Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mulligan Meets Bird

Here, Gerry Mulligan remembers his first encounter with Charlie Parker and the influence Parker had on Mulligan. I no longer remember the source of the transcription, but a strong guess is Swing to Bop:

"Bird used to invite me to play. Do you know one of the things Bird did to me at the time of that first concert? [A Parker-Gillespie concert in Philadelphia in 1945, also featuring the Elliot Lawrence orchestra.] Well he came over with Diz. They came over to the studio, 'cause Saturday afternoons we did the network show. And of all things, I wasn't playing in the band at that time. But a week before the concert was to take place, I said to the band in rehearsal one day, “Why don't one of you guys do me a favor, break a leg or something so I can play the show instead.” And they all laughed ho-ho-ho, you know, what a kid. It was a kind of semi-political job. There were a lot of cats in the band there that were merely there because it was the best job in town, and they were the best friends of such and such an officer at the union. It's all that kind of cliquish thing, which really was dreadful for the music and made for dreadful personality of the band as a whole. It was just a little peculiar. So I was a kid, and a lot of the guys—they liked me and all, and they liked my music. But they always treated me a little shitty, because Elliot was a friend of mine. Say what is this? Like being a friend of the leader. To them it's like sucking up to the leader. Oh, shit. Elliot and I were close to the same age, and we liked each other. So we hung around together. I said to the guys, “Why doesn't someone break a leg.” So, Saturday morning, the day of the concert, Elliot called me up, frantic. Said, “Gerry, please, bring your tenor with you today. Frank Lewis [one of the tenor players] tripped on his child's roller skate on the stairs and broke his wrist.” Well, I get into the studio with my horn, and the guys are lookin' at me like this.

Bird with strings

We play the afternoon network show, and Diz and Bird came by and visited, and I met Bird then, and we talked, and he said, “After the show bring your tenor over,” to—what was it?—the Downbeat behind the Earle. Said, “Bring your horn back there and play.” Said, “I wouldn't presume to play with you. Don't be ridiculous.” He said, “Just bring your horn.” Ordered me like, being very imperious.

So we played the concert, and after that we went over to the Downbeat, and I went in and put my horn in the cloak room. And Bird played, and Don Byas was there, at the Downbeat. Say, you can imagine I'm going to get my horn out and play on the bandstand with Charlie Parker and Don Byas? Forget it! Plus a couple of pretty good Philadelphia guys, could tear it up pretty well. And I sounded terrific at home in the living room, but this was a little beyond me.

And I listened for a couple of sets, and then I told Bird—because he was in his element, every inch the king and table-hopping, and everybody making a fuss over him—I went over to where he was and said, “Bird, I really enjoyed it and I'm awfully glad to have met you and all this, but I got to go now.” He said, “What? You’re going? Wait a minute.” I said, “No.” He said, “Well, you gotta play!” I said, “Bird, please! Don't put me through that. It would be too embarrassing. Forget it.” He goes over to the cloak room, gets my horn, goes up to the bandstand—all of this very ostentatious. Opens the goddamned thing, gets the horn out, puts it together and says, “Here. Now. O.K. Let's play.”

Bird in New York with Lennie Tristano (leaning on piano)
And he made me play with him. And he was terrific because he gave me the confidence in myself that I lacked. Unfortunately for my confidence up to that point, some of the guys that I knew in Philadelphia, the attitude towards me was, “Well, man, you don't play very well. But, uh, you can write. What do you want to worry about playin'?” They'd like me to come around and listen to them play. But, don't bring my horn. So Bird was really the first one that ever encouraged me to play.

He was always like that. In many ways Bird was much older than I was because the way he had grown up. He grew up around music and around musicians. And also the accomplishment that he had done in music and on his horn. The eight years or so that he was older than I, were a tremendous eight years. Tremendous difference. At that age it is anyway, plus the experience. It was a thing which, especially with Bird coming along, there's some dividing line between something that really is music as an ideal, rather than just ordinary music. And there was something that—it's maybe the hardest thing in the world for me to define, and I guess in a way I try to avoid having to define it—but there are certain people that made music that is on just another level altogether. Now, in this day and age, that's not the most popular concept to have because, what happens to your great concepts of democracy, equality, and all the rest of it. Well, there ain't any in art. What makes one man so much greater than anything around him? And the greatness is contained in some kind of conception that—it's just different. There was a different kind of presence to Bird's music. When Bird played, it achieved some kind of response, and everybody responded to it. So we know there's something special going on, here. Prez had that, too. Specially in the context of the Basic band. It just was another element. It wasn't contained in anybody else's music. You run into that damn seldom in popular music. And yet there are a number of times that I have experienced that but I don't think, ever, as strongly as with Charlie Parker.

