MULLIGAN Meets MONK: Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan
1. 'Round Midnight (8:26)
2. Rhythm-a-ning (5:16)
3. Sweet and Lovely (7:15)
1. Decidedly (6:35)
2. Straight, No Chaser (6:58)
3. I Mean You (6:52)
This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime meetings of giants . . .
It can be said that to date there have been basically two major schools of modern jazz. The start of it all was the music originally known in the early 1940s as "be-bop" and then "bop"; and although these specific terms are now out of fashion, the music itself - as adapted and permutated through a decade and a half - remains a vital force. Later in the '40s there arrived what has come to be known as "cool" jazz. Both developments were gradual and complex creations: no one man can be singled out as the only, or even the primary instigator of either. But no musicians can be considered as more significant to the birth of these two basic facets of the contemporary jazz revolution than, respectively, THELONIOUS MONK and JERRY MULLIGAN.
Although only in fiction, legend and superficial histories of jazz is it claimed that vast changes take place in single blinding flashes, you can point out specific key times and places for modern jazz. One: the experimental sessions at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem at the turn of the '40s. Another: the late-'40s recordings for Capitol that have been put together into an album most aptly titled "Birth of the Cool." It is of course anything but coincidental that the playing and thinking of (in the first instance) Monk and (in the second) Mulligan were fundamental factors. You would be fairly safe, even in so argumentative a field as jazz, in reducing matters to the simplest terms and saying that bop begins with Monk and cool jazz begins with Mulligan.
Possibly even more significant is the fact that neither of these men were content merely to blaze trails and then sit back to let others follow them. Both remain in the very forefront of jazz creativity. Mulligan's first big impact on the jazz public was through his original Quartet (which included Chet Baker and Chico Hamilton), and he has gone on from there with other important groups of both quartet and sextet size, and with consistently fresh and adventurous arrangements both for his own groups and for others.
Monk, although he has been prominently on the scene ever since the start, remains an excitingly inventive creator who is just about as far in front of the pack as he ever was. Thelonious has of late undergone something of a resurgence of popularity; quite a few reasons for this have been advanced, and you are free to rake your pick. It may be that more people are arriving at a point of being able to grasp his concepts; it may be that (as I happen to believe) he is now at a peak of his immense powers both as a composer and as a player. The fact that so many younger musicians bearing strongly influenced by his are now coming into prominence may have something to do with it as well.
Since it is only in fiction, legend and superficial histories of jazz that there is supposed to be either indifference or active dislike between various schools of jazz, there should be nothing at all surprising in the revelation that Gerry and Thelonious have always had strongly positive feelings about each other's music. What may be more surprising is that there is a long-standing bond of personal friendship between them, and that the idea of playing together has long been a very appealing one to both men. Consequently, the suggestion that they record jointly made immediate sense to both.
Actually, Riverside’s plans for the album were rather more pretentious than the way things turned out. We had in mind beginning with a simple quartet set-up, and gradually expanding to a large, all-star group and more formal arrangements. But at the end of one ‘blowing’ session (at which I Mean You, Rhythm-a-ning, and Straight, No Chaser were made), both Gerry and Thelonious felt strongly that this was so much the right groove that it would be a mistake not to complete the album this way. Having learned from experience that certain musicians know their business far better than any members of the controle-room set, and having enjoyed the first session as much as they had, we offered no objections whatsoever.
The atmosphere on both occasions was one of complete and fruitful relaxation. There was much too much mutual respect and affection on hand for there to be any danger of feelings of competitiveness getting in the way. By general choice, the bassist and drummer with whom Monk was currently working at the Five Spot were used. Gerry had played with Shadow Wilson before, and knew to expect his wonderfully firm support. But Wilbur Ware was a new experience for him, and - like most people newly exposed to this extraordinarily inventive bassist - he was mightily impressed. It was Mulligan's preference to work largely with Monk's challenging tunes; it was his insistence that he have the opportunity to play the modern-jazz classic 'Round Midnight with its composer. A Mulligan original and a standard rounded out the picture. And, very probably, Gerry's approach to 'Round Midnight and the application of the Monk treatment to a characteristic Mulligan tune are the high spots of the LP.
This is not the sort of album that stands in any need of hysterical hard-sell advertising copy on its liner notes. The solo work and the joint exploration of the lines worked out by both men can speak very ably for themselves. Among other things, the record serves to demonstrate that Mulligan’s usual pattern of playing with a pianoless group is a concept, not a fetish. When the occasion calls for it, he is certainly neither unwilling nor unable to play most effective in the company of a pianist – or, at least, this pianist.
This is a rare meeting of major facets and major figures of jazz. It is, like their separate efforts, intriguing and provocative. It is in all probability a significant document, a piece of jazz history. But surely there has never been a more enjoyable and enjoyed historic occasion than these two evenings when Mulligan met Monk. . .
Monk’s other Riverside albums are –
Monk’s Music: with Coleman Hawkins, Art Blakey, Gigi Gryce (RLP 12-242)
Thelonious Himself: solo piano (RLP 12-235)
Brilliant Corners: with Sonny Rollins, Ernie Henry, Clark Terry, Max Roach (RLP 12-226)
The Unique THELONIOUS MONK (RLP 12-209)
THELONIOUS MONK Plays Duke Ellington (RLP 12-201)
Other outstanding jazz on 12-inch HIGH FIDELITY Riverside LPs includes –
SONNY ROLLINS: The Sound of Sonny (RLP 12-241)
KENNY DORHAM: Jazz Contrasts; with Sonny Rollins, Max Roach (RLP 12-239)
Duke with a Difference: CLARK TERRY, with Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonzalves (RLP 12-246)
The Hawk Flies High: COLEMAN HAWKINS, with J. J. Johnson, Idrees Sulieman (RLP 12-233)
Zoot!: The ZOOT SIMS Quintet (RLP 12-228)
GIGI GRYCE and the Jazz Lab Quintet; with Donald Byrd (RLP 12-229)
A HIGH FIDELITY STEREOPHONIC Recording -
Riverside-Reeves SPECTROSONIC High Fidelity Engineering
Produced, and notes written by, ORRIN KEEPNEWS.
Cover designed by PAUL BACON
Engineer: JACK HIGGINS (Reeves Sound Studios)
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
553 West 51 Street New York 19, N.Y.