By TOMÁS C. HERNÁNDEZ
"Dear Gerry, I found a sax -- "Let's shoot it again."
Kenny Rogers wrote this note at the bottom of a black-and-white photograph he took of a bespectacled Gerry Mulligan -- sans saxophone -- sitting on a stool and holding a score in his left hand (see cover). The country-and-western singer took the photograph of Mulligan for his book on famous people. He sent a car to take Gerry to the studio in New York where he was shooting the photographs, and they had a good time together. Kenny Rogers wanted to take more photographs of Gerry with his saxophone, and he sent Gerry the photograph with his note, one of the many items of interest newly displayed in the Music Division foyer.
What a transformation -- no more drab gray metal lockers; in their place are handsomely veneered wooden display cases. Out with sterile fluorescent lighting, in with dimmed spotlights. Out with 'keep-moving' tangerine carpeting, in with linger-awhile brown. Welcome to the permanent home of the Gerry Mulligan Collection.
Walking along the brightly lit corridor of the Madison Building, one notices the darkened foyer of the Performing Arts Reading Room. Through the double glass doors, the smiling eyes of a bearded man in a life-size black-and-white photograph beckon the curious visitor. Wearing a striped shirt under an argyle sweater vest, plaid sport coat slung casually over his right shoulder, the man seems to direct the visitor's sight to a gleaming gold-plated baritone saxophone, resting on its stand within a large wood and glass case in the middle of the room.
This is the instrument Mulligan played in all public performances during the last decade of his life until his death on Jan.19, 1996. Crafted by C.G. Conn in Elkhardt, Ind., it was Mulligan's preferred instrument, capable of greater projection than his older, silver-plated saxophone, also a Conn. Across from it is the Grammy Award Mulligan received for his album, Walk on the Water. Between these items and the photograph sits the saxophone case, lined with red velvet, and atop its lid are three personal items -- a dark blue hat with the Izod alligator patch, a pair of dark brown gloves, and a burgundy scarf with a dark blue paisley lining.
Behind the display case on the back wall is a set of eight wood-block prints in various hues -- dark gray, lavender, purple, brown -- showing a larger-than-life close-up of Mulligan's face. In the lower right hand corner, easy to miss, is a small section of a saxophone. The prints are arranged in two parallel rows of four each, one above the other, framing a brass plate with black raised letters that say, "The Gerry Mulligan Collection." Dated 1996, the prints, by the artist Antonio Frasconi, were the artist's gift to Mulligan's wife, Franca Rota Mulligan, president of Mulligan Publishing Co.
Walking around the room, looking at the items on the walls and in the display cases, the visitor becomes aware of the numerous pictures of Mulligan looking straight out at the viewer. These likenesses seem to take on a life of their own, giving the entire room a vital presence, an energy, made almost palpable by the mementos of Mulligan's life and career. Indeed, the room exudes a strong personality -- someone "demanding and temperamental," as Ken Poston, director of the California Institute for the Preservation of Jazz in Long Beach, described Mulligan in the program notes to the Mulligan concert April 6. Mr. Poston wrote that these qualities "enabled [Mulligan] to get the most out of the musicians who were working with him. He always knew what he wanted musically and he knew how to get it. His ensembles were always the epitome of discipline and musicianship."
One of the giants of jazz, Mulligan had a distinctive, personal style. Pianist-composer Dave Brubeck once said, "When you listen to Gerry Mulligan, you hear the past, the present and the future." He was a legend in his own time "who can never be replaced," wrote Bret Primack in a eulogy for the Internet's Jazz Central Station.
As a saxophone player of prodigious technique and uniquely personal style, Mulligan was an international jazz celebrity. As a composer-arranger and improviser, his extensive discography attests to his originality, versatility and rhythmic vitality. He continually challenged himself to expand his musical horizons, writing not only jazz for groups of various sizes, but music for film and symphony orchestras, particularly the New York Philharmonic, whose former director, Zubin Mehta, was a close colleague and friend.
Born on April 6, 1927, in New York City, Gerard Joseph Mulligan grew up in Philadelphia, where, as a teenager, he first began composing arrangements for a local radio station. The synthesis of the individual timbres of the various instruments, the interaction among them and the complex textures that arose from that interaction engaged his imagination. Having learned that arrangers were the people responsible for putting together these instruments, he decided to become a composer-arranger and obtained his first professional engagement with the Claude Thornhill Band in 1948. During this period, Mulligan, with fellow arranger Gil Evans and other artists (among them George Russell, who led his Living Time Orchestra in a sizzling show at the Coolidge Auditorium on May 10, part of the Library of Congress Concert Series) developed a new sound that made its recording debut with the landmark album The Birth of the Cool, featuring a nine-piece ensemble with Miles Davis (who affectionately called Gerry "Jeru").
In the early 1950s, he moved from New York to Los Angeles, where he formed his legendary "pianoless" quartet featuring Chet Baker, creating a sound that was described as "West Coast Jazz." In 1960 he formed the Concert Jazz Band, a 13-piece ensemble based on the idea of the "pianoless" quartet, with Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer and Zoot Sims. Until his death, he continued to perform with his Quartet and Concert Jazz Band and appeared as guest soloist and arranger for other bands, symphony orchestras, chamber groups and jazz festivals. Musicians he collaborated with include Astor Piazzolla, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Barry Manilow, Zubin Mehta, Benny Carter, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald.