There was one week that I worked with Charlie at the Apollo Theatre. I worked it with the group that was based around a string band, with some incredibly stupid string section. I think three violins, a viola, and cello. The very pedestrianness of the arrangements made the absolute perfect foil for Bird. 'Cause later on guys wrote more interesting arrangements, and the things were not nearly as effective. By the very simplicity of the arrangements, it was a better framework to hear Bird do what he could do. He'd play a bloody melody and would elevate it into something that was art. This was the string section plus we had, I think, three brass and three saxophones to play the acts, and Bird asked me to write a couple of charts. I wrote “Rocker” for him. And the theme song that we never did ultimately record. He used to love to do it with the strings. I did a thing called “Roundhouse” that was based on the chords of “Out of Nowhere.” At the end of the first chorus it was in one key, I forget whether it was in E-flat and went to G, or G and went to E-flat. But at the end of the first chorus I'd have a four-bar break and then the key change. So Bird has got the modulation. But he'd come roaring out of that first chorus, roarin', man, and he'd start doing that curlycue thing he would do [scats two chord changes]. O.K., say the band comes in at bar one. Well, he would finish the modulation on the fifth bar. And he would take that goddamned thing, man, it just made my hair stand on end. The number of ways he could use this idea in his head. To get to the fifth bar. “Out of Nowhere”—that's a lovely change. If it's in G, G for two bars, then E-flat 7th for two bars. It's a lovely, lovely thing. But, to hear him do that as a blowing device, and to hear him use it in so many different ways. 'Cause he loved to suspend—a thing like that—to suspend turnarounds and get up over the bar lines. Bird has two really famous ones like that. One is “Night in Tunisia.” But still the most impressive thing, I think, single performance anybody ever did has got to be “Ko Ko.” That last phrase that he played is just incredible. 'Cause that's the curlycue business. It's circular, and it always keeps goin'. He keeps moving it a little later and later, and when it lights, it's always such a pleasant, satisfying surprise.

But anyway, that experience with Bird at the Apollo for a week doing four or five shows a day, and hearing Bird, I learned more about what I wanted from the sound of the saxophone at that point. Because he would be blowing, and you could hear the sound bounce off the back wall of the theater. The sound became a visual experience. You could see that—and big. His sound was perfect that week. Just the tone quality itself, because a lot of times he would not spend any time with reeds and mouthpieces, and borrow horns and all that. And sometimes it just sounded dreadful. And I was not one of these people who said just because it was Bird it sounded good, man. When he sounded awful, he sounded awful. And pick up a horn with a dry reed. You've got to take care of the mechanics of any instrument, including Charlie Parker having to do it. But that week he had it together. The mouthpiece and reed and everything was there. And that experience of hearing a sound produced on an instrument—the big, round quality. To hear him play these same pieces show after show, and play things differently, each one a gem, for an entire week. He just was incredible."



  1. سلام
    می‌خواستم بگویم که مقاله‌تان در شماره ۴۰۲ مجله فیلم دربارهء فیلم ٍ «جوانی با ترومپت» حقیقتن درخشان بود و لذتی بردم از خواندنش.

  2. سوفيا؛ من هنوز شماره 402 رو نديدم، در واقع هنوز به ولايت من نرسيده اما اون نوشته بر مي گرده به عيد سال گذشته. قصد دارم"جزفيلم" هاي بيشتري رو معرفي كنم (تو توي شماره هاي قديم فيلم هيچ وقت به "جاز در ظهر تابستاني" برخوردي؟ اون اولين نمونه اين سري بود كه نوشتم - البته خيلي جوون و احساساتي بودم اون موقع!)
    نمي دونم سردبير فيلم اسم مقاله رو عوض كرده يا نه. من اسمش رو گذاشته بودم "بلوز آمبولانس" كه از يك شعر نيل يانگ مي اومد و الله اكبر، چه شعري!

    An ambulance can only
    go so fast
    It's easy to get buried
    in the past
    When you try to make
    a good thing last.

    وبلاگ تو را هم ديدم و به نظرم خيلي عاليه و ممنون از ترجمه مربوط به فاسبيندر

    keep on keeping on


  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.