Father Knows Best

Baritone master Gerry Mulligan shows off his crooning lyricism on a long-unavailable classic

I have long thought of Gerry Mulligan as a proficient baritonist, but not as a great baritone soloist," Martin Williams wrote in 1963. "In the past year, he has played superb solos, the best of which on records is 'Get Out of Town.' " Williams, who was Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael combined to my generation of jazz critics, plus he was almost always right, was referring to Mulligan's version of the Cole Porter tune on Jeru, an LP I bought as a teenager on Williams's recommendation. It's finally been issued on CD, and anyone hearing it for the first time is in for a treat. Other reissues give a better sense of Mulligan's role in mainstreaming bop—his talents as a composer and arranger and bandleader. Jeru, featuring him with just a rhythm section, is the one you need to gauge his measure as a lyric improviser. Congas and an opening bossa nova reveal the album's vintage, but Mulligan's crooning, deceptively simple solos on numbers by Porter, Kurt Weill, Cy Coleman, and Leonard Bernstein, among others, are timeless. And Williams didn't even mention the quick-witted counterpoint between Mulligan and pianist Tommy Flanagan in the outro of "Get Out of Town"—a joy forever.

 
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