Mulligan memories, part 2

'When Miles first came to New York he was a very middle-class black guy from St. Louis. Max Roach told him he was oppressed, which was news to Miles'

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Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims at Newport with Woody Herman. Photo: Jazz Journal Archive

Following on from Mulligan Memories, part 1, Arlyne Mulligan resumes the story of her life with Gerry Mulligan as told to Gordon Jack in 2001, continuing with her experiences of Miles Davis.

“You know, when Miles first came to New York he was a very middle-class black guy from St. Louis. Max Roach told him he was oppressed, which was news to Miles. He never knew he was oppressed until Max told him. Gerry wrote a lot of charts for the Birth of the Cool group – they were really Gerry’s sessions not Miles’.

“When I phoned home to tell my mother I was married she said – Who is it this time? – Mulligan, Mulligan that’s not a Jewish name. We spent the early part of our marriage driving to gas stations meeting pushers to pick up heroin.

“Prior to going to court I had to get the cheque book, the house and car keys although in California I couldn’t drive. After Gerry was sentenced Chet drove me home and proceeded to use my bedroom with his girlfriend while I sat in the living room.

“I began working on Gerry’s release but it took a few months. He was in an honour farm with signs everywhere – ‘Welcome Gerry Mulligan’ – but I think he must have sassed someone because the next thing I knew he was in solitary confinement. In the meantime he had been asked to write a Thanksgiving show for the sheriff’s department.

‘He was released on Christmas Eve 1953 and all he wanted was some junk to be waiting for him’

“I found out that if your husband is in solitary you can confiscate all his possessions until he is back in the general population. I arrived at the warden’s office and told him I wanted everything including the music Gerry was writing for the show which is when he got out of solitary. Carson Smith was very nice and either he or Jeffie Lee used to drive me when I visited Gerry (7).

“He was released on Christmas Eve 1953 and all he wanted was some junk to be waiting for him. He was going to quit but it had to be in his own time. I think Zoot was around and he would have got him something. I was very close to Zoot – he was a sweetheart and a very honourable man with a good sense of humour. Of course he was Gerry’s closest friend. They had been friends from the early days when they would get stoned together. They would just sit around, turn on and listen to music. The musical component was what was important, even with Zoot – it was all music.

“Years later when Gerry and I had broken up Zoot was staying with me in California. Gerry called me up and said – You’ve got to stop him drinking. I walked into the kitchen and Zoot was standing there stark naked pouring vodka into orange juice. He tried to convince me that orange juice was all it was. Al Cohn of course was quite different; he was a prince and just like Gerry he was an intellectual.

‘Chet was never a leader. He was a nice boy with a very limited mentality’

“When Gerry came out of the honour farm I was there when he met Chet Baker on the street in Hollywood. Chet demanded $500 a week to stay with Gerry although the quartet had only been making $1200 when they were at the Haig. Gerry was heartbroken. I blame Dick Bock for the break-up of the quartet because he had been filling Chet’s head about forming his own group and Chet was never a leader. He was a nice boy with a very limited mentality. Somebody asked him what he thought about and he said – I try very hard not to think. He used to run with a whole bunch of high-school friends – a little entourage. They were all beach-types and quite different to Gerry.

“Gerry had just recorded the tentette when I arrived in California. The first nights we were together he played the album all the time although it hadn’t been released yet. It’s a lovely album and I was so impressed. I always thought the tentette was his best ever band, even better than the CJB. After his release he did a concert at the Embassy theatre in downtown L.A. with the tentette and the quartet (8). I had been dating Mel Tormé so Gerry asked him to appear at the concert but he wanted what seemed to us to be too much money – $1000. We wanted him there but for that price we told him to forget it as we already had a sold-out house. He came to the concert but he didn’t perform. Mel and I stayed friends until just about the end.

