Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – American baritone saxophonist and clarinetist Gerry Mulligan was one of the founding fathers of “Cool Jazz,” a new music style that turned jazz on its head in the late 1940s when the influence of bebop was sweeping the scene. Mulligan’s rhythmic agility, harmonic brilliance and arranging skills so impressed the trumpet great Miles Davis that he decided to add him to his band.
In fact, the talented arranger and commanding composer played a pivotal role in developing the sounds of “Cool Jazz” when he joined Davis’ nonet. Billed as the “Miles Davis Band”, the nonet also grouped Alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and trombonist Mike Zwerin, pianist John Lewis, bassist Al McKibbon, and drummer Max Roach with Bill Barber on tuba, Junior Collins on French horn. They all gathered in brainstorming sessions, and the result was Birth of the Cool album in 1948. Mulligan wrote and arranged several tracks. Those sessions also marked the arrival of a new generation of jazz greats who would later have a great influence and impact on the world’s music scene.
Described as the most famous of all jazz baritone saxophonists, Mulligan is also considered one of the major pioneers of West Coast jazz, along with jazz giants Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, Shorty Rogers, Paul Desmond, Bud Shank, Russ Freeman, and Bill Holman.
I profiled Mulligan on my Jazz Club USA twice. The first show was Jazz masters of the fifties, but here’s a show on the All-Star Tribute to him. Music follows Arabic narration.
Mulligan was born in New York in 1927. At the age of 14, he began studying clarinet at the hands of a little-known musician, Sammy Correnti, who also taught him the basics and rudiments of arranging. At 17, he started to arrange music for WCAU radio in Philadelphia.
The gifted baritone player and bandleader started his famous ‘piano-less’ quartet in 1952 with the “Prince of Cool” trumpeter great Chet Baker, bassist Bob Whitlock and drummer Chico Hamilton. Since the 1950s, he led quartets, quintets, and big bands. He was a featured member of the All-Star group. Many of his compositions are now a permanent part of the jazz repertory.
In 1981, Mulligan won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band, for his lightly swinging arrangements written for Walk On The Water. In 1982, his album Re-Birth of the Cool was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Two years later Mulligan himself was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.
Mulligan appeared in several movies and short films, including Follow That Music in 1946 with Gene Krupa’s bop-tinged band. He played alto saxophone. He also appeared as a jazz combo member in I Want to Live! (1958), The Rat Race (1960), The Subterraneans (1960) and Bells Are Ringing (1960).
He also appeared in a number of American and French films, including A Thousand Clowns (1965), La Menace (1977) and Les Petites galères (1977).
The jazz scene’s top “bari” player has left hundreds of compositions and 33 albums. He died in Connecticut in 1996.
Although Mulligan‘s baritone might be missing, some say his music does live on.
For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America