Sunday, March 23, 2008

A MONKIN' GOOD TIME


Of the five albums in your Gerry Mulligan Meets… series, "Mulligan Meets Monk" is the one I can’t stop listening to. The others you cut with alto saxophonists Paul Desmond and Johnny Hodges; and tenor saxophonists Stan Getz, and Ben Webster are good, but you and Monk play like soul-mates.

I read biographer Jerome Klinkowitz’s take on “Mulligan Meets Monks” in his judgmental book about your career “Listen: Gerry Mulligan An Aural Narrative In Jazz”. Klinkowitz made it seem as if you were intimidated by Monk. I think he got it wrong. To me, you were Monk’s equal.

“Mulligan Meets Monk” could’ve easily been into Monks baby. The pianist was domineering-although I loved every Monk album I’ve listened to-I always felt Monk was self-indulgent. Save for the two albums on Riverside "Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington" and "Unique Thelonious Monk," the pianist only covered his own compositions.

You had to be at your best to record with the pianist. In 1957, when you pitched this idea to Keepnews Monk was the rave. You demanded five of the six selections on the album be Monk’s classics. I admire the way you handled Monk’s creations. On his ballad “Sweet and Lovely” I thought at any moment the baritone would float out your hand. You played that softly. It didn’t even sound like you were playing such a huge horn. On “Straight No Chaser” and “I Mean You,” you swung your as off, proving you’re in Monk’s league.

After listening to you get down with Monk, I wanted to know more about your relationship with the pianist. I read you first jammed with Monk in 1954 after one of his gigs in Paris.
The chemistry you had with him shocked you. You could’ve jammed all night, but after hours listening to you and Monk riffin', blowin', and just puting your instruments through hell your wife intervened, telling you it was time to wrap it up.

Two years, later you’d launched the Mulligan Meets series with Desmond. But the recording with Monk was the one that got folks to take notice. That’s Klinkowitz version. I can’t speak for your fans but. Mulligan Meets Monk got me interested in the series.
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