This interview was recorded on February 26, 1994, at Mulligan’s house in Darien, Connecticut, on a cassette recorder, and later aired on WKCR-FM to promote his forthcoming quartet concert at the Tarrytown Music Hall in Tarrytown, New York. The many missed opportunities in my questioning are painful to read now, but nonetheless Mulligan was cooperative, and, as usual, generous with his opinions.
Evan Spring: About the concert this Friday coming up in Tarrytown, it’s going to be the regular quartet, the working group?
Gerry Mulligan: Yup. Sure will be. Ted Rosenthal on piano, Dean Johnson on bass, and Ron Vincent on drums.
ES: And this is what you call your working group? How long have they been together?
GM: Oh, let’s see, I guess Ted has been playing with us now for a couple years, maybe not that long, but Dean has been with us for about five years now, I guess, and Ron too.
ES: Why have you settled on this particular instrumentation, the conventional saxophone quartet?
GM: Well, actually, I don’t think of it as a conventional saxophone quartet, because the kind of stuff that we do, we think like an ensemble. And when you think about it, the piano is an orchestra, it’s got all the possibilities in it. So I’m always looking for pianists that play the instrument using its capabilities as an ensemble, and we can do things that put the saxophone and the piano on an even keel, not just the saxophone being accompanied by the piano.
ES: I know Ted Rosenthal had a commission to do something at Merkin Concert Hall recently, Images of Monk, which resulted in a wonderful record. How do you use his talents as an arranger and so on?
GM: Well, every way we can. He’s done some wonderful stuff, the Monk arrangements are great. And really the most logical thing is what Ted or any pianist brings to the group as a spontaneous player, what kind of control he has of the arranging functions in a spontaneous setting. We do pretty much the same material, you know, a basic show that I make alterations in, but you know, it’s different all the time. So that’s sort of the way that everybody can find room to use their composing and arranging facilities. That goes for Dean and Ron as well.
ES: Do you want to give away any of the material planned for the show on Friday?
GM: No, we don’t need to go through the titles on that. Some of the titles are on the album, that Lonesome Boulevard album that we made on A&M a couple of years ago now.
ES: Tarrytown is a good sounding hall; have you played there before?
GM: At the theater? Yeah, it was very nice, we had a nice concert there last year.
ES: I was wondering about your feelings about amplification and how you fill up a larger space like that. I think I heard somewhere that you have strong feelings against the way jazz is often amplified to fill big halls.
GM: No, I’m against over-amplification. If you’re in a big hall and you need some reinforcement, I’d like to see it used in a way that makes the instruments sound natural. What we have now is distortion in every kind of pop music. In fact, pop music is based on distortion. For jazz, there’s a thing that a lot of musicians do today that I don’t really understand – I was talking to a friend last night and we were talking about big bands playing at the Village Vanguard, and you know, my Concert Jazz Band in the sixties was the first big band that was in there. We used to sound good in there because we were conscious of the size of the place, so we played at a volume that didn’t blast people out. And he was talking about the band of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, which tended to get a little bit loud for the place. He was talking about being on the stand, you know, playing, he said it was really loud. And that led to a conversation about the fact that musicians often will play the same way, whether playing in a small space or a big space. They want the same volume. This is so illogical to me, it makes no sense at all. If you’re playing in a small place, you should be adapting the sound of what you’re doing to fill the small place. If you’re playing in an auditorium or [laughter] you’re playing in an arena, that’s different. But you don’t take the sound that you put in an arena and put it into the Village Vanguard. But guys are doing exactly that. I don’t understand it, I see no reason for it at all. And you know, if I’m against something, that’s what I’m against. We try to use amplification in a way that, as I say, enhances the sound where you need it, to be able to balance the instruments in a large hall. The sound of a piano doesn’t carry in most halls in the same way that the saxophone does. So I could get away with playing without amplification and [I’d] have to put some amplification on the piano to give it the focus that it needs. Not to really amplify it – to balance it. But if you do that, that means that the ear starts playing tricks on you, you know, it’s like the piano is coming from over here, stage left, and stage right [laughter], and the saxophone’s coming from the center. So in order for the whole thing to make acoustical sense, you have to feed everything to a certain extent into the microphones. How to control that, to keep it sounding natural, is a never-ending challenge that we have to face every time we go and play.
