Gerry Mulligan Jazz Band Concert – a story
In 1959 Metronome released what he called “The All Time All Star Poll”, which was won by Charlie Parker with Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan finishing second and third respectively. That same year, Mulligan was the subject of a long two-part profile in the New Yorker by Nat Hentoff, proving that his fame had gone beyond the narrow limits of jazz. Indeed, his longtime drummer Dave Bailey once summed it up for me by saying, “Gerry was hotter than a firecracker back then.”
A year later, Mulligan shocked the jazz world and his own fan base by deciding to form a big band. The big band era was only a distant memory, having ended at least a decade earlier, but it represented a return to its musical roots. Prior to his success as a small band performer in the 1950s, he had proven to be a creative big band arranger for Elliot Lawrence, Claude Thornhill, Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton. In 1949, he was the principal author of Miles Davis’ nonet, contributing to no less than seven of the 12 scores recorded by this extremely influential ensemble.
Leaving New York in 1951, Mulligan moved to Los Angeles, where Kenton recorded several of his innovative charts, including Young Blood, Limelight and Swing House, before forming his first pianoless quartet with Chet Baker. Time the magazine enthusiastically reviewed the group, hinting at “a Bach-like counterpoint.” . . with a small tailgate polyphony ”.
When Baker left in 1953, Mulligan found ready-made replacements in Tony Fruscella, Jon Eardley, Bob Brookmeyer, and Art Farmer. For a while in the mid-1950s it expanded into a sextet with Zoot Sims, Eardley, and Brookmeyer, recording with them some of the best small group tracks of the era. Now a virtuoso soloist, he was also an accomplished baritone accompanist – an instrument perfectly suited to the role. Contrapuntal interaction has become a defining characteristic of his groups, and this stimulating device – almost totally ignored by boppers – has created some of the most striking ensemble sounds in small group jazz.
In the late 1950s, Mulligan enjoyed a brief career in Hollywood films, appearing in I want to live, The rat race and The underground and if this latter isn’t the worst movie ever made, it will until the real thing happens. He also played an unreleased role with his longtime partner, the delightful Judy Holliday in Bells are ringing. The money he earned from these films allowed him to organize the CJB, although $ 30,000 was needed to get the project started (around $ 500,000 in today’s money). He didn’t want the band to have an “angel” although Norman Granz’s financial support was quite substantial for a time.
He also didn’t want an all-white band for musical and social reasons, so Blue Mitchell, Charlie Rouse, and Dave Bailey were all hired. Mitchell and Rouse didn’t stay too long and Bailey, who wasn’t much of a big band drummer, was quickly replaced by Mel Lewis. This ultimately led to a controversial moment on the Mike Wallace TV show. On a live broadcast, he told Gerry, “I see a lot of white faces. How is it that there are no black faces in the group? Always ready to respond quickly, Brookmeyer pointed to Lewis saying, “We have a Jewish drummer. Is it a help? Gerry’s groups had of course never been chosen on the basis of race. In 1958 he was the only Caucasian in a quartet with Art Farmer, Henry Grimes and Dave Bailey.
Mel Lewis, who Connie Kay once described as the biggest drummer in the big band, had a relaxed, laid-back sense of swing that was an essential part of CJB’s success. Although he has a wife and family in California and the security of a regular studio job there, he was happy to travel to New York to work with Mulligan. In a review of the band’s performance at Birdland that Simon Spillett kindly sent me years ago, he was quoted as saying, “The CJB might one day compare to Basie or the Duke band.” Along with Conte Candoli and Buddy Clark, he had been recruited in Los Angeles by Brookmeyer – the Straw Boss – to join a mostly East Coast group that included Don Ferrara, Phil Sunkel, Nick Travis, Jim Reider and Gene Allen, with which all had already worked. Mulligan.
Gene Quill – one of New York’s top viola and clarinet players – was familiar with Gerry’s music, as was Willie Dennis. Unfortunately, Willie’s unique trombone design hasn’t been heard often enough. He excelled at what’s known as “crossing the grain,” which allowed him to add overtones to any note without actually tearing up as he quickly moved the slider between positions. Good examples of his artistry with CJB can be heard on Bridgehampton Strut, Blueport and especially Chuggin ‘.
Bob Donovan and Alan Raph made their recording debuts with CJB. Bob was playing second viola and Alan was there due to a change in instrumentation. Gerry had wanted to include a tuba like he had done with his tent but he told me in an interview with JJ (May / June 1995): “There was no one I could count on who could cut the book. to go on the road with us. Raph, who had worked at the Metropolitan Opera for the Bolshoi, was selected on bass trombone and he remained with the CJB, occasionally sending Benny Powell as a replacement. When he was not appearing with the group, he often worked with Leopold Stokowski. With his classical training he was clearly a consummate reader, but he told me that Brookmeyer always gave any graph the definitive reading: “He could read me under the table.
