After exploring the arranged side of jazz, let’s move to another major sub-genre of jazz: ‘Live jazz’. Live jazz is arguably the best type of jazz, the most free, most spontaneous type of jazz. The musicians feed off the energy of the audience, and the audience is in turn energized by the musicians. Everybody is happy, and the results are often fantastic. Within the ‘live jazz’ category, there are even more sub-categories. For instance, there’s ‘concert hall jazz’, ‘college jazz’, ‘festival jazz’ (which could be further broken down into ‘Newport jazz’, ‘Monterey jazz’, etc.), and of course, ‘night club jazz’. This post kicks off a series spotlighting records in the ‘night club jazz’ genre. We start our night club explorations on the East Coast of the United States, in New York City, fittingly. The club? The Village Vanguard. The group? Gerry Mulligan’s big band.The Music
The Tune: “Blueport”
Recorded: 11 December, 1960 live at the Village Vanguard in New York City
- Gerry Mulligan- Baritone Sax
- Gene Quill- Clarinet and Alto Sax
- Bob Donovan- Alto Sax
- Jim Reider- Tenor Sax
- Gene Allen- Baritone and Bass Clarinet
- Nick Travis- Trumpet
- Clark Terry- Trumpet
- Don Ferrara- Trumpet
- Bob Brookmeyer- Trombone
- Willie Dennis- Trombone
- Alan Ralph- Trombone
- Bill Crow- Bass
- Mel Lewis- Drums
The Village Vanguard. One of the rare examples of a jazz club that managed to flourish in the 1950’s, survive the 1960’s and 70’s, and remain open even today in March 2018. Opened in 1935 by Max Gordon in New York’s Greenwich Village, it originally featured poetry and folk music. Cue guys and gals in dark sunglasses, berets, and bongos. Jazz jam sessions began in the 1940’s, and before long, Gordon made it an official jazz club in 1957. From the moment it became a jazz club, important recordings were made inside its walls. Sonny Rollins made some recordings in 1957 featuring a piano-less trio, Mulligan made this album in 1960, and John Coltrane and Bill Evans made seminal albums in the 1960’s. It’s still open in New York at it’s original spot, making it one of the places I need to visit when I finally get up to New York. All the more why we start the ‘night club jazz’ genre with an album recorded here almost sixty years ago.
Though this is definitely a big band, Gerry Mulligan’s (among other arrangers featured on this album) tight, supportive arranging make his group swing as hard as any small combo. He also shows that, with the right writing, a piano isn’t even missed. This was a great date; the whole group was ‘on’ that Sunday afternoon in 1960. The whole album has great moments on every track, so choosing a track to feature was rather difficult. I chose the “Blueport”, the first track on the album, because of the phenomenal soloing and writing, as well as the fun exchanges between Clark Terry and Gerry Mulligan. Mulligan starts the solos off, followed by Will Dennis’ trombone. After a breezy but driving tenor solo from Jim Reider and some walking bass by Bill Crow, the musical sparring between Terry and Mulligan begins. If you listen closely, you can hear the two men laughing at various times throughout the recording. The rest of the album has the same mood, and despite not being particularly ‘cutting edge’ material, still sounds fresh today.
I’m not familiar with all of the members of Mulligan’s group, but I dig it just the same. So did Scott Yanow over at Allmusic (gasp). He gave the album five (5) stars. His entire review is included below, because wow:
“Of all the recordings made by Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band in the 1960s, this is the definitive one. There are many high points, including “Body and Soul” (which has fine solos from the baritone/leader and valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer), “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and the swinging “Let My People Be,” but “Blueport” takes honors. On the latter, after hot solos by Mulligan, trombonist Willie Dennis, and Jim Reider on tenor, Mulligan and trumpeter Clark Terry have a lengthy trade-off that is quite hilarious with a countless number of quotes from different songs; at one point they trade off cities. This music is essential.”
I like the minimalist cover. I really do. It makes a quiet statement. I would’ve liked a picture of the group in full-cry at the Village Vanguard itself, but this is tasteful, too. There’s no credit of who designed it, though. So whoever made this, good on you.
It’s a gate-fold album, hence the insides. Just roll with it, alright?
Once again, the great Nat Hentoff produces some solid liner notes, complete with insightful quotes from some of the musicians involved. For instance, speaking on jazz arranging, Mulligan provides the observation that “[t]oo many ‘avant-garde’ composers write for each other, not for the players.” A Verve publicity shot of Mulligan adds a bit of personality to the album.
First-pressing fundamentalists may want to skip this section. Turn your nose up at your own risk!
The original album was released in 1961, but this Japanese pressing was released exactly 20 years later in 1981. As a result, it’s not deep-groove, although the vinyl is relatively thick compared to many records being put out in the 1980’s. The record label is the only indicator of being a Japanese pressing. A quick Google revealed the sad history of PolyGram Records Inc. (quick summary: an overzealous company pressed lots of disco records, spent money on cocaine, then lost it all when disco fizzled out), as well as the nondescript history of Polydor K. K. I don’t have an original copy of this record to compare with this one, but it sounds fantastic. The acoustics of the club give the record a full, immediate sound, and the vinyl plays quietly. You can’t get upset at a record that plays quietly. And ignore the glare… I was fighting that darn glare for a minute before finally giving up.
The Place of Acquisition
I found this record at the local at the local record store. At only $8, I figured I could risk it and pick it up without really even knowing Gerry Mulligan led a big band. The fact that it was a Gerry Mulligan record, recorded live at a jazz club, and Nat Hentoff wrote the liners were all signs of a good jazz album. I was not disappointed.