© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Gordon Jack is a frequent contributor to the Jazz Journal and a very generous friend to these pages in his allowance of JazzProfiles re-publishings of his excellent writings. He is the author of Fifties Jazz Talk An Oral Retrospective and he developed the Gerry Mulligan discography in Raymond Horrick’s book Gerry Mulligan’s Ark.
The following article was first published in Jazz Journal March 2016..
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© - Gordon Jack/JazzJournal; copyright protected, all rights reserved., used with permission.
“Gerry Mulligan formed a short-lived sextet in 1963 with Art Farmer, Bob Brookmeyer, Jim Hall, Bill Crow and Dave Bailey. They recorded a couple of albums now reissued on Lonehill LHJ 10222 and also appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival that year. It is an earlier version of the sextet that is remembered with most affection however - the one which worked pretty extensively from September 1955 until late 1956 featuring Zoot Sims, Bob Brookmeyer and Jon Eardley.
A trumpet, trombone, tenor and baritone ensemble is one Mulligan first worked with as a member of Kai Winding’s group in the late forties with his good friend Brew Moore along with trumpeter Jerry Lloyd (aka Hurwitz). A few years later in 1953 there was talk of Mulligan, Stan Getz, Chet Baker and Brookmeyer going on the road together but this never materialised because Stan and Gerry could never agree on who was to be the leader.
Although Mulligan’s sextet was officially launched in New York in 1955, west coast audiences were given a preview when Zoot and Brookmeyer appeared as guests with Gerry’s quartet at a San Diego concert in December 1954. Three tracks were recorded for the album titled California Concerts - Western Reunion, I Know Don’t Know How and The Red Door. Reunion is Gerry’s homage to Zoot Sims and is in fact a Bweebida Bobbida contrafact. I Know is a delightful ballad based on the bridge from Line For Lyons and Red Door is a joint effort by Sims and Mulligan (Gerry wrote the middle eight). It was named after a rehearsal studio on West 49th. Street between Broadway and 8th. Avenue. Mulligan, Sims, Lester Young, Frank Isola, Jerry Lloyd and their friends used to pay a rental of 25 cents each to play there around 1947/48. On one occasion when nobody had any money Gerry took a band that included Jimmy Ford, Brew Moore and Allen Eager to rehearse in Central Park.
The sextet’s first rhythm section was Peck Morrison and Dave Bailey who were both quite new to the Mulligan scene. Impressed by his writing for the Miles Davis nonet they visited Nola’s studio where he was rehearsing a tentet. It is worth pointing out once more that Mulligan’s contribution to what became known as The Birth Of The Cool was far greater than was acknowledged at the time - he arranged seven of the 12 titles recorded by the ensemble not five as was originally thought. John Carisi who wrote Israel for Miles confirmed this when he said, “Gerry wrote more than anybody” and in an interview for this magazine Lee Konitz told me that he considered Mulligan to be the guiding light for that particular project. Just as an aside the principal writers - Mulligan, Gil Evans and John Lewis – were apparently never paid for those hugely influential charts.
Oscar Pettiford and Osie Johnson were booked for the Nola rehearsal and when they didn’t appear Idrees Sulieman who was in the band introduced Morrison to Gerry. Peck mentioned that Bailey played the drums and that is how they joined the sextet which opened in Cleveland’s Loop Lounge the following week. A little later when the group became very popular Pettiford and Johnson wanted the gig back!
Dave told me that Mulligan was always generous and protective of his musicians and a good example of that occurred at a club in Baltimore. Bailey and Morrison arrived early to set up and then sat in the club lounge waiting for the rest of the group. The owner told them to wait in the kitchen because that is where musicians stayed when not performing. On Gerry’s arrival he found the policy only applied to black musicians so he told everyone to pack up - they were leaving. Dave said the venue was sold out because “Gerry was hotter than a firecracker at the time” and not surprisingly the policy immediately changed that night, allowing the musicians to sit where they liked. Peck didn’t stay too long with the sextet because of the demands on a bass player in a pianoless context and his wife was probably not too keen on all the touring he was doing with Mulligan. Bill Crow who had been working with Marian McPartland took his place.
Don Joseph another of Mulligan’s friends was an excellent player and he was the first choice on trumpet for the sextet. He had played with all the big bands that came to the Paramount Theatre in Times Square but his career went downhill for various reasons at the end of the forties. Bandleaders refused to hire him and he even found himself unwelcome at Charlie’s Tavern which was a musician’s hang-out. Charlie would have one of the bartenders throw him out if he tried to get in, prompting the trumpeter to once shout from the door, “It’s me - Don Joseph. I’m banned from bars and I’m barred from bands!”. He missed the rehearsals so Idrees Sulieman was selected for the first few bookings although he didn’t stay too long because he had other fish to fry.