ES: Carnegie Hall is one example where – I don’t know if it’s the hall itself or just the people who are doing the amplification, but they’ve taken a lot of heat in the jazz press for the way the piano can sound muddy and so on.
GM: Personally, I’ll tell you, there’s a way they should take a lot of heat, because Carnegie, especially since they redid it, it took them almost a hundred years to get the sound of that place good. For orchestras, and every kind of situation, it was great. They come in, they strip all the paint off, they did all the things over again, they put it back like it was in the beginning, it’s like you have to start all over again. Carnegie is a very, very bright-sounding hall, which means it’s good for strings, terrible for cymbals, not good for brass. It’s good in certain registers. I saw a concert in there one night with Pavarotti accompanied by a pianist. And Pavarotti was reading music. When he had his head down, it was one volume, and he would put his head up, it was like another voice altogether, man. It was just totally different. The piano and the middle register you could hear, and the upper register and the lower register was lost. So Carnegie, I mean, I’m sure they’re working on it all the time, it’s a never-ending problem with the hall, and of course they just went back to the beginning and started all over again. I don’t know how they’re doing, because it seemed to improve to some extent the last time I played there, but when I was playing there I begged them not to over-amplify. That hall cannot stand it. It really is a stage. Literally, you can drop a pin in the middle of it and hear it in the top balcony. So what happens when you stick trumpet players in there who then put the bell of their horn into a microphone? I mean it’s nonsense! I don’t know where guys’ heads are today, man, but they’re not thinking logically, they’re not using the tools logically.
ES: Are you referring to the Re-Birth of the Cool concert? Was that the last time you were there?
GM: I can’t recall. I think so, probably so. I’m not too clear on that, because that was one of the first concerts we did with the Re-Birth band, so we were struggling to get our sound together. That band in itself is a case in point of the continuing acoustical challenge, to get a balance of those instruments. And a great deal of that depends on the playing itself, ’cause a tuba without half trying can wipe out a clarinet, and can wipe out almost everything else if he wants to [laughter]. So it was always a challenge how to make these instruments blend with each other, which is kind of the basis of that whole idea, making these six disparate instruments work together.
ES: I wanted to ask you about the Re-Birth of the Cool project, just your general emotional feeling about it, whether it lived up to your expectations to re-explore the material.
GM: Yes and no. It was fun to do and that was why I did it, to play those charts again, to see what was there and what could be done with it. But the charts themselves, in the way that a good deal of it is constructed, is not really geared for concert presentation. It’s much more of a kind of chamber music approach than a band, and I realized it was very difficult to put together a concert program based on just the twelve pieces of material because so much of this stuff was in a sort of similar emotional level. But ultimately we got to do a pretty good show with it. We did some concerts last summer down in Brazil that came out really great, using some of the Re-Birth material and some of the stuff from my tentet and some stuff that I’ve written recently. So it’s a nice band to play around with but the instrumentation has built-in drawbacks. You have to accept the limitations that you set for yourself and do the best you can with them, which is what we did.
ES: Do you think Miles might have participated if he were alive?
GM: Well, he said he was interested. He might have done. With Miles there’s no telling, he felt enthusiastic a couple of weeks after the thing in Montreux, but not so long after that, I heard that he wasn’t quite so enthusiastic about it because he wasn’t really all that happy with the way they played a lot of the stuff. So I don’t know if he would have done it or not, he might have done. Would have been good to hear him in that setting. Because that to me was always the – in it’s way, the most congenial setting for Miles’ lyric sense. I mean, Miles could do a lot of different things, but his melodic sense was unique and that band was a – In fact, some of the stuff that he did with other groups, I would love to have seen arranged for that band. So if he had done it, I would have had some stuff [laughter], some new things for him to play.
ES: What was it like to play at Clinton’s inauguration?
GM: Well, it was an exciting occasion. It was cold. Boy, that’s something, playing the saxophone out on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in subzero weather. It was a killer.
