Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond first worked together in 1954 when Mulligan made a guest appearance with Dave Brubeck’s group during a concert at Carnegie Hall. The two horn players liked their mutual playing styles, and decided they should put together a collaboration at some time in the future. Three years later, that collaboration became a reality.
Both of these gentlemen have appeared here before, Desmond once and Mulligan a whopping three times. I will refer you to those previous articles for any further biographical information about them.
Paul Desmond: JFASN #102, “Pure Desmond”
Gerry Mulligan: JFASN #4, “Pleyel Concert, Volumes 1 & 2”
Gerry Mulligan: JFASN #84, “The Gerry Mulligan Songbook”
Gerry Mulligan & Stan Getz: JFASN #115: “Getz Meets Mulligan In Hi-Fi”
The album these two created is called “Gerry Mulligan Meets Paul Desmond,” and was recorded during two sessions, one on August 2, 1957 in Los Angeles, the other on August 27, 1957 in New York.
It is worth noting that, according to the liner notes, the first session did not begin until 2AM, after Mulligan had finished recording an album with Getz and the Oscar Peterson Trio!
The personnel for the Mulligan-Desmond opus was the same for both sessions:
Gerry Mulligan, bari sax
Paul Desmond, alto sax
Joe Benjamin, bass
Dave Bailey, drums
“Gerry Mulligan Meets Paul Desmond” consists of eleven songs, only ten of which are listed on the CD insert. The final song is, well, something different, which I will get to later.
Three of the ten songs are from Mulligan and four are from Desmond, including the opening number, Blues In Time.”
“Blues In Time” as you might expect is lively without being frenetic. The melody is infectious, and to use the old time parlance, it cooks without setting the house on fire. Benjamin and Bailey set a fast pace while the two horn players trade off the lead.
You can hear for yourself what a superb job the boys do on this one:
Skipping ahead a little we come to the first song from Mulligan on this disk, “Stand Still.” Paradoxically, this is another song with a catchy melody that you will find hard to resist, and to say the guys do a wonderful job on it would be an understatement.
Before I go any further, I should mention the 900 pound gorilla in the middle of the room. When “Gerry Mulligan Meets Paul Desmond” was recorded, the first commercial recordings in stereo were still a year away. That means this Mulligan-Desmond disk was recorded in mono. The digital remastering that was done for the CD reissue in 1993 seems to have done a good job of bringing the rhythm section into focus, particularly drummer Bailey’s brushes and ride cymbal. But the sparkle of a real, live performance is absent.
Moving along, we come to another Mulligan composition, “Line For Lyons.” This happy-go-lucky song makes it difficult to be unhappy. It always brings a smile to my face, which leads me to believe the band themselves enjoyed this one.
“Battle Hymn Of The Republican” is another lively song, pulled forward by Benjamin’s driving bass. I have no idea of the provenance of the title, but one reviewer on Jazz.com gives us a hint in his review of the song. I have no idea what Desmond’s politics were, or how either the title or the song itself relates. I do know it’s a superb piece of music that will lift you up and carry you along to a finish that arrives all too soon for my taste.
“Fall Out,” the last of Mulligan’s songs here, is mostly all about Benjamin and his bass. Oh sure we hear Desmond in the opening and Mulligan carries things along, but over it all we have that driving bass, always there, always moving along, setting a thrumming quick pace.
My carpal tunnel syndrome has returned, so I think I’m going to call it quits for this one. Before I end this, though, I promised to tell you about the un-named track 11. This is the aborted first take of the song “Lover,” which, as you can plainly hear on the album, ends abruptly with Mulligan and the others talking about what had gone wrong. The track is not anything earth-shattering, simply a bit of evidence that even the “best of the best” don’t always get things right the first time.
All in all, I’m pretty sure that you will find “Gerry Mulligan Meets Paul Desmond” to be a fantastic addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
For more information about this album, allmusic.com has a short review of it here.
The folks over at NPR have some interesting recordings of Mulligan (and others) talking about his music.
The Library of Congress has an audio recording (and a written, edited transcript) of Mulligan talking about the origins of the concept of a pianoless quartet, something which had been unheard of.
Finally, Wikipedia has a quite extensive biography of Mulligan.
Thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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I totally agree with your comments regarding this album. Both musicians are amongst my personal favourites of all time and, equally, in my opinion , were geniuses. The concept really works well. I encourage all to enjoy it