Gerry Mulligan - baritone sax; Marian McPartland - piano; Rusty Gilder - bass; Erroll Haywood - drums
In a program titled "A Jazz Salute to the American Song," which had various artists paying tribute to Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jimmy Van Heusen, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Fats Waller and Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn, baritone sax ace Gerry Mulligan paid tribute to Alec Wilder along with his piano playing colleague Marian McPartland. Accompanied by bassist Rusty Gilder and Erroll Hayward, they tackled material that would later appear on McPartland's 1974 recording, Plays the Music of Alec Wilder, on her own Halcyon label.
Opening on a lightly swinging note with an easy-going rendition of Wilder's "It's So Peace ful in the Country," the quartet then segues to the bouncy waltz-time number "While We're Young," which serves as a springboard for some of Mulligan's most potent soloing of the concert. McPartland follows with a cascading solo in which she confidently navigates the myriad of changes with flow and swing. They conclude their all-too-brief July 3rd performance at Philharmonic Hall with Wilder's most famous and most poignant piece, "I'll Be Around," which opens with a bass-bari duet between Gilder and Mulligan. McPartland enters the mellow piece with subtle comping alongside Haywood's sublime brushwork. Mulligan's robust bari tones carry this copasetic set while the ever-swinging McPartland provides the all-important harmonic glue to the proceedings.
A regular figure at the Newport Jazz Festival since its inception in 1954, both as a leader and inveterate jammer in various all-star settings, baritone sax star Mulligan was a perennial poll-winner through the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s. Born on April 6, 1927 in New York City, he revolutionized the awkward and unwieldy baritone saxophone with his light, airy tone combined with his uncanny speed and dexterity on the instrument. His family moved frequently during his childhood - first to Ohio, followed by stints in Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan and Pennsylvania. He broke into the music business in 1944 writing arrangements for the Johnny Warrington radio orchestra and also made similar contributions to the Tommy Tucker and George Paxton bands. After moving back to New York in 1946, he joined Gene Krupa's orchestra as staff arranger (contributing the tune "Disc Jockey Jump," which was an early attempt at incorporating a bebop feel in a big band setting) and in 1948 joined Claude Thornhill's band, playing alto sax.
It was during Miles Davis' landmark Birth of the Cool nonet sessions from 1948-1950 that Mulligan gained greater visibility for his arrangements of the standard "Darn That Dream" and his own compositions "Jeru," "Rocker" and "Venus de Milo." Mulligan first recorded with his own nonet in 1951 (Mulligan Plays Mulligan on Prestige) and followed by writing some compositions for the Stan Kenton Orchestra, including "Swing House" and "Walking Shoes." In 1952, he formed his own pianoless quartet which featured trumpeter Chet Baker and helped popularize the West Cost "Cool Jazz" style. The band catapulted both Mulligan and Baker to stardom but a drug bust took the bandleader off the scene, effectively ending that quartet. When he was released from jail in 1954, Mulligan formed a new group with valve trombonist-composer-arranger Bob Brookmeyer that quickly gained the attention of critics and fans alike. From 1957 to 1960, Mulligan recorded prolifically with such jazz stars as Thelonious Monk, Paul Desmond, Stan Getz, Ben Webster and Johnny Hodges. Mulligan played on the classic Sound of Jazz television special in 1958 along jazz immortals Billie Holiday and Lester Young.
From 1960 to 1964, Mulligan led his Concert Jazz Band, which at different times included Bob Brookmeyer, Zoot Sims, Clark Terry and Mel Lewis. He toured extensively with the Dave Brubeck Quartet from 1968 to 1972, formed his Age of Steam big band in 1973 and led a mid-'70s sextet that included vibraphonist Dave Samuels. He also had successful collaborations through the decade with Gil Evans, Hank Jones, Charles Mingus, Michel Legrand and Sergio Mendes. Through the '80s, Mulligan continued collaborating with a wide variety of artists, including actress-singer Judy Holliday (whom he married), Mel Torme (1981's Live at Marty's), tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton (1986's Soft Lights & Sweet Music) and Barry Manilow (1984's 2 A.M Paradise Café and 1987's Swing Street). He revisited Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool sessions with his 1992 GRP recording, Re-Birth of the Cool (with Wallace Roney playing the Miles Davis trumpet parts). He was inducted into the Down Beat Hall of Fame after 4 2 c o n s e c u t i v e y e a r s ( 1 9 5 3 - 1 9 9 5 ) of w i n n i n g t h e m a g a z i n e r e a d e r ' s p o l l f o r o u t s t a n d i n g b a r i t o n e s a x o p h o n i s t . He made his last recordings for Telarc (1994's Dream a Little Dream and 1995's Dragon Fly) before passing away on January 20, 1996 from liver cancer at age 68.
Pianist McPartland was born Margaret Marian Turner on March 20, 1918 in Slough, Berkshire, England. She came up in a four-piano vaudeville act in England and performed for the troops during World War II. In 1944, she met Chicago cornetist Jimmy McPartland in Belgium. They were soon married and she moved to the United States in 1946. She eventually settled into a longstanding gig at the Hickory House on 52nd Street in New York City, where she held forth from 1952 to 1960 while recording regularly for the Savoy and Capitol labels. She formed her own Halycon label in 1969 and in the mid '70s made three albums for Tony Bennett's Improv label. In 1979, McPartland became the on-air host for "Piano Jazz" on National Public Radio and has remained the host of that popular show ever since. In recent years, McPartland has recorded for the during 1976-1977 before signing with Concord, where she has been since 1978. She received a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Masters Award in 2000 and in 2003, to celebrate her 85th birthday, she recorded 85 Candles: Live in New York with such special guests as Phil Woods, Dave Douglas, Ravi Coltrane and Norah Jones. She has recorded 25 albums for the Concord Jazz label, the most recent being 2009's Willow Creek and Other Ballads.
-Written by Bill Milkowski