The Gerry Mulligan Songbook Volume 1 // Gerry Mulligan Feat. Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Lee Konitz, and Allen Eager (World Pacific Records PJ-1237)

These last few posts have been an exploration in the sub-genres of jazz, using these unofficial categories as fun way to rediscover my record collection (as well as provide a systematic way to decide which record to write about next).  This post continues my focus on ‘arranger jazz’ with an interesting album from Gerry Mulligan.

The Music

The Tune:  “Crazy Day’

Recorded:  4-5 December, 1957 in New York City

Personnel:

  • Gerry Mulligan-  Baritone Sax & Arranger
  • Zoot Sims-  Alto Sax
  • Allen Eager-  Tenor Sax
  • Lee Konitz-  Alto Sax
  • Al Cohn-  Tenor Sax
  • Freddie Green-  Guitar
  • Henry Grimes-  Bass
  • Dave Bailey-  Drums

The Tune:  “Disc Jockey Jump”

Recorded:  4-5 December, 1957 in New York City

Personnel:

  • Gerry Mulligan-  Baritone Sax
  • Lee Konitz-  Alto Sax
  • Al Cohn-  Tenor Sax
  • Zoot Sims-  Alto Sax
  • Allen Eager-  Tenor Sax
  • Freddie Green-  Guitar
  • Henry Grimes-  Bass
  • Dave Bailey-  Drums
  • Bill Holman-  Arranger

Ah, 1957, a historic year for music (Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Miles Davis, Paul McCartney, etc) and a historic year for Arkansas and American life (Little Rock Nine, Louis Armstrong calls President Eisenhower out for his handling of same).  Jazz began to enter a golden era in 1957 that carried into the middle of the next decade.  Recording techniques were rapidly improving, the first few stereo recordings began to appear in record stores, and jazz was the preferred music of the hip.

This album barely caught 1957, having been recorded in December.  This is some good swinging jazz, but then again, I don’t think Gerry Mulligan made a ‘bad’ album during the 1950’s.  With a line-up with names like Zoot Sims and Al Cohn and a rhythm section featuring Count Basie’s metronome and swing machine Freddie Green, the music was bound to cause heads to bob and foots to tap.

Each tune on the album was written by Mulligan, and all but one was arranged by saxophonist and arranger Bill Holman.  Some of the tunes are themselves taken from tunes Mulligan wrote and arranged for big bands, like “Disc Jockey Jump” and “Venus De Milo”.  The writing by Mulligan and Holman perfectly fits both the music and the instrumentation.  The melody is stated by all the horns, sometimes with a little added flair here and there, followed by solos, with occasional support by the horns.  All the while, Green’s guitar keeps time in the behind everyone as the bass and drums provide a firm foundation for everyone else.  There’s no point to prove, no harmonic pyrotechnics, or rhythmic jungle gyms- just good, easy-going jazz.

Having said that, there are some surprises here.  For instance, Gerry Mulligan isn’t the only one playing bari sax here.  On a few numbers, Al Cohn picks up the bari sax as well.  Zoot Sims, known almost exclusively for his tasty work on the tenor sax, blows some fantastic alto sax on a couple of cuts.  Those interesting deviations from the norm combined with the combined sound of the sax section makes for a interesting record.

Picking a single tune was hard, as all the tunes on this record are fantastic.  So here’s two examples of the writing and playing.  “Crazy Day” was specially written and arranged by Mulligan especially for this recording session.  It flows lazily like a slow-moving river, but induces some of the hardest head-bobbing on the whole record.  Everyone gets a chorus to solo, and then they take the tune out.  “Disc Jockey Jump” is brighter in tempo and general outlook, putting the ‘jump’ in “Disc Jockey Jump”.  It was written by Mulligan back in the 1940’s, and if you look hard enough, you might see the bobby soxers dancing and carrying on while this song plays.

By the way, Allen Eager was a name that I wasn’t familiar with when I picked this album.  A quick Google search revealed that he was once a great bebopper in the 1940’s, singled out by Lester Young as one of best white guys on sax at that time.  Long story short, he had a drug issue (like so many jazz musicians back then) and stepped away from jazz from the mid-1950’s to the ’80s.  In fact, this record was his last recording date until the 1980’s.  Which explains why I’m not familiar with him.  Go figure.

The Front

IMG_0136College Jazz Collector Rating:  B+

After looking at it for a minute, it becomes clear that the cover is an artsy shot of a saxophone.  From which angle of the sax this is taken at, I have no idea.  But that’s art for ya.  Taken by famed photographer Bill Claxton, this photo makes for an intriguing album cover.  The more you look at it, the more disoriented you become.  The positioning, color, and font of the type is appealing, although they misspelled Mr. Eager’s name.   And what’s ‘strobophonic’ hi-fidelity?  Stereophonic, but with strobe lights?

The previous (original?) owner of this album kept the shrink-wrap on the album, which, depending on how you feel about it, could be good or bad.  I think it’s cool.  The shrink-wrap that was applied in 1958 was kept on, preserving the album cover’s colors and quality.  Even the original price tag was left on.  In early 1958 when this album was released, a new album could be yours for only $1.33.  I threw the price into an inflation calculator for kicks and giggles, and the result didn’t make me giggle but did make me kick a little.  $1.33 in 1958 is equivalent to $11.54 today.  Good grief.  Of course, I payed $12 for this record, so I guess in the span of 60 years, much has changed, but at the same time things have stayed the same.  Go.  Figure.

The Back

IMG_0138This is a fantastic set of liners, from the pictures to the notes themselves.  It proves that numerous pictures and copious liner notes can coexist.  Nat Hentoff always writes great liner notes, and these notes are a great example of that.  There are numerous quotes that perfectly describe jazz arranging contained within Hentoff’s essay.  Some of the more notable bits from the many gems include:

“In addition to their concern for linear writing that has breathing space for the soloists and that swings naturally, Mulligan and Holman are also alike in that they do not try to graft classical forms onto jazz.”- Nat Hentoff

“I’ve always tried to write things that sound like jazz, not Bach revisited.” – Bill Holman

“It seemed necessary to clean out jazz writing.  We’d gone as far as we could at the time with five-part chords…  To complement the lines, I’ll sometimes take horns of the same timbre and use them in unison…” – Gerry Mulligan

“To summarize the integration of writing and playing in these Mulligan originals and Holman arrangements, an apposite observation is Andre’ Hodeir’s about previous Mulligan work to the effect that writers like Gerry “seem to have understood that the principal objective of the arranger should be to respect the personality of each performer while at the same time giving the group a feeling of unity.”” – Nat Hentoff

Again, a solid set of liner notes.

The Vinyl

 

Like the album cover, the record is in lovely condition despite it’s 60-year age.  It’s a first pressing with deep-groove, on relatively thick vinyl, with the bland black Pacific Jazz labels.  The label on side one has a small fold in it, resulting in overlapping print and the absence of the ‘I’ in ‘Side I’.  This combined with the misspelling of Allen’s name and one could assume the people pressing this album were a bit Eager to get it out.  The rice krispy factor is almost non-existent on this record; it plays quietly and smoothly, with lovely, full-bodied strobophonic sound.

The Place of Acquisition

At the risk of sounding like broken record (bwahaha), I could do a commercial for the local record store here in northern Alabama.  The amount of gems I find in the jazz section is unbelievable.  The fact that an Alabama record store not in a large city could have such a consistently fruitful jazz section (heck that they could even HAVE a jazz section) is wild.  Vertical House Records, my record collection thanks you.  My wallet, however, has some rather strong words for you…

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