Gerry Mulligan Quartet
#1-4 : recorded Jan. 15, 1959
#5,6, 8 : recorded Dec. 23, 1958
#7 : recorded Dec. 17, 1958
The last of the pianoless quartet albums that Gerry Mulligan recorded in the 1950s is one of the best, featuring the complementary trumpet of Art Farmer, bassist Bill Crow, and drummer Dave Bailey along with the baritonist/leader. This recording is a little skimpy on playing time but makes every moment count. Virtually every selection is memorable, with "What Is There to Say," "Just in Time," "Festive Minor," "My Funny Valentine," and "Utter Chaos" being the high points. Highly recommended both to Mulligan collectors and to jazz listeners who are just discovering the great baritonist.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
In Gerry Mulligan's own words, from his liner notes to the original release of What Is There To Say?, "Jazz music is fun to me." It isn't about "all the super-intellectualizing on the technics of jazz and the lack of response to the emotion and meaning of jazz." Instead, he wants you to know "we all had a lot of fun making [the album]," and that "we just hope you have a share in our fun."
Having said as much, I hope that what follows in these notes is received in a spirit consistent with Mulligan's concept of fun, not to mention the music on What Is There To Say?
In his 1991 biography of Gerry Mulligan, Listen: Gerry Mulligan, An Aural Narrative In Jazz, author Jerome Klinkowitz isn't past page 2 before he's singing the praises of What Is There To Say?, the "flawlessly executed album" that "caught the high point of [Mulligan's] improvisatory lyricism." Mulligan's career was almost 14 years along at this point (the album was recorded in December and January, 1958 and '59); What Is There To Say? was his first as a leader for major-label Columbia (if you don't consider the Columbia sampler Gerry Mulligan: The Arranger, with selections from 1946-49 and 1957, eventually released in 1977). Featuring a piano-less, small-group sound that had been developed in a variety of settings with, among others, trumpeter Chet Baker, trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, and saxophonists Paul Desmond and Zoot Sims, What Is There To Say?
serves as a reminder that Mulligan was interested in chordless, piano-less jazz well before the innovative saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Mulligan was just coming into his prime as a player, writer and arranger, with What Is There To Say? providing what Klinkowifz described as a slice of "pure Mulligan.. .exquisite proof of Mulligan's gift as a writer and arranger.. .as clear an insight into the man and his music as four decades of listening might provide."
That someone brandishing the traditionally uncalled-for and unwieldy baritone saxophone would go on to such great heights in the jazz world is a testimonial to Mulligan's drive, talent, and creativity. And while Mulligan's career was to become a multi-faceted one, only Harry Carney in Duke Ellington's band precedes Mulligan as a noteworthy baritone soloist in jazz. Thanks largely to Mulligan's influence, the list of bari players has grown to include, among others, Jimmy Giuffre and Pepper Adams (both relative contemporaries), Hamiet Bluiett, John Surman, Ronnie Cuber, Nick Brignola, and Cecil Payne.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. To better understand the brilliance of What Is There To Say? let's take a peek at its-and, consequently, Mulligan's-genesis. Born in Queens, New York City, on April 6,1927, our man Mulligan received the proverbial piano lessons, followed by clarinet and some instruction in the world of arranging. His family moved to Philadelphia (thanks to his father's job transfers), and it was there that Mulligan took his first professional gig, at the age of 17, arranging for a radio band at Philly's WCAU in 1944. It was here that he came in contact with the big band of Elliot Lawrence, a relatively innovative leader who saw in Mulligan the potential for playing (clarinet, alto, tenor, and baritone sax) and arranging. With Lawrence, there was enough room to experiment with the tonal colors that would eventually set him apart from traditional big-band arrangers. Incorporating the French horn as a regular brass instrument, for example, and breaking up the standard riff figures so common to dance tunes, Mulligan was clearly straddling the fence between the big-band era and what was to follow. This was the post-war era-1945, to be exact. A bit of traveling and roadwork ensued, including trips to New York. In 1946, at 19, Mulligan had his first taste of real jazz with Gene Krupa's big band. Primarily hired as an arranger, but playing alto occasionally, Mulligan flexed his musical muscles with Krupa for less than a year, incorporating a new music he'd heard on his trips to New York, namely bebop (e.g., "Birds Of A Feather," "Bird House"). 