‘This was Gerry’s first public appearance since his release and he came onstage as the conquering hero – the crowd went wild, you’d have thought he was Elvis Presley’

“This was Gerry’s first public appearance since his release and he came onstage as the conquering hero – the crowd went wild, you’d have thought he was Elvis Presley. I’d never seen anything like it, they went berserk – just an explosion of love. He’d been in Time magazine and he had a full page in Harper’s Bazaar. My mother showed it to all her friends – That’s my son-in-law Gerry Mulligan.

“He was getting offers like crazy but he said he wouldn’t take the quartet on the road unless I managed it so I took over as Gerry’s manager and being Lew Brown’s daughter I helped negotiate better fees for the group. I got a lot of players for Gerry including Denzil Best who never recorded with the group (9). Of course a great deal of harm was done to my marriage by people saying to him, You’d be nothing without her. No man wants to hear that. He was 25 when we got married and when we first dated he was not even 20 – he had very little experience.

“We went on the road in 1954 with Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Anthony and Frank Isola, living out of suitcases. We never had a place of our own until later and the only time we were not working was when we were travelling to the next job (10). At the Paris Jazz Fair in June the whole band quit the first night but it didn’t last because most of them stayed (11). Gerry was not an easy man in those days but I don’t think he was always wrong. He used to say, When I take my horn out of my mouth I put my foot in it. It was his group and he wanted to make sure things were done his way.

“Bobby was always very dramatic. At one point in Washington he threw his trombone out of a hotel window. He and Gerry both had very good senses of humour and when we were on the road together it was a riot. They got on well and they respected each other’s playing. I knew people who were very friendly with Red Mitchell but I had more of a distant friendship with him because he was not very outgoing unlike his brother Whitey. Later on we had Bill Crow who is a lovely, lovely man – he’s a gem. I used to nag him when we were in Europe because he never saw anything, he always had a camera in front of his face. Frank Isola was with us for most of 1954 and he was very nice man.

‘He once went to a rehearsal with Benny Goodman, listened for a while then collected his chart and walked out’

“Gerry always wrote for particular musicians and a good example of that is when Osie Johnson was on the band. For some reason Osie couldn’t make a record date so Gus Johnson was there. Gerry tore the chart up saying, I wrote it for Osie not Gus. Young Blood won an award the year he wrote it for Kenton. Stan begged Gerry to write some more for the band but he refused – You didn’t play it the way I wrote it so I won’t do anything more for you. He once went to a rehearsal with Benny Goodman, listened for a while then collected his chart and walked out.

To be continued… Meantime, see Mulligan Memories, part 1

Footnotes from Gordon Jack
(7) Carson Smith told me, Arlyne Brown arrived on the scene from New York. She was the daughter of the great Lew Brown and she and Gerry had known each other for years. It seemed that within a matter of days Arlyne had taken over and become Gerry’s manager with the intention of showing him the way to a new life. She was a real New Yorker and man, was she strong, that woman.
(8) This might have been arranged by Gene Norman who was working as Gerry’s manager at the time.
(9) James Gavin in his Chet Baker biography points out that Mulligan was happy to give her complete authority. His standard reply to every request at the time was, I don’t know man. Talk to Arlyne. Dave Bailey told me, She took her job very seriously, being very protective of him which some people mistook for bossiness. Martha Glazer had taken Erroll Garner from being an unknown pianist to the top of the world and Arlyne perceived a similar role for herself with Gerry. She helped him get out of jail in 1953 and stuck by him when it was necessary and whatever her faults she was primarily concerned about Gerry at the expense of everything else. After they broke up Dave took over as the road manager.
(10) Bill Anthony was replaced by Red Mitchell in March.
(11) Alun Morgan, who attended the Paris Jazz Fair, had this to say about the formidable Arlyne, We failed almost completely to converse with the star of the show Gerry Mulligan and it was here that we realised that the Gerry Mulligan Quartet is in effect a quintet. The fifth member, Gerry’s wife and personal manager Arlyne threw an almost impenetrable screen around Mulligan. She cut short his conversations with journalists and French musicians and spent most of her husband’s on-stage appearances in directing photographers and leading the audience applause from a visible position in the wings of the stage.