Gerald Joseph Mulligan was born on April 6, 1927 and grew up in several states on the East Coast and Midwest as his father’s career as an engineer required the family to move often. Gerry began studying music at the age of seven with piano and shortly after clarinet. When Mulligan was fourteen and then living in Reading, Pennsylvania he studied saxophone and clarinet with Sam Correnti who also encouraged Gerry to study arranging. After a move to Philadelphia Gerry organized a school big band and wrote arrangements as well as played saxophone professionally in local dance bands. When Gerry was sixteen he contacted the director of the WCAU-CBS radio orchestra, Johnny Warrington, to offer his arrangement services. Mulligan’s determination and talent impressed Warrington enough to purchase some of his arrangements and Gerry dropped out of high school after this and began arranging for Tommy Tucker and then pianist Elliot Lawrence.
Gerry moved to New York City in 1946 and began arranging for Gene Krupa and then Claude Thornhill while he was studying with Gil Evans. Through work and his studies Mulligan was surrounded by musicians like John Lewis, Charles Mingus, Lee Konitz, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, ‘Zoot’ Sims and many others. The highlight of this period was Gerry’s work on Miles Davis’ album ‘Birth of the Cool’ recorded in 1949 and ’50. Mulligan wrote and/or arranged six of eleven tunes on the album and played on every track. Despite his success it still remained difficult to make a living and Gerry decided to move to the West Coast and formed the first pianoless quartet with Chet Baker, Carson Smith and Chico Hamilton while also arranging for Stan Kenton. Gerry maintained his small groups throughout the decade often switching instrumentation as this allowed him to try different ideas in the arrangements. During this time Mulligan also performed as a sideman for a who’s who of musicians including Paul Desmond, Duke Ellington, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Jimmy Witherspoon, André Previn, Billie Holiday, Marian McPartland, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Stan Getz, Thelonious Monk, Quincy Jones, and Kai Winding.
Gerry formed his first concert Jazz band in 1960 recorded five albums with this group for Norman Granz’s Verve Records. After Dave Brubeck’s quartet broke up in the mid 1960s Dave and Gerry formed the Gerry Mulligan/ Dave Brubeck Quartet which lasted through the mid 1970s though they would both perform together throughout their lives. In 1971 Mulligan recorded one of his most important albums for big band called ‘The Age of Steam’ inspired by his love of trains. While Gerry continued to perform in smaller groups at times till the end of his life in the ‘70s and beyond he focused much more on his orchestral arranging. In addition to commissioning other composers to write orchestral music for saxophone, Gerry wrote ‘Entente for Baritone Saxophone’ and Orchestra, with the Filarmonia Venetia in 1984. Mulligan also adapted the tune K-4 Pacific from his album ‘The Age of Steam’ for a quartet with orchestra and performed it and his work for baritone saxophone with the Israel Philharmonic in Tel Aviv. Gerry’s final album was ‘Dragonfly’ recorded in 1995 before Mulligan passed away in the beginning of 1996.
Many tributes have been done in Gerry Mulligan’s honor including one in 1996 by Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra featuring a speech by then President Clinton and due to Gerry’s wish, a New Orleans band to perform the funeral march. A few of the very many awards earned by Mulligan include Down Beat magazine Jazz Hall of Fame and winner of their reader’s poll for forty two consecutive years, American Jazz Hall of Fame, Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame, received the keys to the city Trieste, Italy, Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University, several Grammy Awards, and so many more. Gerry leaves an incredible legacy as a performer, composer and an arranger and is a true Jazz legend with a body of work that very few can match and will long be remembered in Jazz and the musical history of America.
“This life of being a transient human being has gotten to a point when it's very hard to bear”
“If you've only got one horn playing, I still want the sense of ensemble.”
“People talk about innovations and evolutions and that kind of thing; I don't understand about that nonsense. It's like, all instruments are there to use all the time.” – Gerry Mulligan.