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Collection The Gerry Mulligan Collection

Live vs. Studio

[Concertgebow - 1957]. The Gerry Mulligan Collection, The Library of Congress Presents: Music, Theater and Dance, Performing Arts Reading Room.

Gerry discusses his views on studio recordings versus recordings of public performances. During his last decade, Gerry became more involved with the production of his studio recordings. He describes his idea that an album must evolve from the material to become a complete entity.

Edited Transcript

I've always felt that in-person performances were totally different from a record. I know a lot of fans like to have the record of a live performance and so they accept it on its own terms. But I can't. If you're sitting in a theater and a band does something and they stretch out and somebody takes another chorus, there’s something physical that goes on, and the audience is with you. They can see it and they understand why you're doing it, whereas when you're listening you don't necessarily have that same connection and musically it may not make any sense at all. You're playing more self indulgently, or whatever, and it can become a bore.

[Portrait of Norman Granz, ca. May 1947]. William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.

That's just one example. There are lots of things about the interaction between an audience and the band that takes place when you're playing in front of them that is altogether different from the impact of music when the physical element is not involved. It's your ears and the music; it's a private coming together in your head, your senses, that is totally different from the relationship between thirteen, or fourteen, or fifteen musicians here and couple of thousand people out there, and it's just not the same thing. I really would like to have seen the things edited down. Norman [Granz] is a great believer in doing things the way they are. He likes jam sessions for that reason. He thinks that a record should be a realistic presentation of what happened. Norman and I always respected each other's opinions, but have always felt quite differently about the functions of records. If I had a record company I might be the way he is about it, but of course I'm trying to protect my entity which is my own band and my own music, so I want to put it in front of an audience in a way that's going to attract them to play it more than once. A lot of these things that are long, long, long, long, long, I might play once and say that's nice and never play them again. But when you play a thing that has a form to it, the listener can get into it. My studio dates are geared towards albums that will make the listener listen to the music and want to play it over and over again. A lot of times you hear something the first time and it doesn't really hit you, it doesn't grab you. It builds slowly; so this is the thing you're up against with albums and with the competition for people’s listening time--how to con them into listening twice. You have to be aware of how you program the material. The longer the records got, the harder it got to do this.

I seldom go into a studio with an overall idea of what the album is going to be. It has to evolve out of the material that we're doing, especially if we're doing new material. I don't know where it's going to lead me. I have no real idea. So I'm dependent, if I record for somebody else, on their ability to be able to go along with me and let me find my way. It's like a tightrope walk to be able to do all this in a minimum of time; I don't have open-ended time to do it. There aren't hundreds of thousands of recording dollars like there are for pop dates. I've got to bring these things in at a reasonable price, so it's an ongoing challenge. But I have to do it that way; I can't really plan all that stuff ahead, especially with the small band. When you're dealing with big band material it's got to be more thoroughly organized. I'd love to be able to let things evolve more easily with big bands, piece them together, take this and that, and try this and that, but that's expensive. Even just doing it in rehearsal is expensive. Rehearsal time costs damn near as much as recording time. So, I don't have the luxury to do those things. With the little band, I have a little more leeway to let things happen and can wind up with an album that sounds thoroughly planned from beginning to end that wasn't at all, that just evolved out of the material and the approach to it. One of my favorites that was done this way was "Lonesome Boulevard."1


  1. Lonesome Boulevard, a (not pianoless) quartet recording of 1989 with Bill Charlap (piano), Dean Johnson (bass), and Richie De Rosa (drums), was produced by Gerry and John Snyder for A&M records (75021 5326 2). [Return to text]
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