1947 was a critical year for Mulligan, for that was the year he left Krupa to join another big-band leader with ideas miles from the company of dance orchestras led by fellas with names like Miller, Goodman, and Dorsey. That leader was Claude Thornhill, a pianist and arranger in his own right. Thornhill sought to use Mulligan's ideas, along with those of Gil Evans, a young arranger who'd been working with Thornhill on and off since 1941. It was with Thornhill and Evans that Mulligan's move away from '30s and '40s big-band swing gathered momentum. Experimenting with new voicings, tempos, and textures, Mulligan took advantage of Thornhill's and Evans' penchant for rich dynamics and understated colors, for unusual instrumentation (e.g., clarinets galore, French horns, and tuba). All of this activity echoed the orchestral jazz of Duke Ellington, but it also called on bebop, and smaller, more economical groups. It was this dialectic of big band and small group that was to inform Mulligan's subsequent work with the best of his quartets and sextets of the '50s, his concerto grosso work with Bob Brookmeyer in 1957, and again with his Concert Jazz Band of the early '60s. Prior to these endeavors, however, Mulligan's fruitful collaborations with Thornhill and Evans ended with what were to become known as the "Birth Of The Cool" sessions of 1949-50. Through Evans, Mulligan was to meet a young trumpeter who'd been apprenticing with bebop-pers Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in New York, one Miles Davis. Davis shared an affinity with Evans and Mulligan for orchestral jazz played in the context of bebop. It was only natural that Thornhill's, Evans', and Mulligan's adaptations of new bop classics for big band (e.g., Parker's "Donna Lee" and "Yardbird Suite") would find an audience not only with Davis, but with other young jazz musicians such as Lee Konitz, Kai Winding, John Lewis, and Max Roach, musicians who were to figure prominently on the "Cool" sessions and beyond. Thornhill's exotic .uses for French horns and tuba, in particular, were carried over into the rich ensemble textures of the Miles Davis Nonet, as the band was to be called. Unlike bop, as it had thus far developed, with fiery tempos, and an emphasis on virtuosity, extended solos, and elliptical phrasings, this new group sought a sound that some saw as a retreat, others an advance toward a more melodic and inventive kind of big-band bop, a sound tied less to rhythm than to sound itself; a sound that, in some ways, anticipated what was to be called West Coast Jazz. Mulligan's "Jem," from the nickname Davis gave Mulligan, survives as a classic example of this brand of big-band jazz from both the Thornhill and Davis days.
Basically a rehearsal studio band, the ambitious Nonet was born in 1948, only to die two years later as musicians sought other opportunities, other playing formats. And yet, for Mulligan, the impression had been made, the connection to Evans, Davis, bop, New York City, and a host of progressive jazz musicians solidified. Players such as trombonist Kai Winding, bassist/leader Chubby Jackson, and Charlie Parker all had important collaborations with Mulligan during this time. Work as a player and writer for Elliot Lawrence and Claude Thornhill, and as a member of various small combos, continued into 1951 (including a brief roller-coaster ride with bandleader, Stan Kenton), when he put together his first large ensemble, a New York dectet modeled after Davis' ensemble. (His second dectet was formed in California in 1953.)
But small-group work was the primary focus of the '50s for Mulligan. Southern California, 1952, was the setting for his first piano-less quartet, one that held the same instrumentation that makes up the What Is There To Say? sessions. A young trumpeter named Chet Baker helped bring this new group to the attention of the world, and started Mulligan especially on the road to critical acclaim as he began to dominate the music polls (including down heat's) as a baritone saxophonist.