ES: Did the instrument itself become –
GM: Oh sure. It’s like holding a cake of ice. You hope it works [laughter]. It was fun, I had a good time that day.
ES: And you get the feeling the President himself appreciates what you’re doing, rather than having jazz just be a ceremonial, token thing?
GM: No, I think he was beside himself with glee, with ten saxophone players lined up for him.
ES: What’s it like to be near New York, but not in New York? I guess some New Yorkers think you somehow have to be near New York and all the musicianship that’s crammed into that city, and the street life and so on, to kind of keep your attention going.
GM: Well, that’s one view. But it depends on what you’re doing. I suppose it depends on your time of life as well. I spent a long, long time living in New York, and enjoyed being in the thick of things. And actually living close to New York, I don’t get in there very much because I don’t really like to go there anymore. It’s too chaotic. So I go in for recording sessions and rehearsals and visit friends, but I don’t go in as a regular thing.
ES: I see some computers around here. Do you compose using computers?
GM: Yeah, it’s a good tool for editing and printing parts. I don’t need it for much beyond that.
ES: So you’ll compose something on the piano and then you can play it into the computer and it will print out the parts and so forth?
GM: Or it’s possible also to just type it into the computer without having to play it in. But this particular program that’s in the machine, there’s a man working on simplifying it so I can unload a lot of this heavy-duty equipment and just use the program and a Mac 2 with any keyboard.
ES: So you don’t think it’s changed the process of composition for you.
GM: Well, no, not really. It’s opened up a couple of possibilities that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. You know another machine that I think had a profound effect on musicians – and of course everyone accepts it as just being there as part of our environment – is our photocopying machine. It’s something we could have really used in the forties. Well [laughter] anybody could have used it anytime. But I mean a lot of music got lost simply because we didn’t have the facilities to make copies either easily or cheaply or conveniently.
ES: I wanted to ask you about the current state of your playing the soprano saxophone. Do you still keep busy on that instrument?
GM: I haven’t done for a while. Coincidentally, I just started to practice a couple of days ago. And one of the reasons I stopped playing is because I traded the horn that I had for another one and I don’t like this horn, so I have to go get another, and that’s always something that takes me forever, to make the effort to find a new horn. But I’ve started playing it again ’cause I enjoy playing it, but I have to find another horn, this thing has got too many bad notes.
ES: I guess it’s fairly rare for a player to play both baritone and soprano. Do you think that’s because generally musicians will relate more to one register than another? Or is it very hard to change your technique from one to the other?
GM: No, I think some of these conventions come about because of the way that parts were written in band music. The fact is that the baritone, in the days of the big band, often doubled on alto. Seldom on tenor, mostly on alto. A good reason for that was, to go from a baritone mouthpiece to a tenor mouthpiece was a lot tougher than to go from a baritone mouthpiece to an alto. And it worked out better for the arrangers to have the extra alto. And in some bands, for instance, bass clarinet was kind of an acceptable double that you found in most bands. Also clarinet, [Harry] Carney played all of those instruments. He played clarinet, bass clarinet, and – I don’t remember him playing alto. There are pictures of him playing alto, but later on, I don’t think he ever did. But those are conventions that come about. I don’t really find it difficult to make the jump from baritone to soprano because really you’re dealing with totally different muscles. It’s when you’re using a mouthpiece that the embouchure is almost the same, so you’re calling a lot of the same muscles into play, but not quite in the same way, and not quite the same muscles. So it used to be when I was first playing baritone and playing with bands, I would have a lot of trouble trying to jump back and forth if I had to play tenor. You don’t have that problem with alto and soprano though.
ES: I think I’ve heard it said somewhere that someone who plays exclusively soprano saxophone, like Steve Lacy for instance, really is playing the soprano saxophone according only to the natural qualities of the instrument, whereas someone like John Coltrane, it’s often said, would play the soprano like a tenor. Did you hear that yourself?
