Mulligan, Gerry (actually, Gerald Joseph Mulligan)
Mulligan, Gerry (actually, Gerald Joseph Mulligan)
Mulligan, Gerry (actually, Gerald Joseph Mulligan), b. Queens, N.Y., April 6, 1927; d. Darien, Conn., Jan. 20, 1996. Modern jazz certainly had its share of icons in the 1950s: Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, and Ella Fitzgerald were all in their prime. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and (for close to the first half of the decade, anyway) Charlie Parker were still around. Even so, no one was more visible and popular than the lanky baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, whose “piano-less” quartet with Chet Baker caused a sensation when its initial recordings were issued in 1952. Even after his death, Mulligan remains the world’s most famous jazz baritone sax player.
Before learning clarinet and various saxophones, Mulligan started out on piano, and became primarily an arranger who wrote for the Johnny Warrington radio band (1944), and bands led by Tommy Tucker and George Paxton in the 1940s. Going to and through N.Y from 1947–51 (before settling in Calif.), he worked with drummer Gene Krupa’s Orch., contributing charts as staff arranger and playing alto with the band. In 1948 he did the same with the Claude Thornhill band. On Sept. 4, 1948, the Miles Davis Birth of the Cool group broadcast from the Royal Roost, and by January 1949, Mulligan participated in a series of recording sessions for Capitol which helped introduce the relaxed, anti-frantic, cool-jazz, “West Coast sound” to the jazz world on recordings between 1948–50. Mulligan’s other associations during this period included a group of musicians that would shape jazz for the next two decades: Stan Getz, Kai Winding, and those who would become Mulligan’s favorite sidemen—Lee Konitz, Jerry Lloyd, Don Ferrara, and Zoot Sims. Again, it was his arrangements for this assemblage of “Five Brothers,” that would capture the ears of his fans with their vibrant small-group format.
Early in 1952 Mulligan left N.Y., spending several months hitchhiking to Calif. where he settled in Los Angeles and had a rocky period with the Kenton band. Still known mostly as an arranger, it was the Los Angeles-based quartet he formed in the early 1950s with trumpeter Chet Baker, bassist “Red” Mitchell, and drummer Chico Hamilton that really focused attention on “Jem,” as Mulligan was also known. That “piano-less” foursome and its immediate successors had a crowd-pleasing, accessible approach to standards, comprising equal parts of Dixieland counterpoint, swinglike pacing, and boppish improvisation that translated into a winning combination. Formed through a series of circumstances that led to the omission of the piano, this quartet would make recordings, under the auspices of producer Richard Bock, that would be hailed by critics as the most innovative in modern progressive jazz. The original Gerry Mulligan Quartet was at its peak of fame in 1954 when a narcotics bust, 90 days in jail, and subsequent legal problems sidelined Mulligan for six months. Over a pay dispute, he and Baker parted and Mulligan headed back to N.Y.C., picking up musicians along the way—bassist Bill Crow, drummer Dave Bailey, and valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer—all who would remain with him as his group fluxed and changed into various configurations throughout the next decade.
In 1960 Mulligan formed his 13-piece concert band and toured Europe and, in 1964, Japan. After this band folded he freelanced as sideman, working often with pianist Dave Brubeck between 1968 and 1972, and serving as arranger for various groups. In the 1970s Mulligan led the short-lived big band the Age of Steam, headed and toured regularly overseas with a sextet that included vibist Dave Samuels, doubled on soprano for a time, and led a 14-piece band he had assembled. During the 1980s he experimented with a big band that featured electronic instruments, but returned mid-decade to a small-group format, leading a quintet with Scott Hamilton and Grady Tate. During the 1990s he led a “Rebirth of the Cool” band, toured with his quartet, and recorded final sessions for Telarc before his death in 1996.
Mulligan Plays Mulligan (1951); Gerry Mulligan Quartet Featuring Chet Baker Plus Chubby Jackson Big Band (1952); California Concerts, Vol. 1 (1954); California Concerts, Vol. 2 (1954); At Storyville (1957); The Gerry Mulligan Songbook (1957); Mulligan Meets Monk (1957); Mulligan Meets the Saxophonists (1957); What Is There to Say? (1959); The Concert Jazz Band (1960); Two of a Mind (with Paul Desmond; 1962); Timeless (1963); Something Borrowed, Something Blue (1966); Jazz Fest Masters (with Paul Desmond; 1969); Carnegie Hall Concert (with Chet Baker; 1974); Soft Lights and Sweet Music (with Scott Hamilton; 1986); Re-Birth of the Cool (1992); Walk on the Water (1993); Paraiso: Jazz Brazil (1993); Verve Jazz Masters, Vol. 36 (1994); Dream a Little Dream (1994); Dragonfly (1995); The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker (1995); Legacy (1996); This Is Jazz Number 18 (1996).