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Gerry Mulligan: Ralph J. Gleason’s Jazz Casual: Gerry Mulligan

It’s worth noting that Rhino has released three more videos from the landmark 1960s National Educational Television series. As with previous Jazz Casual videos, the music is first-rate, the interviews informative and insightful and, sadly, the packaging is embarrassingly slipshod.

Unlike many early television programs, these three black and white shows from 1963 and 1964 are not kinescopes; they were originally shot on two-inch videotape, and the image quality holds up quite well considering how quickly old videotape deteriorates. Syndicated music columnist Ralph J.Gleason hosted and co-produced the series, and part of its charm 36 years later is that it has the funky, low-budget look of a cable-access show. Like other NET programs from the ’60s, you can see boom mics, studio equipment and shadows in the frame, but it doesn’t matter because the focus is on music, not slick production values. For the viewer who has had their fill of tedious documentaries, it’s refreshing to see a straight-ahead-music program without artistic pretense, political agenda or other nonmusical distractions.

The Gerry Mulligan Quartet appeared on the first program in the series’ second season, and the baritone saxophonist plays some tasty counterpoint with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer on the brisk waltz “4 for Three.” But then Mulligan unwisely puts down his sax in order to play mediocre piano on “Darn That Dream.” Things then take a fortunate turn as Brookmeyer’s “Open Country” shows how two horns can play counter melodies and provide harmonic foundation without a piano, and quintessential pipe-and-slipper jazz unfolds during the closing “Utter Chaos.” Sticklers will note that Rhino put the wrong airdate on the box; they misidentify the song “Darn That Dream” as “Dam That Dream”; and they reverse the instruments played by drummer Gus Johnson and bassist Wyatt Ruther.

The Art Farmer Quartet tape may not sell as well as some other JC titles, but it’s one of the best in the series. The quartet includes guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Walter Perkins playing in a style that, like the Mulligan group, emphasizes harmonic sophistication and melodic development. Though the tape box states he’s playing trumpet, Farmer is clearly shown playing flugelhorn, an instrument he’d been using exclusively for the previous 15 months. Among the many highlights here are an exciting half-chorus Farmer/Perkins duet on “Change Partners,” a lovely Farmer/Hall duet during “My Kinda Love” and a visually compelling, cymbal-bending solo by Perkins on Bird’s tune “My Little Suede Shoes.”

Woody Herman’s Swinging Herd is in good form on its tape, even if the group looks like extras in a Vitalis commercial. The repertoire and arrangements are by Nat Pierce, Phil Wilson and Bill Chase, and each of the arrangers get solo space, with Pierce dipping into his Basie bag, Wilson showing off his freaky trombone high notes and trumpeter Chase lighting sparks all over the place. Drummer Jake Hanna and saxophonist Sal Nistico consistently kick things into high gear. But the pinnacle is the unidentified, time-to-fill blues at the end that allows the three tenor saxophonists to lock horns, including a young Bobby Jones, who would a few years later ditch the Vitalis, grow his hair long and join the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop.

Originally Published