Gerry Mulligan (saxophone)
The Best of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker (1952 to ‘57), Vol.1: Classic Mulligan – Konitz Meets Mulligan (1953), Makin’ Whoopee (?), California Concerts (1954), Gerry Mulligan Quartet at Storyville (1956), Blues in Time (1957), The Gerry Mulligan Songbook (1957), What is There to Say? (1958), News From Blueport (1959), Live at the Village Vanguard (1960), Sextet – Complete Studio Recordings (1963, ‘65)
The expert opinion goes something like this: Gerry Mulligan is the most famous, most important, greatest baritone sax player in modern jazz.
Enough reason to listen, but there are many more reasons. He created a smooth, flexible sound on an instrument that can be a bit heavy, even clunky at times. His style was a cornerstone of West Coast cool jazz. On top of that, Mulligan wrote great tunes and his intelligent arrangements sound as fresh as ever.
The available albums cover virtually 50 years and even Penguin Music doesn’t find a single dud among them. Here and there a live recording might be a bit murky or a studio combination didn’t quite spark. But even then, there’s always something worth hearing.
The legend among them is The Original Quartet, 42 tracks recorded quickly and without much preparation by Mulligan’s four with Chet Baker. It’s considered a classic of ‘50s and cool jazz – smooth, joyful music for any mood. The bad news is Apple Music only has The Best Of, a measly 15 tracks that leaves you wanting more.
When I feel like listening to Mulligan, I ask myself who I’d like to hear him with. He was always keen to perform with other greats and most of the pairings are magical. None of the dates with Konitz are in PG – they must have been out of print – but the two I found on AM are favourites.
Just as enjoyable is Blues in Time, which is Mulligan with the quartet of the elegant Paul Desmond: “There has probably never been a saxophone sound as finely blended as this”, writes PG. There’s more if you want it on Two of a Kind and Two of a Mind. The combination with the smooth trumpet of Art Farmer on News from Blueport is very pleasant, too. Though I’m not keen on either, you should know that Mulligan Meets Monk and Mulligan Meets Ben Webster are also rated highly.
Songbook has four saxophones and a violin playing, which gives it a real carnival atmosphere. The Sextet, one of my favourites, combines Night Lights and Butterfly with Hiccups. The deft guitar work of Jim Hall adds a dimension to the first and together they are among the most-played albums in my jazz collection.
Gerry Mulligan soothes, stimulates and entertains in equal measure. He’s left us a mighty body of work that I’ll never stop exploring.