Gerry Mulligan - baritone sax; Art Farmer - flugelhorn; Jimmy Owens - trumpet, flugelhorn; Jon Faddis - trumpet; Joe Newman - trumpet; Bob Brookmeyer - valve trombone; Wayne Andre - trombone; Pete Phillips - bass trombone; Jim Buffington - French horn; Tony Price - tuba; Frank Wess - alto sax, tenor sax, flute; Tom Scott - tenor sax, soprano sax; Dave Tifani - tenor sax; Wally Kane - baritone sax; Sam Brown - guitar; Joe Venuto - vibes, percussion; Ben Aronov - electric piano; Chuck Israels - bass; Bill Goodwin - drums
Veteran baritone sax ace, composer, and bandleader Gerry Mulligan brought his swaggering 19-piece Age of Steam ensemble to Wollman Ampitheater for a rousing afternoon of big band jazz in Central Park. An all-star aggregation featuring such stellar soloists as trumpeters Art Farmer, Jimmy Owens, and Jon Faddis; trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, saxophonists Frank Wess and Tom Scott, and a solidly swinging rhythm section of pianist Ben Aronov, bassist Chuck Israels, and drummer Bill Goodwin, Mulligan's Age of Steam band made some converts with their scintillating set on June 29, 1973.
For this Newport Jazz Festival appearance, Mulligan presided over material from the band's self-titled 1971 A&M release, which reflected the influence of the burgeoning jazz-rock movement (as evidenced by the presence of electric guitar and Fender Rhodes electric piano). Their Friday afternoon set kicks off in exuberant fashion with the frisky "See Here, Svengali," a previously unrecorded Mulligan original that carries some churchy references in the tambourine shaking and the infectiously driving rhythm. Tom Scott contributes a burning soprano sax solo on this energized opener, and Jon Faddis kicks in a high-note trumpet solo to elevate the proceedings while Mulligan layers his sinuous, bop-infused baritone lines over the top.
Next up is the funky vamp "One to Ten in Ohio," which features some earthly bari blowing by the leader and some urgent tenor wailing by Scott. Other stellar solos on this slow grooving jam are turned in by Brookmeyer on trombone, Frank Wess on alto sax and Joe Newman on trumpet. Guitarist Sam Brown steps out on "K4 Pacific," a driving number inspired by and named after a Pennsylvania R.R. steam engine locomotive that used to run by Mulligan's house in Ohio, during his childhood. Scott also turns in a soaring soprano sax solo here along with sparkling solos from Jimmy Owens on trumpet, Brookmeyer on valve trombone, Wess on flute, and Aranoff on electric piano.
Mulligan breaks the band down to a sextet for the gentle, airy quartet number "Golden Notebooks," which features the glistening vibes work of Joe Venuto alongside Mulligan's baritone, accompanied by the rhythm section of guitarist Brown, pianist Aronov, bassist Chuck Israels, and drummer Bill Goodwin. Mulligan shows his lyrical side on this appealingly upbeat number. He next dedicates "A Weed Grows in Disneyland" to "the President of the United States" (who in 1973, was Richard Milhouse Nixon). A funky, swaggering showcase for Sam Brown's stinging guitar work and Tom Scott's robust tenor playing, this churning number also features a show-stopping high-note trumpet solo from a young Faddis, who was a few weeks shy of his 20th birthday.
Mulligan's sublime arrangement of the poignant "Waltzing Matilda," the unofficial national anthem of Australia, features his most lyrical bari playing of the afternoon. "Slow Country Beaver" moves along to a shuffling rock beat while making some allusions to Burt Bacharach's writing ("Promises Promises," to be specific). And they conclude their set at the Wollman Ampitheater with the dynamic set-closer, "Maytag," a chugging, tempo-shifting number that Mulligan digs into with steely abandon on his baritone solo. Brookmeyer and Scott also contribute exhilarating solos here on trombone and soprano sax, respectively. And the young Dizzy Gillespie protégé Faddis puts an exclamation point on this final number with another stratospheric trumpet solo. And with that, Mulligan and his Age of Steam big band leave the enthusiastic Central Park crowd yelling, "More! More!"
A remarkably dextrous, perennial poll-winning baritone saxophonist, Mulligan made important recordings through the '50s and '60s with similarly cool-styled musicians as trumpeter Chet Baker, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, pianist Dave Brubeck, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, and valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, who he later recruited for his Age of Steam big band. He is also famously documented in an all-star jam alongside jazz legends Ben Webester, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Billie Holiday that was broadcast nationally on the CBS television network in 1957 as The Sound of Jazz.
Born on April 6, 1927, in New York City, Mulligan began on piano before learning clarinet and saxophone. 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 making 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 he 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 recorded with his own nonet in 1951 (Mulligan Plays Mulligan on Prestige), and he followed by writing some compositions for the Stan Kenton Orchestra, including "Swing House" and "Walking Shoes." By 1952, he formed a piano-less quartet (a radical idea for the time) with trumpeter Chet Baker. The group caught on in a big way, launching the two as bona fide jazz stars. Mulligan's drug bust in mid-1953 ended the momentum of that popular quartet, and when the bari man was released from jail in 1954, he formed a new musical partnership with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer.
Through the remainder of the '50s, Mulligan had successful collaborations with trumpeter Art Farmer, Paul Desmond, Ben Webster, J.J. Johnson, Johnny Hodges, and Stan Getz. In 1957, he also recorded a session with Thelonious Monk (Mulligan Meets Monk on Riverside). He maintained his Concert Jazz Band through the '60s, while also touring extensively as a special guest with the Dave Brubeck Quartet from 1968 to 1972. His Age of Steam band, heard on this 1973 Newport Jazz Festival concert in Central Park, remained a formidable, swinging aggregation in the '70s. 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 (who 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 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. (Milkowski)