Before opening in Basin Street East in January 1960, the band rehearsed for about three months at Lynn Oliver’s Studio on West 89th Street. Most of the early books, based on Gerry’s small group repertoire, were written by Al Cohn, Bill Holman, and Bob Brookmeyer. The leader later told Nat Hentoff, “As far as my own participation goes, my mark is on the band, but so far I’ve been more of a writing supervisor than a very active contributor. This often involved changing some of the arrangements, prompting the witty Mr. Brookmeyer to say on more than one occasion, “We have a rehearsal tomorrow – bring your erasers!” Gerry’s reaction to Al Cohn’s Lady Chatterley’s mother was a little different. Sensing that he needed something more, he asked Al to look at him again. The following week, new tracks were released, including an exciting screaming chorus creating what Phil Woods called “The chart of charts.”
Norman Granz released a single to promote the new band’s launch, and Bill Holman’s catchy 6/8 arrangement of Ellington’s I’m Gonna Go Fishin ‘got widespread circulation. Never one to sell at lower prices, it took a whole page spread across Highligths, announcing “1960 Belongs To Gerry Mulligan” when the group’s debut LP became available. The album received five stars in the magazine from Don De Michael, who said, “I think this is the most important big band in jazz today.”
CJB delighted a crowded audience at the Newport Jazz Festival that year in torrential downpours. The event was filmed by the US news service. In September, they embarked on a 17-city tour of the West and Midwest, including a concert in Santa Monica with guest soloist Zoot Sims. Some of that night’s performances were released by Mosaic, but two titles were heavily modified – The Red Door and Go Home.
Fortunately, Fresh Sound released the entire concert in 2012, restoring the missing parts. Zoot’s dancing tenor lines add an infectious zest for life whenever he’s center stage, but his contribution to Apple Core, especially during a thrilling chorus where he goes all out, is breathtaking. Even after all these years, I want to give her a standing ovation every time I hear it. It was based on Love Me Or Leave Me and he featured it with Mulligan on a date with Chubby Jackson in 1950 when his name was So What.
The CJB then embarked on three weeks of concerts in Europe performing in Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. Trumpeter Nick Travis had a loose tooth just below the mouthpiece throughout the tour, but the shine of his main work was not affected. He had played with the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra and upon his death in 1964, Gerry and Bill Finegan’s wife established a trust fund to pay for his children’s college education.
Max Gordon’s Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village almost became the group’s spiritual home with just four indoor engagements over a six-month period. Their recording of Blueport from the club culminates with a fascinating series of exchanges between Clark Terry (who had replaced Candoli) and Mulligan that turn into an orgy of humorous quotes. Terry was interviewed in Joe Goldberg’s book The Masters Of Jazz Of The 50s, saying, “Gerry is a real leader. He respects all the guys and knows how much they contribute and you feel like you are a part of things. It pays well too. He’s not like a leader I’ve worked for who said, “I want you to remember it’s me they’re paying to see.”
Judy Holliday made her Vanguard debut in 1938 with Adolph Green and Betty Comden and Leonard Bernstein occasionally accompanying them on the piano. She was often at the club to hear the CJB, sitting with Don Ferrara’s wife and whistling loudly after the solos and at the end of each track. On one occasion, she threw a party for the whole group at her luxurious seven-room apartment in the Dakota Building on Central Park West. It is not known if his neighbors Lauren Bacall, Boris Karloff, Jason Robards and Rosemary Clooney attended.
In 1961, the group recorded several ambitious new pieces by George Russell and Gary McFarland. Wayne Shorter also brought his Mom G which became part of the directory but was not registered. By this point Mulligan and Granz had apparently had a disagreement and it was getting harder and harder to keep the group on the road. He and Brookmeyer returned to quartet format, which is when Duke Ellington asked Bob to join his orchestra. Brookmeyer told me in an interview with JJ (November / December 1995) that he would have loved to play with Ellington but Duke couldn’t afford to pay him what he made with Mulligan.
The CJB played occasionally at Birdland and upon a January 1964 reservation at the club there had been significant personnel changes. Thad Jones, Phil Woods and Richie Kamuca were the featured soloists and in a Highligths Critic Ira Gitler said, “If this band can’t perform when they want to, there’s something really wrong with the state of music in America.”
It was clearly a prophetic statement. In December 1964, CJB played their last engagement at Birdland, the night the club closed. Brookmeyer, somewhat ironically, summed up years later: “We shut down the original Birdland in grand style – scotch, cocaine and Santa!
End Verve sessions – Mosaic MD4-221
Newport 1960 – Solar records 4569890
Zurich 1960 – TCB TCB 02122 records
Live at the Olympia Paris 1960 (two CDs) – Gambit Records 69249
Gerry Mulligan + Concert Jazz Band 1960-1962: Live In Paris (three CDs) – Frémeaux FA 5796
Santa Monica 1960 (two CDs) – Fresh Sound Records FSR-CD 710
Judy Holliday – Gerry Mulligan – DRG CDSL 5191 records
Provocative tones – Alto Records AL 717