The Stern, Cheeky Genius of Gerry Mulligan

“The sound that Gerry Mulligan produced in the early ’50s, with the quintet that featured Chet Baker, is well known now, but you can imagine hearing it for the first time back then. The music had humor and drive, and made me smile whenever I heard it. I was so excited that I contacted Harper’s Bazaar to photograph a recording session in Los Angeles for them.

Profile of Mulligan's rumbling baritone sax in action

Profile of Mulligan’s rumbling baritone sax in action, 1953

It was really a treat to be there. Gerry was in complete control. He knew exactly what he wanted; he heard his arrangements in his head. He sat at the piano, playing out chords for his sidemen, stopping them midstream when it didn’t please him. Mulligan’s resonating baritone sax rumbled like rude words said in Italian, something a little like his own temperament.

I once saw the group perform at The Haig in Los Angeles. If the patrons were not paying attention, as was the case the night I was there, he simply stopped the music, stood with his big hands folded over the sax, and waited. Saying nothing, just standing there. When the noisy ones noticed that the music had stopped, they knew why, for he was looking right at them. Then he would resume, having gotten their attention.”