The Joy Of Sax

Conor Guilfoyle on paying tribute to jazz icon Gerry Mulligan, this Saturday at The Whale.

Gerry Mulligan is one of the greats of jazz.

The sound of his baritone sax along with Chet Baker’s trumpet is one of the iconic sounds of the 1950s and ’60s representing a west coast sound – or cool jazz, as it became known later.

Up to that point, jazz was an urban affair played at lightening speed in the small smoky clubs of Manhattan. Cool jazz moved to the beach settings of California, with the big band sound now reduced to octets, with the emphasis placed on the ensemble writing rather than long solos.

I started my octet 5 years ago with the goal of playing some of these marvellous arrangements that have become the mainstream of jazz listening over the last 70 years. One of our projects was the performance of Miles Davis’s seminal recordings, Birth Of The Cool, from 1948, which is seen as the starting point of the whole cool scene. It was then that I realised Mulligan, though not given the same credits, had done much of the writing.

On further exploration, I discovered he did much more and even had an Irish connection through a mutual friend, the late Chas Meredith, known professionally as Rockfox.

In 1969, Chas had heard that Mulligan was staying at the Shelbourne Hotel and took a chance and called and introduced himself. They quickly became pals, and the
following summer Mulligan stayed with Chas for a couple of months using Dublin as his European touring base.

During this time, they put together a couple of Irish gigs and a recording for RTE radio. Mulligan carried a suitcase of charts with him and gifted them to Chas, who in turn left them to my brother, Ronan, who has kindly lent them to me for the occasion, and we will be playing some of them for the first time in over 50 years at the Whale, something I’m very excited and proud to do.

Along with his marvellous ensemble writing, Mulligan’s biggest commercial success was his quartet with Chet Baker. Its unique sound is created by the fact there are no chordal instrument (piano/guitar), but instead the baritone and trumpet play weaving lines behind each other to create the impression of moving harmony.

To open the night, we will be playing some of these charts with Kelan Walshe and Bill Blackmore assuming the roles of Mulligan and Baker. We’ve been rehearsing hard, and are really looking forward to presenting music from one of the 20th century’s great jazz improvisers and writers.

So, please come along this Saturday for what I hope and strongly suspect will be a great night’s music.

You can grab your tickets for The Conor Guilfoyle Octet: The Music Of Gerry Mulligan on Saturday, October 21st at 8pm right here.

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