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Here’s baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan as big–band conductor/composer/arranger/player with his own ensemble and others led by Elliot Lawrence and Gene Krupa. These radiant sessions, recorded between 1946–57, show that Gerry was comfortably at home in any setting from pianoless quartet to full–fledged orchestra (big bands, in fact, were his early proving ground) and serve as a touching reminder of how much was lost when he left us in January 1996 at age 69. When Gerry arranged “How High the Moon” for drummer Krupa’s big band in 1946, he was barely 19 years old. That chart is here with two takes of “Disc Jockey Jump,” written and arranged by Mulligan for the Krupa orchestra; his own “Elevation” and the standard “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” performed by Lawrence’s ensemble; and six selections by Mulligan’s orchestra from 1957 (not released until 1977) including three of Gerry’s compositions, “Mullenium” and two takes each of “Thruway” and “Motel,” alongside Jerome Kern’s memorable standard, “All the Things You Are.” The disc moves backward in time with the Mulligan ensemble first, followed by Lawrence (from 1949) and Krupa. Mulligan’s orchestra, also for the most part pianoless (except for Gerry’s occasional comping), was a platform for future superstars with names like Sims, Brookmeyer, Konitz, Rouse, McKusick and Rehak, all of whom are given solo space, with the irrepressible Zoot, at the top of his hard–swinging game, an exceptionally dynamic presence throughout (his shouting solo on track 6 is pure gold) while Konitz dances gracefully around Gerry’s gruff baritone on “All the Things” and Brookmeyer weighs in with several enterprising choruses. Drummer Bailey and bassist Benjamin aren’t flashy but they get the job done. Sound quality on the Lawrence and Krupa tracks — none of which runs longer than 3:19 — is vastly inferior, with many a snap, crackle and pop, but there’s more than enough wonderful music to counterbalance that shortcoming. I can still remember the impression "Disc Jockey Jump" made on me when I first heard it as a pre-teen (how's that for dating oneself?) and it's every bit as good as I remembered it to be. Mulligan was beyond question one of the finest big-band composer/arrangers of the modern era (bop and beyond), and this album definitely belongs in everyone's big-band library.
Track listing: Thruway (take 6); Motel (take 5); All the Things You Are; Mullenium; Thruway (take 7); Hotel (take 4); Elevation; Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; Disc Jockey Jump; How High the Moon; Disc Jockey Jump (alternate take 1) (58:24).
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.