counterpoint. Dave called Gerry "an inspiration.” Gerry's last performance in southern California was at the "Jazz West Coast" festival some 18 months ago. Playing with just a rhythm section was generally conceded that the Mulligan event was: the star event of the four days.

Fortunately Gerry has left a multitude of recordings. The initial pianoless quartet was one of the first successes of Dick Bock's Pacific jazz label. There are recordings of Mulligan with seemingly every great jazz name, including Gerry with Duke Ellington, recorded at the Newport jazz festival, in 1958.

Gerry is survived by his wife, Franca, and a son, Reed, in Florida.”

- Howard Lucraft

Goodbye, Jeru

Down Beat, April, 1996

John McDonough

“If you are a Jazz fan of long or recent standing, you were probably saddened to hear of Gerry Mulligan’s death on January 20 [1996], still a youth at 68.

Mulligan's journey from young musician to jazz icon was not the standard career path. He began as a child of the Charlie Parker culture who once served three months for a heroin bust in the early '50s— your typical white, crew-cut, bebop junkie; then made himself into one of the most distinguished, dashing and cultivated figures of the music world by the 70s.


He might have traveled the path of his partner and alter ego of those early days, Chet Baker, for whom there was no redemption and who was ravaged then done in by his behavior. But not Mulligan. The forces that drive talent to destroy itself tend to be a puzzle to those of us who admire talent from some distance. Maybe Mulligan's brilliance was shielded by an intellect that somehow warned him of the consequences of his behavior on his talent. The fact that he put a high value on his talent and its possibilities made it worth protecting. It's just a theory, though; intellectuals mess up, too.

However he managed it, Mulligan emerged from the '50s clean, intact and with a lot going for him. He had assumed the special role as both arranger and player in the famous Miles Davis Nonet sessions at mid-century. And there was his brief but defining body of quartet work with Chet Baker. All this made him not merely famous by age 30 but historically important — ironically so, in a way. Though Mulligan would spend the vast majority of his professional life in the East, he was nevertheless fated to become the personification of "West Coast jazz."

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 baris 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.)

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 worlds of jazz and theater seamlessly

By the time he made his first! Concert Jazz Band recordings in I960, he was back in New York. His groundbreaking CJB was the music Mulligan might have written for Stan Kenton had Kenton permitted him back in 1952.

Later, with his while hair and beard, he assumed the look of a professor, a role he was well endowed to play. He was a strong advocate for jazz with a deep knowledge of jazz history, much of it seen firsthand. He was born in 1927. He could talk about music from the outside as a scholar as easily as he could from the inside as a musician. He was intelligent, articulate and suffered the uninformed with an icy impatience. When I found Mulligan among my dinner companions for several nights running on the 1994 Sovereign of the Seas jazz cruise, I held my breath at first, only to discover a delightful and witty ensemble player at conversational counterpoint.

I was not the only one to have that first reaction, though. "When I became editor of Down Beat in May, 1959," Gene Lees wrote last year in his jazzletter, "I had lunch with Jack Tracy [a previous editor] and asked him a question:'... who am I going to have trouble with?? 'Three guys,' Jack said. 'Buddy Rich, Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan.’ Perhaps because Jack had forewarned me, I had trouble with none of them, and indeed became very fond of all three. None more so than Gerald Joseph Mulligan."

Mulligan's musical values were, what we would call today, I suppose, neoclassical. When he was asked in 1991 and '92 to serve as artistic director of a Jazz concert series at Ravinia near Chicago, Mulligan made no pretense of his programming philosophy He booked the players whom he wanted to hear—and with whom he wanted to play: Lionel Hampton, Dave Brubeck, Oscar and Ella, Kenny Davern, Bob Wilber; Wynton Marsalis and Gunther Schuller.

He also played with his short-lived 1992 replication of the Miles Davis Nonet, Re-birth Of The Cool, with Lee Konitz and Bill Barber. Though launched with a fine CD on GRP, he seemed disappointed, if not exactly surprised, that the group received no more bookings that summer than the original group got in 1948 (two weeks at the Royal Roost).

Mulligan was an inveterate musical conversationalist who wanted to play with nearly everybody. The first time I saw him was at the 1965 Down Beat Jazz Festival playing with Roy Eldridge. His discography documents meetings with Thelonious Monk, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges. Scott Hamilton. Stan Getz, Astor Piazzolla and Paul Desmond, whom he ultimately replaced in Ihe Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1968. There were also long-term associations with Art Farmer and Bob Brookmeyer.

Mulligan's signature work tied him forever to the "cool" school. But the moniker owed more to his associations than his actual playing. He "was actually one of the rare jazzmen in the modern idiom," John S. Wilson once noted in his book The Collector's Jazz: Modern, "who carries the stigmata of 'hot' jazz." With the Brubeck Quartet and countless concert and festival appearances, he produced booming, aggressive, hard-swinging improvisations.

When worthy musicians got together he became a compulsive and competitive player. He is prominently featured with Billie Holiday and Count Basie in the famous 1957 TV special The Sound Of Jazz. But my most vivid recollection of this Mulligan goes back to a memorable White House jazz concert in June 1978. Jazz was still young enough that its entire history could be gathered on one stage. Musicians from Eubie Blake to Cecil Taylor were there. Some played and some were asked to make introductions. 

Among the latter was Mulligan, who left his bari in Connecticut. But as dusk settled over the South Lawn, Lionel Hampton started calling everyone up on stage for the final jam session. Mulligan suddenly seemed to grow mad with frustration at the thought of sitting this one out. Without his baritone and desperate, he cast about for a horn, any horn. Finally he managed to persuade the clarinetist of a New Orleans brass band to loan him his instrument, then bounded up on stage just in time to join in "Flying Home" and "In The Good Old Summertime."

Mulligan's early years won him enduring fame and an assured and prominent place in jazz history. His recording career spanned 1945-95, and leaves much for posterity to consider.”   DB

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