GM: No, I don’t know. Mostly what I’m aware of, of John Coltrane playing soprano, or some of the first things he made on soprano [when] he first got the instrument, and he didn’t really play it very well. I mean he was very out of tune, the sound changed all over the horn. So he certainly wasn’t playing the soprano like it was his first instrument, he was playing it, as the truth was, that he had just picked it up. Whether his technique on the instrument changed after a while, because Coltrane was a guy that loved to practice, so if he practiced anywhere near the time that he put in on tenor, I’m sure his technique would have changed. But I don’t know, that’s one of those things that sounds like trying to make a generalization that is a much more personal sort of thing. It’s like trying to make a blanket statement that may or may not be true, but it depends totally on the individual approach. I don’t think like I’m playing baritone when I play soprano, I mean [laughter] it’s ridiculous! But I do like thinking in another register. It’s one of the reasons I started playing when I put my big band back together. I had been playing it a little bit in the sextet before that, and that was a sextet that had guitar, and vibes, and piano, bass and drums. So there were high voices to work with and it really worked out well. And having to play with the big band was fun, to be able to play a voice that was on top of the ensemble. You know when I first started out as a kid in school I wanted to be a high-note trumpet player [laughter]. But I didn’t get the chance, so I’ll settle for a soprano now.
ES: You’ve spoken of playing the baritone saxophone as a melodic instrument, that you are trying to create the illusion of playing higher than you actually are. Can you explain more what you mean by that?
GM: Well, I think that all of us, our ears are subject to certain limitations, and melodies constantly in the low register become hard for people’s ears to sustain. It’s hard for them to stay with it. In a higher voice, which is – you know we’re dealing in registers that correspond in some way to the human voice. In the higher registers, this is not the case. People can listen to a voice in the upper register without getting tired in the same way. Assuming that somebody is playing something worth listening to [laughter]. But to play in a low register is another set of problems and that’s what I mean by creating the illusion, ’cause it seems to me that that’s what happens. Oddly enough, when I would try to write arrangements for myself with the band, I couldn’t do it. It didn’t work out right. I mean everything seemed kind of muddy. You know, I would start thinking in a way, thinking based around a baritone sound. But if I wrote an arrangement that featured the tenor, which I did on occasion – I would write arrangements featuring Zoot Sims, and then when Zoot wasn’t there I played them, it worked out great. It was a hard lesson to learn, the limitations of the register itself. And the same challenge exists in symphonic writing: how to sustain interest in the lower register.
ES: Are there any upcoming baritone players who have caught your attention?
GM: There are a lot of good players around. I mean the guys that you already know: Nick Brignola, and Gary Smulyan’s a fine player. And somebody else I heard not long ago. Also I get letters from students in various parts of the world, so I know there’s a lot of interest in the instrument itself. I would think that it’s kind of a hard adaptation today because the current penchant for loud playing doesn’t really fit the baritone. Baritones can sound awful when you play them too loud. They sound awful to me anyway, maybe it sounds wonderful to somebody else. But trying to play a baritone too loud and playing it in the kind of current raucous style, it often sounds to me like an amplified kazoo. And I’ve tried very hard to eliminate that buzz from the sound, to be able to get as pure a sound as possible with the volume with an edge on it, but without all of that crackling and buzzing that goes on.
ES: Does playing the baritone require any kind of special physical strength or conditioning, or is that just an illusion the listener gets because of the bulkiness of the instrument?
GM: Yeah, the bigger an instrument, always the more difficult it is to move around. I mean, you can play fast on it, but whether you can play fast and coherently is something else again. You know, I’m not always sure what’s to be accomplished. Often the things that go on in jazz, it’s like exercises, you know. People do things, “Why did you do that, why did you play ninety-five chords?” “Because it was there,” you know. My approach to music is not based on the mechanics of the instrument or even necessarily the mechanics of the music; it’s based on what my sense of musicality dictates. It’s in terms of form, it’s in terms of development, it’s in terms of acoustics, meaning the balancing of instruments in an ensemble. To me, music is a cooperative art that requires consideration for the other people that you’re involved with. Ensemble playing to me is the ideal and it’s the most fun, that’s why I feel like that.
ES: In your working quartet then, how do you see the group as a balance between a democracy or a group with one strong leader?
