[Today: Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker make sweet music together...]
We’ve all been there: stuck in a job with a detestable co-worker, forced to be professional and put the interest of the team ahead of personal feelings. Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan were kind of like that. Both had ongoing drug problems, quick tempers, and a history of fantastically failed personal relationships. In spite of having so much in common, they didn’t like each other very much. But they obviously checked their feelings at the studio door, because the music they made together stands as a high water mark in the history of recorded Jazz.
The Gerry Mulligan Quartet of 1952 and 1953 was a piano-less band featuring Baker on trumpet and Mulligan on baritone sax, along with drums and bass. This was an unusual group configuration for the time, but it worked as well as Mulligan had envisioned – the lack of piano gave him and Baker the space to solo and play off one another. Unfortunately – and predictably – a 1954 drug bust put Mulligan on the sidelines, and the group ultimately broke up. Mulligan and Baker would reunite a handful of times over the next several decades, but none of their subsequent collaborations satisfy with the gusto of their early-50’s recordings.
Mulligan/Baker is a SPECIALLY PRICED TWO-RECORD SET† compiling 19 tracks that go well beyond just the piano-less Quartet of ’52 and ’53. The recordings gathered here represent one of the main templates of the “cool” West Coast strain of Jazz, but everyone else operating under that umbrella could only hope to capture a fraction of the sparks that Mulligan and Baker made together. They may have barely tolerated one another, but musically they were the best of friends.
Listen: Moonlight In Vermont [recorded January 1953]
Listen: My Funny Valentine [recorded September 1952]*
†You digital/cd people are on your own here…
*Both MP3s taken from vinyl!