bitguru blog

a guru of bits, or just a bit player?

Gerry Mulligan

Posted by bitguru on April 10, 2007

The other day I wrote that the baritone saxophone can be a lyrical instrument. No one has proffered more evidence for this than Gerry Mulligan. I mention this because I just fortuitously ran across some interesting program notes from a 1963 Mulligan concert in England.

I’m not sure who besides me would make a good audience for it, but it does a good job setting up the history of jazz baritone sax and explaining Mulligan’s innovations. (Though I’m not sure everyone would agree with his Lester Young hypothesis.) The anonymous author also touches on what made Mulligan’s improvised solos stand out in a post-Charlie Parker world. This is hard to put in words, but I award his attempt a tie for first prize.

The other half of first prize goes to a Down Beat review by Ralph Gleason. While the program notes describe Mulligan in isolation, Gleason tackles Mulligan’s contrapuntal interaction with his fellow musicians: “There are times, usually on an interlude toward the end of a number, when he is able to direct the horns into a boiling and bubbling stew which can raise me right off the floor….”

He is referring to Mulligan’s sextet (his earlier one, not the 1970s sextet) which recorded three LPs in 1955 in 1956. It was looking like they were never going to be rereleased because the rights to the recordings had evidently been sold to a small Japanese label before the advent of CDs. I resorted to purchasing them on vinyl via ebay with thoughts of someday digitizing them. But they were finally released as a two CD set about a year ago. I recommend them.

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One Response to “Gerry Mulligan”

  1. Alan Cole said

    Hey, I think I heard a recording on Pandora dot com today (9-4-2007) featuring Gerry Mulligan playing alto saxophone. Who’d a-thunk?

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