GM: Well, I think those concepts are misplaced in the arts. Democracies in bands never really work. Without a leader, you’re without focus. You can’t expect a group to have focus. And if it ever needed reinforcement – the idea that it has to have some kind of leader – I’ve been preparing a course of jazz history, and in the process of it, listening to some groups in recent years doing free jazz. And every once in a while they would get into some nice thing, you know there would be a device and somebody who would have a mood going. And of course the more people there are, the more chance there is for chaos. But then some guy would get on a thing and then that would suggest some other thing and you know, everybody’s putting the kitchen sink in everything. And these things would go on, I mean, I couldn’t believe it, man – eight, ten minutes. That’s a long time. And with this squeaking and squawking and scraping, I said, “What the hell are they saying?” Now, I’ve got nothing against free improvisation. What I do have something against though is uncontrolled, meaningless, self-indulgent chaos. And, without some kind of leadership, without some kind of sense of form – where the hell are you starting from, what’s in the middle, and where it’s going – you got nothin’. You know, chaos is easy, and maybe it’s fun [laughter]. I’ll never forget one of the guys once said, he said, “You know something, sometimes, Gerry, I think maybe that playing jazz – it’s more fun to play it than it is to listen to it” [laughter]. Well, Richard, sad but true, man. [laughter] There’s a lot of it going around.
ES: About the workshops, is that the proper term for what you’re doing at Bridgeport University?
GM: No, it’s a series of lectures on jazz history.
ES: So it’s not necessarily for music students?
GM: No, no, it’s not. I think probably most of the people that have signed up for it, they’re people who are not necessarily musicians, but they’re people who have an interest, enough interest that they’re gonna follow through, and they already know enough about it that they’re interested in jazz history. At least they’re interested in my skewed view of it [laughter].
ES: And what was the challenge that you saw in taking this on?
GM: Well, I think it’s time to start formulating some of my ideas and opinions and experiences to be able to pass it on to the next generations. And I think the way to do this is by doing lectures like this, and gradually, in the process of doing it, I think I’ll come up with a format that will help me to get it down on paper, to clarify some of my own thinking. ’Cause my view of it is in flashes of recognition and awareness and experiences that have happened. You know, if somebody says, “Oh, well tell me a funny anecdote,” I can’t tell you a funny anecdote off the top of my head. But in the course of telling you the story of this band or that band, I’m liable to come up with all kinds of things. You know how the memory works, your memory does what it wants to do [laughter], unless it’s been trained. And I must say that that function of memory is sadly neglected in many of us who have spent our life improvising. It’s kind of antithetical to organized thinking. So I’m looking forward to it, I’ve been having fun getting the materials together and sorting out the ideas of how to approach it, and reading through the stuff that’s been written. It’s heavy going. One can’t help but say, “Where’s the joy?” [laughter] But we start on Monday, we’ll see how it goes.
ES: Your former bassist, Bill Crow, just came out with a memoir. On the subject of collecting your thoughts, were you thinking of any such thing? And what did you think of that book?
GM: No, Bill is so great because he’s one of the few guys that was around my scene that remembers things and wrote a lot of things down, and he’s loaded with funny, funny anecdotes of the things that went on. His early columns in the 802 [New York branch of the musicians union] newspaper were loaded with things that happened in my various groups, ’cause Bill was with me through quartets, and sextets, and the big band. So he kind of finally ran out of stories about my bands. I always quick-turn to the Band Room page and see what he’s got, see if he’s thought of something else [laughter]. Yeah, I’m glad he’s got those books out. I have the first one of those.
ES: About your recent Brazilian project, I believe there’s a record called Paraiso, on Telarc. What inspired that project?
