The Life and Music of Gerry Mulligan
By Sanford Josephson
Hal Leonard Books, pp.213 © 2018
Jeru’s Journey is the first definitive biography of Gerry Mulligan. Most jazz fans likely know him as an outstanding baritone saxophone player but he was much more than that — arranger, composer and even a sometime theatrical actor. Author Sanford Josephson has done an excellent job of researching Mulligan’s work and career as well as interviewing many of Gerry’s musical collaborators.
In a telephone interview with the author, I learned that he had interviewed Mulligan in 1981 for a newspaper article that became a chapter in his 2009 book Jazz Notes: Interviews Across the Generations. Other valuable source material was the Library of Congress. Mulligan’s papers are deposited there along with his jazz instruments. There were a series of fourteen audiotapes that Mulligan had produced with an interviewer that were lent to Josephson by Mulligan’s wife Franca.
Mulligan’s career is succinctly laid out by the author and supplemented by comments from his collaborators.
The purpose of a book review is not to reveal the entire contents of the book but merely to provide an overview and enough insight for the reader to determine whether or not to proceed further. For those interested, the book will reveal intriguing aspects of Mulligan’s personality. For example, he had a relationship with theater and movie actress Judy Holliday. Mulligan played the part of a priest in the movie “The Subterraneans,” based on the Jack Kerouac novel. He also played Judy Holliday’s blind date in the movie version of “The Bells Are Ringing.” Mulligan was happy and comfortable with most styles of jazz, as well as other music. His musical associations were widespread from Dixieland, Bop to Classical.
Allow me two intriguing examples from this book. Mulligan had met New York Philharmonic conductor Zubin Mehta on an airplane flight. Mulligan was invited to play the soprano saxophone part on “Bolero” at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. A few days earlier, not having the music beforehand, Mehta had whistled Mulligan’s part over the phone. He only saw the music on the evening of the concert.
Some time after Mulligan’s death, there was to be a celebration of Mulligan’s life and career at the Library of Congress. Saxophonist Scott Robinson was scheduled to perform a piece on Mulligan’s baritone sax. He brought his own reeds and mouthpiece to play on Mulligan’s instrument. Following the trial run, he put his own mouthpiece and reed along with Mulligan’s instrument in the large airline traveling case. The staff assured him that he wouldn’t have to carry that bulky case; they’d set everything up for his performance. When it came time for Robinson to get ready to play, to his horror, he discovered that his own mouthpiece and reed were not on the horn but Mulligan’s own mouthpiece and a 25 year-old cracked reed! However, much to Scott’s relief, he got through the piece without incident!
Recommended. Josephson and Hal Leonard are to be thanked for the effort to bring Mulligan’s life and work to the present and future generations.
This book will go to the Jazz Room of the West Florida Public Library for its patrons to enjoy.