Some of these artists are featured in the current exhibition. On the right wall, one sees a photograph of Mulligan at the piano with Davis, Dizzie Gillespie and Teddy Wilson at a practice session in the late 1940s. Below it is a photo of Mulligan playing a duet with saxophonist Ben Webster in December 1959 for the recording Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster, one of a series Mulligan made with other musicians including Paul Desmond, Stan Getz, Johnny Hodges, Zoot Sims and Thelonious Monk. In a historic photograph taken by Art Kane for Esquire magazine in 1959, and celebrated in the film documentary "Great Day in Harlem," Mulligan is one of 57 prom-inent jazz musicians of the day who are pictured on New York's East 126th Street.
On the opposite wall, one sees a photograph of Mulligan playing his saxophone with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic in December 1989, and in the display case below it, the program with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet featuring Mulligan's composition Entente for baritone saxophone and orchestra, as well as K-4 Pacific. There is a also quaint photo of a barefoot Mulligan playing his saxophone and wearing a dark gray tunic taken in the Guadeloupe islands in 1978.
A Time magazine article on Feb. 2, 1953, (quoted by Mr. Primack in his eulogy) reported that "the hot music topic in Los Angeles last week was the cool jazz of a gaunt, hungry-looking young (25) fellow named Gerry Mulligan. ... [His] kind of sound is just about unique in the jazz field." Mulligan elevated the baritone saxophone to the status of a solo instrument, revealing its capabilities in the upper register -- a much lighter, yet warm and elegant, sound.
"What came out of Gerry Mulligan's horn was precious... . His laconic, velvety sound ... put the horn on the jazz map," Primack continued in his eulogy.
Among Mulligan's admirers is President Clinton, who wrote, "No one ever played that horn like he did, and no one ever will." This handwritten note appears after the typewritten text of a formal letter of condolence to Franca Mulligan, which has been framed below a photograph of Mulligan with the president and first lady. In the case below it is a color snapshot of Mulligan playing with a distinguished group of saxophone players on the steps of the Capitol during President Clinton's 1992 inauguration.
In the three display cases along the walls are other items from the collection. Found here are facsimiles of his earliest arrangements for the Thornhill band; the original manuscript of Jeru, one of his most famous compositions; and manuscripts of Young Blood and of the full score for K-4 Pacific, titled after the famous steam locomotive engine. Mulligan loved to travel by train. Displayed in the same case as a Mulligan head shot on the cover of the May 1983 issue of L'uomo Vogue magazine is the program cover for the premiere of his Octet for Sea Cliff for the Sea Cliff Chamber Players. Mulligan was especially proud that his name and likeness were printed together with those of Beethoven and Schubert. The text reads, "Schubert! Beethoven! Mulligan!... Mulligan? ...Yes, Gerry Mulligan!" One also finds LP jackets of his landmark recordings, The Birth of the Cool with Miles Davis and his band; Music of Young Blood, the 1952 recording he made with Stan Getz; the Grammy winner Walk on the Water; The Age of Steam; and the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival recording of Duke Ellington and his orchestra with Mulligan as solo saxophonist.
The exhibition, mounted by the Library's Interpretive Programs Office, is the brainchild of Jon Newsom, chief of the Music Division, who negotiated the donation of the collection with Mulligan before he died and afterward collaborated with Mrs. Mulligan. The exhibition officially opened on April 6 -- Mulligan's birthday -- with a ceremony in Madison Hall led by the Librarian. A close friend of Mulligan and his wife, the Venerable Lama Thamthog Rinpoche, abbot of three monasteries in Tibet and director and master of the Center for Tibetan Studies in Milan, also attended. That evening, the Gerry Mulligan Tribute Band performed an all-Mulligan concert in the Coolidge Auditorium as part of the Library of Congress Concert Series. Featured were longtime Mulligan colleagues and former members of his various groups: trombonist Bob Brookmeyer (who also led the band), bassist Dean Johnson, pianist Ted Rosenthal, drummer Ron Vincent, baritone saxophonist Scott Robinson, alto and tenor saxophonist Dick Oatts and trumpeter Randy Brecker.
The entire Mulligan Collection consists of some 700 items now being processed by the Music Division. These items are divided into several categories reflecting Mulligan's diverse interests and accomplishments from his adolescent years until his death. Included are music for recordings, lead sheets and sketches, arrangements and parts for his Concert Jazz Band (the single largest category), miscellaneous arrangements for his Tentet, small-band arrangements, a few symphonic arrangements, correspondence with jazz notables and papers relating to different concerts and projects. The saxophone was a later addition, donated by his wife with the express wish to have the instrument played. Thus Scott Robinson played it at the ceremony as well as the concert.
The exhibition is open during the hours of the Performing Arts Reading Room, 8:30 a.m.- 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Mr. Hernández is a music specialist in the Music Division.