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Collection The Gerry Mulligan Collection


[Mulligan in Television Studio -- 1957]. Milt Hinton, photographer. The Gerry Mulligan Collection, Performing Arts Reading Room, The Library of Congress.

In the fifties, Gerry became addicted to heroin, which affected his personal and musical life so severely that he sought medical help. He was finally able to withdraw completely from drug use.

Edited Transcript

After Gail and I split up, I started to get back into my old habits with heroin. Not ever to the extent that I had been involved in New York, but still enough that it was an ongoing thing, and it was time-consuming and constant. I was in California and started to look for some kind of medical help, which was very hard to come by. If you have a problem, then you always are on the lookout for somebody with a cure, and you constantly hear about cures for drug addiction or alcohol addiction and, of course, they seldom work. On top of that there was the attitude of the police that drug addiction is an incurable disease, which helped make this a self-fulfilling prophesy.

At the same time they were thoroughly rotten in most cities to drug addicts, and most especially to jazz musicians. They thought it was the natural condition of jazz musicians, so that was one of the things we had to contend with in many of the cities. For instance, when we would be on the road, there was a large city, not far from New York, which shall be nameless, where whenever we rolled in to play with whatever group I had, quartet or sextet, the police would come around and shake the band down, and do it in a way that was as embarrassing as possible. It's a perfect example of the misuse of power and self-satisfaction of a lot of the narcotics police in those days. And in this city, where most of the jazz clubs were in black sections of town anyway, the police would be there and conduct body searches of the musicians, white or black.

[Gerry Mulligan performing]. Bob Willoughby, photographer. The Gerry Mulligan Collection, Performing Arts Reading Room, The Library of Congress.

Now I suppose the fact that we were jazz musicians working in jazz clubs meant that there was some basis for their illegal searches, and of course you couldn't do anything about it because if you tried to do something about it then they would just be rougher about it or more consistent in bothering us. So it was something that had to be endured. In this same nameless city, one incident stands out. There was a well-known band playing at the local orchestra hall, and the police came and shook the band down and found some heroin. Now whether it was actually the musician's heroin or whether it was something they planted, I never knew. It could easily have been his, because a lot of guys were using heroin, but because of the reputation of this city, musicians were usually smart enough not to carry something into the place. In any event, they arrested him, took him to the police station, called New York and talked to the agent who booked the band, and made some kind of deal. The police never booked the musician, they only held him. In the meantime, one of the police drove to New York, got $2,000 from the agent, and they released the musician. If somebody hadn't paid these people off, it would have been in the papers as a headline, a feather in the cap of the local police who were keeping the city safe by arresting these dangerous jazz musicians. Instead they got the money, so that was the end of it. But this has been the situation for a number of years. In a lot of ways it was much worse in the forties and fifties.

One of the results of this was that doctors and psychiatrists were very, very loathe to treat any drug addicts because they were afraid they would get in trouble. They would lose their licenses. The police could accuse them of anything they wanted, and as a consequence, it became very difficult to get any kind of effective treatment for addiction. I went to a number of doctors in Los Angeles and always got the same answer. It was really kind of amazing. They'd say that if I stopped using heroin for six months, they would consider taking me on as a patient. I said that if I could stop using this stuff for six months I wouldn't be there, I wouldn't need them. And so it was a stalemate.

When I got back to New York, after the rest of my stay in Los Angeles, with all of the adventures that were inherent in that period, I still kept up my search for a psychiatrist, and finally, through a doctor friend, was introduced to a man named Bill Haber. Bill was very helpful and willing to take me on as a patient and wasn’t worried about the consequences because he felt that what he was doing was more important. His attitude was that we would try it. He had doubts about taking on a creative person as a patient because one of the fears of psychiatrists was that if they messed around with the emotional problems of creative persons, they might just cure them out of their creativity, and they didn't want to be responsible for that. It makes sense because a lot of the time the creative urge is forced to find an outlet because of the frustrations resulting from the emotional problems. It's the release of the storms of the emotions. Bill Haber didn't demand that I stop using heroin beforehand, or anything of the sort, so I started attending two or three sessions a week with him. After a year or so it started to have an effect, and I put myself into a clinic. It was not upstate, but near the river, north of New York, and I really disliked it there a lot, so I left after a few days and went back to my old ways. After a couple of years out on the road, one of the guys that was playing with us on a trip wanted to try heroin. I tried to talk him out of it, but he got it anyway and he came back to the hotel and turned himself on and proceeded to pass out. I'd had some experience with guys passing out, and I must say that Zoot [Sims] and I saved the lives of a lot of guys because we worked on them until we revived them.

There was one time when we gave artificial respiration for about eight hours straight to keep a guy going and we saved him. One time when we had trouble doing it, we had to call an ambulance, whatever it meant. I never could understand it, but there were cases of musicians I knew who had let other guys die because either they were too stupid to know what to do or they were too afraid to call an ambulance. We lost a couple of very good musicians that way. But anyway, this time I wound up again spending the night giving this player artificial respiration, and the next day I'd simply had it. I didn't want anything more to do with any of it. We were in Detroit. We were supposed to go to Chicago next, but I called the agent and said cancel out Chicago, I'm not going, and don't book me with this group any more. If you want me I'll be in the hospital. I put myself in a clinic in New York for a couple of weeks, and that was the end of it.

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