Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Gerald Joseph Mulligan, 6 April 1927, NYC; d 20 January 1996 of cancer) Baritone sax, composer, bandleader. He worked with Gene Krupa '46-7 (wrote 'Disc Jockey Jump') Miles Davis '48-50 on records: wrote 'Jeru' (his nickname), 'Rocker' and 'Venus De Milo' for the famous nonet sessions later called Birth Of The Cool. He wrote and played for Elliot Lawrence and Claude Thornhill; his first album as a leader was Mulligan Plays Mulligan '51 on Prestige; he moved to West Coast and jam sessions made at a tiny L.A. club the Haig early '52 have been issued. Trio tracks with Red Mitchell and Chico Hamilton, and quartet tracks with Chet Baker, Joe Mondragon on bass and Jimmy Rowles on piano were released on the new Pacific Jazz label; then a pianoless quartet opened at the Haig with Baker, Hamilton and bassist Bob Whitlock. The club had had a huge grand piano, too big for the space, and perhaps was being renovated and the piano had been removed, but Whitlock said in an interview many years later that Mulligan didn't want a piano dominating the harmony, but preferred his men to listen to each other.

The group broke through and became so popular that it secured Pacific Jazz as a going concern and allowed the media to launch 'West Coast Jazz', a non-genre which did not include many blacks. This was not Mulligan's fault, and the music is still enchanting. A larger group with Mondragon, Hamilton, Baker, Pete Candoli and Bud Shank recorded for Capitol; various small-group sidemen included Larry Bunker, then Frank Isola replacing Hamilton, Mondragon and Carson Smith for Whitlock; Lee Konitz was added at the Haig in June '53. They also recorded for Fantasy. (Drummer Bunker d 8 March 2005 in L.A. aged 76; Von 'Bob' Whitlock b 21 January 1931, Roosevelt Utah; d 29 June 2015, Long Beach CA)

Mulligan did time for a drugs offence; when he came out Baker had gone solo and trombonist Bobby Brookmeyer replaced him; the quartet went to Paris '54 with Mitchell and Isola; then Jon Eardley (b 30 September 1928, Altoona PA) replaced Brookmeyer. Mulligan formed a sextet '55-8 which toured Europe (LPs Mainstream Jazz '55 on EmArcy included Eardley, Brookmeyer, Zoot Sims); he made Gerry Mulligan, The Arranger on CBS '57 with 15 pieces, appeared as a single with all-star lineups on classic CBS-TV The Sound Of Jazz and at the Newport Jazz Festival regularly from the first one in '54, seen in the Newport film Jazz On A Summer's Day '58. He recorded with Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Thelonious Monk and Baker again, all '57; a new group with Art Farmer appeared on CBS-TV Timex Jazz Show '58 and recorded soundtrack music for I Want To Live on UA (Susan Hayward played prostitute Barbara Graham, executed on slim evidence). Mulligan/Farmer recorded at Newport '58 and Mulligan also played and recorded with Duke Ellington there; recorded with Ben Webster '59, Johnny Hodges '60. His close friend was the superb actress Judy Holliday (1922-65), who died of cancer (she debuted in the Revuers, a cabaret group she formed with Betty Comden and Adolph Green; starred on Broadway in Born Yesterday '46 and won an Oscar for the film version '50; stole the comedy Adam's Rib '49 from Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn '49; further films included Bells Are Ringing '60). They made Holliday With Mulligan '61 on DRG with arrangements by Al Cohn, Bill Finegan and Ralph Burns, reissued on CD.

He appeared with Farmer, Hamilton, Buddy Clark, Carmen McRae etc in film The Subterraneans '60 (adapted from Jack Kerouac, with music by André Previn): Mulligan, who played a clergyman, was still addicted to heroin. He had avoided it as a young man in NYC when everyone around him was dabbling but succumbed later: 'I think I managed to not be an adult in just about every imaginable area' (interview with Ira Gitler in Swing To Bop '86). He kicked the habit, probably helped by the stability of marriage to actress Sandy Dennis '65; meanwhile had formed a big band '60-66, as well as small groups. The Concert Jazz Band Featuring Zoot Sims: 19 November 1960 on RTE Europe was a well-recorded live concert, two CDs' worth, with Candoli, Clark, Mel Lewis, Brookmeyer and others, a superb document. Toured with Dave Brubeck '68-72, formed large ensemble The Age Of Steam '72 (album on A&M), reunited with Baker (Carnegie Hall Concert '74 on CTI), etc. 'The Flying Scotsman' was a commission for the Glasgow Festival '88, recorded with Dean Johnson on bass; with Johnson, pianist Ted Rosenthal and drummer Ron Vincent made up Mulligan's touring quartet from '90. He played in a re-creation of the Davis nonet at Gil Evans's funeral '88 (with John Lewis and Lee Konitz), then made Re-Birth Of The Cool '92 on GRP with John Lewis, Phil Woods, Wallace Roney and others. Dragon Fly '95 on Telarc was probably his last studio date, ten of his own tunes played by the quartet with guests such as Warren Vaché and John Scofield, discreet brass overdubbed.

Mulligan toured the world and won all the polls, popular not only with fans but critics and other musicians: he was a musical sparkplug, making something happen wherever he went; when he insisted on playing at Newport '54 with Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday, Lester Young couldn't stand being left out and so Billie and Lester were reunited. Brubeck said that with Mulligan 'you feel as if you're listening to the past, present and future of jazz all at one time' (quoted by Leonard Feather). More small-group albums included What Is There To Say? '59 with Farmer and Jeru '62 with Tommy Flanagan on CBS, Meets Johnny Hodges '60 on Verve, Night Lights '63 on Philips with Farmer, Idle Gossip '76 on Chiaroscuro, lovely Dream A Little Dream '94 on Telarc with pianist Ted Rosenthal. Big-band sets included Presents A Concert In Jazz '61 on Verve, Walk On The Water '80 (produced by Hank O'Neal) on DRG (won a Grammy); medium-sized groups are La Menace '82 on DRG (themes from the '72 French Canadian action film), Little Big Horn '83 on GRP; many more big-band and small-group albums on Verve, Mercury, Limelight etc '60-74. He also recorded with pianist Pete Jolly (b Peter A. Cragioli, 5 June '32, New Haven CT; d 6 Nov. 2004, Pasadena: the popular Pete Jolly Trio was a California fixture for deades), Acker Bilk, Paul Desmond, Scott Hamilton etc. Symphonic Dreams '87 on PAR (Pro Acoustic Recordings) was made with the Houston S.O. conducted by Erich Kunzel.