GM: Well, the fact that I met a singer named Jane Duboc, who’s on the album, which by the way is pronounced “Jah-nee” [with the “j” pronounced as in the “g” in “mirage”] down there, but since it’s spelled like “Jane,” it’s easier in America to say that. We met when she was on tour with Toquinho in Italy. I went to their concert and met her and she really impressed me, her singing and her musicianship. She arranged for Toquinho, as well as sang with his group and played guitar. And I decided then we should record something together. Well, then as time went on, she decided she wanted to put lyrics to some of my tunes. So we got together on that, and in the end, six of the pieces that she had done lyrics to, we decided to record. Well then it was a whole long drawn-out thing of how to work out the logistics. Am I going to São Paulo, or is she coming to New York? And last year we finally got it together. She came up here and her cousin Manny Moreira put together a rhythm section of Brazilian players that lived in New York. And that was it. Came out very nice. She’s such a beautiful singer, has a lovely quality, and sounds great on it. I really enjoy hearing my songs sung, ’cause I haven’t had that many things, except for Mel Tormé sang a couple of things and one that he put lyrics to, and Jackie & Roy sang one. And that’s been about it for recording my songs [laughter]. So it’s really a pleasure to hear a singer sing a melody you’ve written.
ES: How did you feel about being elected to the Down Beat Hall of Fame? Does that change your self-conception at all, or is it merely ceremonial?
GM: Well, it’s ceremonial, but it’s nice. It’s nice to be elected to a situation like that, and I think it took ’em a long time to get around to me [laughter], but then I’m not complaining at all.
ES: In a lot of cases, they would elect people right after they would die, on the year. I was looking back over the thing –
GM: Yeah, that did happen a lot, didn’t it. Or made a movie. I know Red Rodney was there, that was the year they made Bird – Red was an instant star [laughter]. Yeah, well, I suppose that’s more convenient. I’m glad they didn’t wait [laughter].
ES: About jazz education, then, if you’re teaching at Bridgeport University, are you going to try to teach jazz in a different way than you see it taught today?
GM: Well, I can’t really answer that because I don’t know what, specifically, other people are teaching when they get into a lecture hall. But the things that I can bring to it are my own recollections. When I started playing and I was a very young man I was lucky enough to play next to a lot of the guys that were the originators. I didn’t have Bill Crow’s ability to remember things, or to write things down. So I kind of walked through all this in a daze, you know, the kid in the candy store. But still, that’s what I can do, is to bring my perspective to how I see what went on. And even in talking this over with Karl Kramer, who’s the dean of music up there, we’ve been talking about planning this thing out. And, you know, I’ll say something that seems perfectly normal to me, and he’ll say “Ah!” that’s exactly what he’s looking for. And I realize that this kind of perspective that musicians like me, who have had the experience and were there – you know, I was there starting in the forties, and so the things that the guys told me in the forties that related to what they did in the thirties and the twenties, you know, it all takes on a different view and you’re not reading just a writer’s version of it, you know.
ES: How do you feel your work has been treated by the whole reissue boom recently?
GM: Well, the CD invention has given a new life to a whole lot of material. A good deal of this stuff of mine was still in print in LP and tape form, but a lot of the stuff had been dropped from print. I have no idea how many of those things have been put out on CD because the companies never bother to tell you these things. They just put ’em out, and maybe you’ll notice, and maybe you won’t. I did an interview with a newspaper man in London, a guy I had done interviews before for the London Times, and when he came to the hotel for the interview, a couple years ago now, he had seventeen CDs [laughter]! I couldn’t believe it. He said he brought these for me to see because maybe I hadn’t seen them all. And it was true, I hadn’t done. Some of the things had been released in England, and some released on the continent, and some from Japan. And you know, sometimes one could wish that companies were a little more considerate about things like that, to get copies to the performers. But they don’t, so that’s that. But I’m glad to see some of this stuff be available again, and especially on CD because I find it a very convenient format. Much preferred over all the others.
ES: Do you see a general revival of jazz repertory, given the orchestras at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and so on? And do you see this as a very valuable trend?
