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Vol 5 Special

A Newsletter Dedicated To Chet Baker And His Music

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USA Editor
Elizabeth Little

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Bert Whitford

                                           THE PIANOLESS QUARTET
                                            Chet Baker & Gerry Mulligan 

Baritone saxophone player Gerry Mulligan played an important part in Chet Baker’s rise to fame in the 1950’s.  Recently CHET’S CHOICE subscriber Gordon Jack interviewed Gerry for JAZZ JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL.  Following are excerpts from that interview that pertain to Chet Baker. 

‘Before I left New York for California in 1951, I had already started experimenting with a pianoless rhythm section with people like Don Joseph, Jerry Lloyd and Don Ferrara on trumpets, bassist Peter Ind and drummer Al Levitt.  It was actually Gail Maddon who suggested the idea.  She was a pianist and percussion player and as a matter of fact I have been trying to find out what happened to her.  It was the experimenting she had done in New York that helped me when I got to LA, since I already had an idea of what would and would not work.  The last record date I did in New York before leaving for California was in September 1951 for Prestige, playing my arrangements and compositions with Allen Eager and George Wallington among others.  Gail played maracas on some of the titles, but the atmosphere of the date was spoilt by Jerry Lloyd who couldn’t pass up the opportunity of making jokes about her boobs bouncing up and down when she played.  Jerry couldn’t help it. he was an old guard male chauvinist.  After a while I sent the band home except for the saxes.  I didn’t really want to do that but I had to complete the album.

‘I decided to leave New York because the drug scene was a little out of control and the work was rapidly drying up, so I sold my horns and Gail and I hitchiked to California.  I did some playing along the way using borrowed horns, mostly tenors, and I remember playing in a cowboy band in a roadhouse outside Albuquerque for a while.  I was lucky because I knew a guy who was teaching at the university there, and he helped me keep body and soul together.  When we got to LA, I sold some arrangements to Stan Kenton, thanks to Gail, who arranged the introduction, because she was friendly with Bob Graettinger.  Gail was really responsible for Graettinger’s survival up to that point and the fact that he wrote the music he did because he was nearly done for with alcohol  When I met him, he was absolutely straight, I liked him a lot and he was in the thick of the reworked City Of Glass (All of Graettinger’s work for Stan Kenton has just recently been released on CD on the Capitol Jazz label, 16 selections, 63+ minutes, an excellent album – ED).  I had heard the original City Of Glass when they were rehearsing at the Paramount Theater in New York a couple of years before.  He was also writing a cello concerto and a horn concerto.  I did some playing with Shorty Rogers at Balboa with people like Art Pepper, Wardell Gray, Coop and June Christy.  Shorty was very nice and always used me whenever he could.  Another baritone player I knew in LA was Bob Gordon, who I liked a lot.

‘When I first got to LA and met Dick Bock, Erroll Garner and his trio were the main attraction at The Haig for some weeks, and Paul Smith was the leader on the off nights.  I started playing with Paul, then Erroll left and they brought in the Red Norvo trio along with Tal Farlow and Charlie Mingus.  this is when I took over the off nights as leader, using Jimmy Rowles until I got the quartet together with Chet, Carson Smith and Chico Hamilton.  I used to go to jam sessions whenever they were happening in LA, and I had encountered Chet a couple of times at sessions out in the San Fernando Valley so when it came time to put the quartet together, I wanted to see how he would work out.  Gail had told me about Chico, who was just finishing a gig with Charlie Barnet’s seven or eight piece band at the Streets Of  Paris down on Hollywood Boulevard.  Carson Smith was the original bass player, and being an arranger a lot of the good ideas in the early quartet were his.  For instance, the idea of doing “Funny Valentine” with that moving bass line, which makes the arrangement, was Carson’s.  He didn’t play on our first album as he had another engagement and was not available.  We did some a cappella singing as a backing on a couple of numbers for Chet’s trumpet and that was Chico’s idea, but Chet never sang solo with the quartet, even after he did a vocal album.  We played opposite Red Norvo for a while on the off nights, then went up to San Francisco to play at the Blackhawk for a few weeks, and returned to the Haig for a year as the main attraction.’

…’Very little of what we played was written, although my originals sometimes were.  Chet and I often put the arrangements together driving to The Haig – we did “Carrioca” that way.  He used to like singing the parts as we drive from his house to the club, and we worked out that arrangement singing it.  I remember Stan Getz sitting in with us at The Haig.  He showed up some months after the first records were released at a club on the other side of the Ambassador Hotel called the Tiffany.  Bob Brookmeyer and John Williams were with him – I don’t know what happened to John, but he was a good player. (see JJI June 1994 – Ed.)  I remember a jam session at somebody’s house, probably Chet’s, and Stan, Bob, Chet and I were in the front line.  We worked really well together, improvising on ensemble things that were great.  Stan decided we should all go out together as a group, only he wanted it to be his group!  All of us just looked at him and said “Why?” Musically it was too bad that we couldn’t do it, but personality-wise I don’t think it would have worked.  Stan was peculiar.  If things were going along smoothly, he had to do something to louse it up, usually at someone else’s expense.  Just one of those people, but a lovely player.  Of course a lot of movie people used to come and see us at The Haig.  One of the most regular was Jim Backus, who often brought his buddy David Wayne.  Mel Ferrer and Anne Baxter also used to come, in fact Anne Baxer had Chet and I over to play at her birthday party.

‘Early in 1953 we did the tentet album, and because I didn’t think that Chet had the desire to play lead, I brought in Pete Candoli in so that he wouldn’t have that responsibility.  In the event, Chet wound up playing most of the lead parts anyway, and I had Pete who was a high note man on second trumpet!  Somehow this myth has grown that Chet couldn’t read music, but people love myths. It’s more fun that way.  There are lots of myths about Chet and the Gothic, romantic life he led and died; it’s grist for that whole “Dark Prince” mode.  In January of 1954 when I reformed the quartet, Dick Collins had been recommended to me by Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond as a good replacement for Chet, but he was not available.  By this time I had become angry with LA anyway, so I telephoned Bob Brookmeyer in New York and asked him to come out to California for rehearsals, and bring some New York musicians with him.  Bringing guys out from the east was obviously quite expensive, but after rehearsing in LA, we had one date booked at the Blackhawk in San Francisco and were then going back to the east coast to work’…

It is a shame that Gerry Mulligan throughout his career has been remembered almost more for his pianoless quartet than his other large body of jazz work:  the Sextet, the Concert Jazz Band, the years with Dave Brubeck, the albums with Paul Desmond, Monk, Mingus, Astor Piazzolla and Lionel Hampton; with the saxophonists – Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Zoot Sims, and Scott Hamilton; more work with Billy Taylor and Jim Hall, his own big band albums THE AGE OF STEAM and grammy winner WALK ON THE WATER, The Re-Birth of The Cool Band, all the quartet, sextet and other small groups.  And for the past few years he’s taken a large band to tour Europe in the summer months, playing jazz festivals there and in the United States with a quartet and the band.

Sadly, we have learned that Gerry is ill, although still playing and we at CHET’S CHOICE hope he will overcome his problems.  Chet Baker may have become famous otherwise but his work with Gerry Mulligan in the’50’s is a wonderful legacy to jazz lovers worldwide.