After the Cleveland booking the sextet played Boston’s Storyville before recording their first album with Sulieman’s replacement, Jon Eardley on trumpet. The repertoire included a number of quartet staples like Bernie’s Tune, Nights At The Turntable and The Lady Is A Tramp as well as a hard swinging Broadway which has a real back-to-Basie feel. Incidentally Turntable has part of Chet Baker’s 1952 solo transcribed for Eardley and Brookmeyer to play as a background behind the leader’s statement.
For the next few months they remained pretty close to home often performing at New York’s Basin Street and radio broadcasts from the club have been released by RLR Records. They also did a short package tour with Dave Brubeck’s quartet and Carmen McRae which began with a midnight concert at Carnegie Hall. John Williams, one of the finest pianists of his generation was an interesting and surprising addition to the sextet for the tour. Things didn’t really work out and John returned to New York after engagements at Ann Arbor, Cincinnati and Philadelphia. On one occasion Carmen McRae sat in with the sextet and she was later to tell Leonard Feather that Mulligan’s group was her all-time favourite.
Just prior to a European tour that began in February 1956, the sextet was again in the recording studio performing Gil Evans’s chart on Debussy’s La Plus Que Lente and Mulligan’s Mainstream. Initially the guardians of the Debussy estate refused to permit an arrangement to be made of his work. Luckily they relented because La Plus is a sensitive ensemble reading with brilliantly observed dynamics and intonation. The cute Mainstream is a stimulating exercise in improvised counterpoint by two masters of the form, Sims and Mulligan. The melody is only eight bars long but they weave their way creatively through two choruses of a 32 bar sequence based on I Got Rhythm with the lead constantly switching between the tenor and the baritone.
The group sailed for Europe on the SS Andrea Doria which was the pride of the Italian navy at the time but it sank a few months later after a collision with a freighter off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts. They were accompanied by Gerry’s wife Arlyne (songwriter Lew Brown’s daughter) who was there as his manager and Bob Brookmeyer’s wife Phyllis also came along. Concerts were performed in Naples, Rome, Milan, Genoa and Bologna followed by a three week engagement at the Olympia Theatre in Paris. They were one of the acts on a variety bill featuring jugglers, comedians, a dancing violin duo as well as the Nicholas Brothers and Jacqueline Francois who was the headliner. There was also an unsuccessful booking at the Palais d’Hiver in Lyon where the audience made it quite clear that if the music didn’t sound like Sidney Bechet it wasn’t jazz.
Talking to me about the tour a few years ago Bill Crow had this to say, “We ran into places where we followed Chet Baker whose group was leaving a trail of bad junky vibes around Europe. As a result we were not welcome in some hotels and we were searched quite seriously on the trains. Of course the authorities nearly always picked on Dave Bailey to be the one they searched and he is the straightest guy you can imagine.” Baker sat in with the sextet for eight numbers at the Air Force club in Landstuhl, Germany but if recorded these performances have never been released.
The Dutch Jazz Archive Series has recently issued the sextet’s entire concert from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw where the group was in fine, uninhibited form. There are also three tracks recorded in Milan on RLR Records.
Soon after their April return to the USA on the Queen Elizabeth Jon Eardley moved to Florida and Don Ferarra took his place for the sextet’s final recording on the 26th. September 1956. They rehearsed in the afternoon and after a meal break recorded six titles later that evening including Elevation which finds the group at its most spontaneous and free-wheeling. An up tempo blues it opens with the trombone and baritone in unison before the trumpet and tenor are added for a second chorus in harmony. The climax is a stimulating passage of extemporised polyphony with each horn submerging its identity resulting in a quite unique ensemble sound. In his role as resident Pied Piper Mulligan develops Don Ferrara’s closing phrase leading the group through a series of extemporised riffs and phrases, creating a form and structure worthy of a written arrangement.
Gerry wanted Ferrara to remain with the sextet but Don was working with Lee Konitz at the time so Dave Bailey recommended Oliver Beener who sight read the parts with ease. He remained with the group for several weeks including the sextet’s final booking at the upstairs room of the Preview Lounge in Chicago. By this time Zoot Sims had begun working with his own quartet and he told Gerry he would not accept any more sextet bookings. As Mulligan explained to me a few years before he died he readily understood, “A soloist like that would have found it to be a strait-jacket after a while and I certainly didn’t try to replace him – Zoot was Zoot”.
The sextet was the finest of all Gerry Mulligan’s pianoless small groups and everything it recorded is currently available – as far as I can tell.”
The fabulous Gerry Mulligan Sextet (3 CD set) – Fresh Sound 417.
Gerry Mulligan Sextet/Quartet Rare And Unissued 1955-56 Broadcasts RLR Records 88660.
Gerry Mulligan Sextet Jazz At The Concertgebouw MCN0801.
On the following video, Gerry’s sextet is featured of Jon Eardley’s Demanton from the 1956 Concertgebouw concert in Amsterdam. While listening to Demanton, if you think that you are hearing the changes to Sweet Georgia Brown, you are!