For Mulligan, the lack of a piano wasn't so much a concession to small stages or economics as a part of his ongoing approach to small-group jazz. As can be readily discerned on What Is There To Say?, the substitution of piano by trumpet and baritone sax provides an intriguing, and refreshing, chordal alternative. For Mulligan and others, the piano, more often than not, offered little that wasn't ultimately repetitious and confining to small groups seeking to expand the possibilities for horn players. Instead of competing with a comping piano during solos, or even when the theme was being played, Mulligan's design was to stack the horns- in this case, baritone and trumpet-with different registers and alternating melodic statements, a kind of two-horn counterpoint. Essentially, a song's chord structure was anchored by the bass but only implied by the horns, thus giving the soloists a new kind of chromatic freedom that the tightly knitted bebop forms were incapable of providing. For standards and originals alike, the effect was a spare understatement, a sort of minimalism for jazz, with a sound both porous and pregnant with possibilities. For Mulligan, the small setting was starting to provide an ideal balance between his talents as both a composer/arranger and as a player. Unfortunately, this quartet-which included a series of bassists, from Red Mitchell to Bob Whitlock to Carson Smith, and drummers Chico Hamilton and Larry Bunker-was to last only a year because of a narcotics bust that sent Mulligan off for three months. No fun here.
When Mulligan returned to action, he was back in New York, with long-time associate Bob Brookmeyer fronting a new quartet that eventually, by the mid-'50s, added permanent new members to become the Gerry Mulligan Sextet. Up to this point, Mulligan had recorded for a variety of labels, both as a sideman for hire and as a leader, the most prominent ones being the Capitol sessions with Miles Davis and Chet Baker, and Pacific Jazz and World Pacific recordings with his quartet (including Baker) and dectet as well as with Lee Konitz. By 1954, the new quartet with Brookmeyer alternately included bassists Red Mitchell and Bill Crow, and drummers Frank Isola and Dave Bailey (Crow and Bailey returning again for the What Is There To Say? sessions). An emphasis in all of these groups was on a big sound, especially with the sextet sound coming from the saxophone, trombone, and trumpet. It was economy and heft all in one. Speaking of a big sound, a key difference between the Baker quartet and these new editions with Brookmeyer had everything to do with emotion, and a sense of humor (to get back to Mulligan's notion of fun posited earlier). With the music already capable of a certain lightness as well as big sound, substitute a penchant for perkier tempos and Brookmeyer's growling, sometimes blaring valve trombone for Baker's cool, understated tone and of times mellower pulses.
It took them a while to reach that state of spontaneous polyphony that serves the What Is There To Say? quartet so well, but the spirited, fun-loving evidence is there on numbers like "The Lady Is A Tramp" and "Makin' Whoopee," from The Fabulous Gerry Mulligan Quartet: Paris Concert 1954 (Vogue Jazz). The energy and good feelings remained with Mulligan's Sextet, from '55-'56, featuring the rich, breathy colors of jam-session friend, tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims. It was a sextet that recorded three albums for Mercury, and really soared as a concert band, emphasizing both a typically tight ensemble sound and a context that let each player express himself. On occasion, both Brookmeyer and Mulligan would play piano accompanist to one of the horns.
As for Mulligan, the period just preceding and including the '58-'59 What Is There To Say? sessions produced a whirlwind of activity that, in a sense, helped consolidate his place in the larger world of jazz. At the peak of his form as a soloist, Mulligan's increasingly vocal style of playing was to find expression with a veritable Who's Who of jazz: Ben Webster, Paul Desmond, Thelonious Monk, Stan Getz, Count Basie, Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Annie Ross, Johnny Hodges, and Jimmy Witherspoon. (Did I leave anyone out? Of course!) The dates with Getz (with the tenorist and bariman trading horns on three numbers!), Webster, Wilson, Hodges, and Desmond were all recorded for Verve, a label that was to figure prominently in Mulligan's early '60s work with his magnificent but unfortunately shortlived Concert Jazz Band. All of these "blowing dates" freed Mulligan up to not only play the sideman, or co-star, but to concentrate on his style as a soloist and arranger, to heighten his listening skills, and to develop a newfound flexibility to styles he wouldn't normally play, let alone record (e.g., Monk's angularity and abstract touch contrasted sharply). In addition to these sessions were two large-ensemble dates in '57 that were, in a sense, preludes to the Concert Jazz Band, one with arranger/leader Manny Albam, the other with his own 15-piece band, both groups including Sims and Brookmeyer.
