Gerry Mulligan: I Want to Live

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Johnny Mandel’s score for I Want to Live is performed by an all-star septet led by Gerry Mulligan. In the film he is name-checked by Susan Hayward in the Oscar-winning role of Barbara Graham who was executed in San Quentin in 1955. Listening to “Night Watch” on the radio in the condemned cell she says “Gerry Mulligan … I know all his sides by heart”. Bud Shank told me the night-club scene featuring the group was adjacent to the gas chamber set which made it difficult for the musicians who were miming to “Frisco Club”.

Mulligan was so impressed with the music that he commissioned the composer to adapt “Black Nightgown”, “Barbara’s Theme” and “Theme From I Want to Live” for his 1960 Concert Jazz Band. All the horns have a chance to shine on the catchy “Black Nightgown” which is introduced by Red Mitchell’s simple but effective descending bass line. The dramatic “I Want to Live” is a perfect vehicle for the dark sonorities of Mulligan’s baritone contrasted effectively here with the delicacy of Shank’s flute.

Shelly Manne’s mallets are prominent in an atmospheric “Barbara’s Theme”, which has Art Farmer in a cup mute at his most introspective. (Don Ferrara was the soloist when this piece was performed by the CJB). “Life’s a Funny Thing” is notable for some inventive exchanges between Frank Rosolino and Mulligan which was one of their only meetings on record apart from Quincy Jones’ score for the 1972 movie The Hot Rock. Shelly Manne gives a master-class throughout in the subtle art of small-group drumming. Using sticks, brushes or mallets he creates a variety of percussive effects that add colour, shading and drama to each selection.

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Poll Winners has added the complete soundtrack from I Want to Live, featuring a 27-piece orchestra made up of the cream of Los Angeles studio musicians. Also included are three titles from The Subterraneans film. Mulligan’s first chorus on “Things Are Looking Down” became the basis of his original “Subterranean Blues”.

Discography
(1) Black Nightgown; Theme From I Want to Live; Night Watch; Frisco Club; Barbara’s Theme; Life’s a Funny Thing; (2) Bread and Wine; Things Are Looking Down; (3) Raising Caen; (4) Main Title; Poker Game; San Diego Party; Henry Leaves; Stakeout; Barbara Surrenders; Trio Convicted; Trip to Corona; Peg’s Visit; Gas Chamber Unveiling; Nightmare Sequence; Preparations for Execution; Letter Writing Sequence; The Last Mile; Death Scene; End Title (77.18)
(1) Art Farmer (t); Frank Rosolino (tb); Bud Shank (as, f); Mulligan (bar); Pete Jolly (p); Red Mitchell (b); Shelly Manne (d). Los Angeles, 24 May 1958.
(2) Art Farmer (t); Bob Enevoldsen (vtb); Art Pepper (as); Mulligan (bar); Russ Freeman (p); Buddy Clark (b); Dave Bailey (d). Los Angeles, 2 September 1959.
(3) Jack Sheldon (t); Art Pepper (as); Russ Freeman (p); Red Mitchell (b); Shelly Manne (d). Los Angeles, Summer 1959.
(4) Collective personnel: Jack Sheldon, Al Porcino (t); Frank Rosolino, Milt Bernhart (tb); Joe Maini (as, bcl); Bill Holman (ts, bar); Pete Jolly, Russ Freeman (p); Red Mitchell (b); Shelly Manne, Mel Lewis (d) and others. Los Angeles 12 & 22 1958.
Poll Winners Records 27390