GENE KRUPA PLAYS GERRY MULLIGAN ARRANGEMENTS / MULLIGAN: Bird House (2 tks). Mulligan Stew. The Way of All Flesh. Birds of a Feather. DAVIS-CONRAD-ROBINSON: Margie (2 tks). PORTER: Begin the Beguine (2 tks). PINKARD-MITCHELL-ALEXANDER: Sugar. KRUPA-MULLIGAN: Disc Jockey Jump (2 tks). YOUMANS-CAESAR-GREY: Sometimes I’m Happy. HAMILTON-LEWIS; How High the Moon (2 tks). AYER-GRAY: If You Were the Only Girl in the World. PARKER: Yardbird Suite. MacDONALD-HANLEY: Indiana / Al DeRisi, Al Stewart (3), Doc Severinsen, Ernie Royal, Marky Markowitz (tracks 4-11), tpt; Billy Byers (tracks 1-3, 12), Eddie Bert (tracks 1-3, 12), Jimmy Cleveland, Kai Winding, Urbie Green (tracks 4-11), Willie Dennis (tracks 4-11), tbn; Phil Woods, Sam Marowitz, a-sax; Ed Wasserman, Frank Socolow, t-sax; Danny Bank, bar-sax; Hank Jones, pn; Barry Galraith, gt; James Gannon, bs; Gene Krupa, dm / Verve 8195063 or available for free streaming on YouTube: Sometimes I’m Happy, others here.
After listening to Mark Masters’ rearrangements of pieces by Mingus and Mulligan, I was in the mood to re-listen to some of the latter’s early arrangements for the great post-War Gene Krupa band. Imagine my surprise, then, to discover that the great drummer had re-recorded a clutch of them in stereo for Norman Granz’s Verve label in 1958 and, moreover, that the assembled band was comprised of some of the very best musicians of the day!
Needless to say, my enthusiasm was not dimmed by the actual listening experience. Say what you will about many modern jazz arrangers and composers, and I’ll say a lot of nice things about them, but the freshness of concept that existed in what I refer to as the “progressive swing” period (1945-49) remains as fresh and vital today as it did then. All of these arrangers, bursting with new ideas and excited to try them out, provided us with some of the most innovative big band music of all time: George Handy, Eddie Finckel, Gil Evans, Tadd Dameron, Gil Fuller, Eddie Sauter and Mulligan, each with his own distinctive voice and way of voicing instruments combined with harmonic daring and a way of “filling space” that many of our modern arrangers could learn from.
It’s amazing how many of the pieces here were dedicated to Bird, or Charlie Parker, even when the basic rhythmic concept was still swing and not bop. He was already a very potent force in the jazz world c. 1946, and it shows. I was also pleasantly surprised by the way young Mulligan (he was only 16 when he first joined Krupa!) came up with innovative introductions and counter-melodies to even some of the most well-worn or banal tunes on this set, such as Indiana, Sometimes I’m Happy, Begin the Beguine, Margie and Sugar. These arrangements still sound fresh and different today, with voice leadings and altered chords that were quite daring back then.
In addition to all this, we are graced with solos by some of the very greatest musicians of the 1950s, all in their prime. For those who don’t know, trombonist Eddie Bert was a veteran of Red Norvo’s early-1940s band as well as Charles Mingus’ 1955 Jazz Workshop group, and saxist Frankie Socolow was a mainstay of the 1940s Boyd Raeburn band. Trombonist Willie Dennis also played briefly with Mingus. This was quite a band!
The extra track from this session, Indiana, and all of the alternate takes are, for some reason, only in mono sound, but very fine mono sound. But that should not deter you from exploring and acquiring this recording. This is big-band jazz of a very high order, one of several testaments to the exploratory nature of Gene Krupa’s quest for creative jazz. I’m sure there are still many people who think that Krupa left Benny Goodman over salary squabbles, but I don’t see it that way. In fact, one could argue that both Krupa and Harry James left the Goodman band because they had a different concept of jazz and were getting tired of the Fletcher Henderson sound. Of course, neither one could have foreseen when they left in 1938 that Benny would completely revamp his orchestra with those innovative Eddie Sauter and Mel Powell arrangements in 1940, but only Krupa would probably have been happy in that environment. James wanted more of a combination of Count Basie drive with schmaltzy string arrangements. Krupa almost immediately made his own band sound modern with such tunes as Let Me Off Uptown and just kept on going with Anita O’Day and Roy Eldridge riding the wave with him until Mulligan came around in 1946.
I can’t say enough about this album but don’t want to spoil all the surprises for you. Just dig in, and enjoy!
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley