Gerry Mulligan Chet Baker Quartet Term Paper

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Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker Quartet. Specifically, it will contain an Artist Profile, which will focus on the artist's primary contribution to their style of expression. The Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker Quartet added the "smooth" to West Coast jazz, and created a new form of jazz entertainment that appealed to a wider audience.


The Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker Quartet was one of the most influential jazz quartets of the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, versatile musician Mulligan, who played baritone sax and clarinet, wrote and arranged songs, and created one of the first pianoless quartets, "would play an important role in developing cool jazz on the West Coast" (Gioia 283). In fact, Mulligan helped originate "cool jazz," along with such jazz institutions as Miles Davis. The sound originated in the east in the 1940s, and Mulligan was a driving force in the arrangements and orchestrations. Critics have called him an emotional and sensitive player who also had a great ear for arranging. "Gerry Mulligan, an artist of exquisite sensitivity, has to his credit above all the emotional impact of his solos, which are sometimes particularly successful melodically" (Hodeir 125). Mulligan took the cool jazz sound and redid it later in his career, literally bringing jazz to a much wider audience, bringing it into the realm of popular music.

Mulligan began playing and arranging for swing bands in Philadelphia before World War II. After the war, he found work in New York City with famed drummer Gene Krupa, "which led him to his groundbreaking work in 1949 as composer and arranger for trumpeter Miles Davis, sessions that resulted in the Birth of the Cool [the birth of cool jazz - an album by Miles Davis]" (NPR). Jazz was progressing in popularity in the east, but Milligan still had ideas of his own he wanted to explore, and he headed west to start his own group. Milligan migrated to Los Angeles in 1950, and in 1952, created his groundbreaking jazz quartet that did not include a piano, unheard of at the time. It was not simply the lack of a piano that made his group so inventive. Mulligan knew his music, and used a variety of techniques to bring together an entirely new jazz sound.

Mulligan mined the potential of this limited instrumentation to the fullest through a variety of techniques: counterpoint between the two horns; use of the bass and drums as melodic voices; sotto voce basslines with the sax or trumpet; stark variations in rhythm and rhythmic phrasing, ranging from Dixieland two-steps to swinging fours to pointillistic bop beats. The media soon picked up on the novelty of the "pianoless quartet," with a write-up in Time magazine exerting particular impact. Before long, patrons were lining up around the block to see the band in performance (Gioia 289).

It was during this time Mulligan hooked up with jazz trumpeter Chet Davis, one of the best trumpet players in jazz at the time. When the two got together, they formed the Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker Quartet, and began to change the way jazz was played on the West Coast. Innovation was Mulligan's strong point, and Baker's was looking like a movie star. Together, they changed the way people looked at jazz. Mulligan was the inventor, and Baker was the soloist who brought the arrangements poignancy and romanticism, two important parts of the West Coast jazz phenomenon.

There were many limitations to Baker the musician -- his range was narrow, his reading skills poor, his technique so-so, his interest in composition almost nil -- but as a soloist he deservedly ranks among the finest of his generation. His instinct for melodic development was sure and certain, and his improvised lines captured a touching poignancy. Movie-star looks only added to Baker's drawing power, and in time he could challenge Mulligan as a leading jazz star (Gioia 290).

The quartet became almost instantly popular, partly due to Baker's dark and brooding Hollywood good looks. One critic said he was "James Dean before James Dean invented himself" (Batten). Their popularity also came from the two musicians' ability to soar with their solos and their cool jazz arrangements. This cool jazz sound was called "fresh" by some, and included special orchestration and an ability by the soloists to improvise as the tune progressed. As Mulligan and Baker brought the music into the mainstream, it transformed into their own invention, "West Coast jazz," which "gained an international following and emerged as a viable alternative to the hegemony of East Coast models of improvisation and composition" (Gioia 289). This new strain of jazz often used unusual instruments, such as the flugelhorn or flute, and was often highly structured, rebelling against the simple head charts of East Coast modern jazz and reflecting a formalism that contrasted sharply with the spontaneity of bebop. Counterpoint and other devices of formal composition figured prominently in the music" (Gioia 289). It was clear from the start Mulligan was the innovator. Baker simply wanted to play what he was given, and had little interest in arranging or creating new musical innovations. Later, Baker also began a jazz singing career along with his playing. Soon other West Coast musicians were playing cool West Coast jazz, including Jimmy Giuffre, Shelly Manne, Shorty Rogers, and Dave Brubeck. Some critics criticized the music, calling it "stylized and conventional" (Gioia 289), but many of the musicians embracing this new jazz form added their own "playful curiosity and a desire to experiment and broaden the scope of jazz music" (Gioia 289). Mulligan of course was at the forefront of these innovations, and his quartet led the way in orchestration, arrangement, and unique rhythms.

In a series of memorable performances -- "Bernie's Tune," "Line for Lyons," "Lullabye of the Leaves," "My Funny Valentine" -- Mulligan mined the potential of this limited instrumentation to the fullest through a variety of techniques: counterpoint between the two horns; use of the bass and drums as melodic voices; sotto voce basslines with the sax or trumpet; stark variations in rhythm and rhythmic phrasing, ranging from Dixieland two-steps to swinging fours to pointillistic bop beats (Gioia 289).

In fact, after Mulligan brought cool jazz west, much of the jazz business also moved west and took up shop in Los Angeles. Mulligan and his innovations can be credited with making jazz more global, and creating a type of jazz that appealed to many more people than the jazz blues of the 1930s and 1940s. There was another great innovation in Mulligan's music, in that he was white, and many of the jazz greats were black. "To be honest, the reason that Chet Baker became famous was that the media wanted a white jazz musician they could publicize at a time when modern jazz was hip" (Kington 2). A critic of the time (1961) spoke of Mulligan's contribution to bringing jazz west, and on the West Coast jazz movement as a whole:

Most of the recording companies that take an interest in encouraging new orchestral efforts have offices in the West. Perhaps that is why some critics think any ambitious orchestral attempt should bear the signature of a "West Coast school," of which it would be hard to define the esthetic position. West Coast jazzmen are animated by an infinitely praiseworthy professional conscientiousness; it is seen in a high degree of exterior perfection, both in solos and in ensemble work. However, these extremely polished performances sometimes betray a certain poverty of invention, which is occasionally disguised beneath the mask of eccentricity. For that matter, aren't these precisely the strong and weak points that marked the first period of Kenton, who also got his training on the West Coast? (Hodeir 275).

The Mulligan-Baker quartet became extremely successful, but unfortunately, the two men did not stay together long. The quartet…

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