There were other sessions, like a reunion with Chet Baker ('57), the soundtrack work for two films, / Want To Live! ('58) and The Subterraneans ('59), and a host of other recordings that Mulligan had made up to this point. But, hey, you get the idea!
Even though the group for What Is There To Say? lasted for only an album's worth of material (Mulligan was planning the Concert Jazz Band), the return to a piano-less quartet setting toward the end of the '50s was a natural for Mulligan. In a sense, it was like coming full circle: a return, with substantial changes, to the acclaimed format he explored with Chet Baker starting in 1952. Having begun his recording collaboration with Art Farmer in '57 on the Albam date (followed by the Annie Ross and / Want To Live! sessions), Mulligan's work with Dave Bailey and Bill Crow likewise preceded the What Is There To Say? recordings by even more dates together.
The repertoire on What Is There To Soy? includes some familiar tunes, like "My Funny Valentine," a standard normally associated with Chet Baker. "What Is There To Say" and "Just In Time," the other standards given the Mulligan overhaul here, are balanced by Mulligan's "As Catch Can," "Festive Minor," and "Utter Chaos," as well as Farmer's "Blueport" and Crow's "News From Blueport." And yet, the constantly changing, highly inventive playing and arrangements (the only quartet record where Mulligan credits himself as arranger) on all eight numbers make for a seamless whole.
Spurred on by the delicate interplay between Mulligan and Farmer (who takes Baker's breathiness one step further and adds some characteristic grit), the Gerry Mulligan Quartet works as an organism, rhythmically slowing down and speeding up depending on each tune's arrangement and song form. Combining the best of the jazz tradition handed down from Dixieland with the free expression of individual improvisation, a tune like "What Is There To Say" strikes that balance even as it takes its cues from a kind of chamber-group sensibility. The up tempo "Just In Time," perhaps the album's most obvious example of rhythmic interplay, has Mulligan stating the melody at the outset, only to have Farmer restating it at the end, with all kinds of fancy dancing in between from everyone. Crow's "News From Blueport" features alternating 4/4 time over the standard 6/8, as Crow sets up a bass figure that leads the tune's moves into rhythmic variation. On "Festive Minor," the solos include Farmer's cozy, muted trumpet followed by a "singing" solo by Mulligan. Throughout, time-signature changes occur repeatedly. Belying its title, the "Festive" heat is turned up only toward the end as Farmer's open horn spars with Mulligan's. The perky "As Catch Can" sounds like a cat-and-mouse game between all participants, as the arrangement takes a number of turns, including a fair number of stops and starts. As with every number here, the lovely "My Funny Valentine" showcases how Mulligan and Farmer back each other up, in lieu of the chordal accompaniment normally provided by a piano. This sound, more than any other, distinguishes this quartet. Along with "My Funny Valentine" and "Utter Chaos," Farmer's "Blueport" would find its way into the Concert Jazz Band book a few years later. Here, the tempo is slower but no less spirited. Everyone is "up" for this hard-blowing blues vehicle, which features Farmer and Mulligan trading fours halfway through the tune. "Utter Chaos" is a funny title, given the tune's relatively cool, convivial mood. Having been a favorite set-closer, the bouncy, swinging "Chaos" reminds one of the occasionally impish Mulligan: his oblique sense of humor, playfulness, and desire to "launch a little enthusiasm and restore fun to its rightful place in jazz."
-John Ephland (Down Beat, February, 1993)