GM: I don’t know if it’s a revival – it’s evolving into the next stage. Jazz is in an interesting position – it’s interesting to observe what’s going on with it. It’s kind of a pain in the neck really, because it means that it’s got kind of a strange peripheral relationship to the social milieu of the United States. But it’s interesting to see that, as the economic connection of jazz music in particular has changed totally since the forties. It’s like our mainstream went off in some kind of a tangent someplace, and the more disconnected it became from the dance music of the day, and as the dance music was replaced by rock and then as rock evolved into hard rock and then metal, and all these things kept getting louder and louder and more and more basic and simplistic, rhythmically. So jazz winds up having very little real relationship with the rest of the culture. And witness it, man, they’ve got awards programs coming out your ears on television. Every time you turn around, someone’s giving an award. I mean the latest, even the Jackson family’s giving awards. Everybody’s giving awards, but man, you don’t see jazz there. You know, it’s like the intellectuals say, well, jazz is the one – in fact, not only intellectuals, man, they even say it in the halls of Congress – that jazz is the one contribution of the United States, as an original art form. But you don’t find it being lionized in this country at all. Forget it. So it winds up surviving and being connected in strange kinds of ways. After all, we’re talking about techniques that are continuing because they’re taught in university, not because there’s any place in the marketplace for them. And the kids get out of school and they say, “Now what do I do?” You know, then now they have to look for a gig, how you’re going to make a living doing this thing. Well that’s already an oddity in itself, man, the universities teaching people how to do something for which there’s no, or very little, economic reward for. Especially a day that our universities have practically turned into vocational schools, man. The liberal arts and going to a university to become a well-rounded individual – forget it, man. Renaissance man? All we want to know about, “Where is the bottom line?” So the music is surviving because of education. And the more cut off it becomes, then the more specialized the audience is. That’s why we wind up with periods that the audience is turned in on itself, you know. I think the whole “free jazz” syndrome is represented there. And where it’s going in relation to our society, who knows, ’cause our whole culture and social structure is racing headlong into some dim, dark future that we hope for the best. It’s like we’ve tossed out the pieces, now where are they going to fall? Are we going to advertise ourselves to death? Are children going to grow up on thirty-second sound bytes and you know, that’s as long as anybody will be able to sustain a thought? Who knows? We’re a strange people, we’re an oddity in the world. And the biggest oddity of all, which is, we don’t recognize that we’re an oddity in the world [laughter]. We think that we’re perfectly normal.
ES: Where we do see institutional support for jazz, such as Lincoln Center, basically the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra is doing primarily repertory, a lot of arrangements primarily from Duke Ellington. So they’ve taken some criticism then, for keeping jazz frozen in the past, as the critics say. But do you see that this is a very valuable thing that these arrangements stay alive in working orchestras?
GM: Sure, I do indeed. They have concentrated heavily on Duke, but there’s something that one has to keep in mind is that if you’re gonna have programs like that at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall you’ve also got to fill the hall. You can’t do that just in a vacuum, and you can’t do it just for fun. And one only hopes that funds will be available for other things. It’s a very chancy thing writing new compositions. Especially given the state of composition, and because too many of the writers write too much. The things are not pleasant to listen to. They can be rewarding in the way that there’s a lot there, and it’s a challenge, and so on, but for the joy of music, not very often. So our areas of appreciation are kind of maybe misplaced at the moment. They’ve done new pieces at Carnegie, which is very courageous of them, ’cause that’s a much harder thing to accomplish than it is doing the repertory they’re doing over at Lincoln Center. But what often happens is that the arrangements are not really fun to listen to. There’s too much in them. I think that what happens is that instead of developing ideas and having some real musical sense or where a thing is going, things become loaded with techniques. And it’s not uncommon for the musicians themselves, who are able to play this stuff, man, ’cause some of that stuff is very, very, very difficult to play. And we would have been delighted to have half that technique in bands in the forties, when guys didn’t have that kind of technique available. You know we were stretching out the techniques by writing things that were hard to play and so on. But it’s chancy going with new material – you can’t tell what you’re gonna have. And it’s an expensive process. Every aspect of it is expensive. The physical costs of writing the arrangement, the copying and all the rest of it, rehearsal time. Rehearsal time is one of the great luxuries of the musician. So these are the realities. How they both cope with it – I think they’re both doing a great job. They’ve done some interesting concerts. They’ve had some winners, they’ve had some losers. And probably the most important aspect of it is that they’re doing it at all. And that there should be money available to be able to pursue these things. Hopefully it’ll be more money and they’ll have ideas of where to put it to expand it. Certainly there is more repertory than Duke to explore. And certainly there are more writers to try to write some new stuff for Carnegie. So there’s still room.