Jazz Archeology: Mulligan’s “Yardbird Suite”

Readers familiar with Jeff Sultanof’s essays for Rifftides on Pete Rugolo and Russ Garcia know the depth of his knowledge and wisdom about arranging and composing. Professionals in many areas of music admire him for his analyses and editing of scores and for his teaching about major figures including Robert Farnon, Miles Davis and Gerald Wilson. With some excitement, Jeff recently told me about discovering a score from the days when Gil Evans, Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, Lee Konitz and others were expanding on an approach to music that grew out of bop but also drew on elements as diverse as French impressionism and Johann Sebastian Bach. Mulligan was then better known in jazz as an arranger and composer than as a baritone saxophonist. He was a key figure in what came to be labeled the cool school. He made his initial mark writing for big bands at the end of the swing era. Jeff’s story concerns a Mulligan arrangement for one of Charlie Parker’s most celebrated projects, an arrangement that never made it to records. His piece will appear in two installments. He begins with background about preservation of big band scores.

Part 1
By Jeff Sultanof

Back in 1972, I first realized that a great deal of the music of the big band era was worth saving, playing and studying, so it needed to be available in edited, accurate editions; my models were modern editions of Bach and Beethoven. After all, many composers whom I considered important wrote the bulk of their music for saxophones, brass and rhythm sections. Several big band libraries were still in private hands, and many people considered revisiting that music as an act of nostalgia. This changed some years later, when major donations were made to universities, libraries, the Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS), the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution, and new ‘repertory’ ensembles began to appear. Since this was such a new area of musicology, only a handful of scholars was really interested at the time, but many others photocopied original parts and sold them underground; some simply stole whatever they could get.

I wrote out my first edited score in 1974 and continued to write out scores of anything I could acquire so I could study them for a textbook I wanted to write. I had one rule: this music would be properly published with creators paid; I refused to copy or trade the scores. Eventually, I prepared a collection of over 300 scores of music from the 1900s through to the 1980s. Along the way, composers found out about what I was doing and asked me to work on their music. Robert Farnon gave permission to create definitive editions of his music with his active participation. These scores also sat while I tried to get them published. I tested out my editions when I was assistant professor at Five Towns College and led the jazz orchestra. The students couldn’t get enough of this music, having never heard much of it before.

Publishers weren’t interested. My bosses at Warner Bros. Publications back in the 1980s didn’t think anybody had heard of Gil Evans, Fletcher Henderson, and Tadd Dameron, and besides, teachers in high schools and universities weren’t asking for this music anyway. Odd attempts to make available such libraries as the Boyd Raeburn Orchestra failed, perhaps partly because either copies of original parts in poor condition were being sold, or new parts were prepared but were filled with errors and poor notation.

Eventually Bob Curnow started issuing important pieces from the Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson libraries; he now has a sizable catalog of great diversity. Jazz at Lincoln Center issued Ellington, Andy Kirk and music from many other important bands, but these are mostly transcriptions. It took Rob DuBoff to really jump in the deep water and pursue music from many eras and bands. Rob was a former client of mine when I worked at Hal Leonard Corporation, and was as determined as I was that this important music be available to everyone, sourced from the original scores and/or parts. My scores came out of the basement and many were published. Thanks to his persistence, I have prepared Eddie Sauter’s “Focus,” Mary Lou Williams’ “Zodiac Suite,” Benny Carter’s “Central City Sketches,” and Oliver Nelson’s “Blues and the Abstract Truth” for publication. Jazz Lines Publications now has more than 300 titles in print, and Rob has made agreements with the estates of Frank Sinatra, Duke Pearson, Tadd Dameron, Oliver Nelson, Rob McConnell and many other important composer/arrangers.

I also work on the rediscovery of perfectly good music that was never recorded. “The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else” arranged by Tadd Dameron for Jimmie Lunceford was well loved by the band, yet had somehow escaped any recorded performances, in studio or live. This one score tells us more than anything about what Dameron knew in 1942 and where he wanted to go in his music better than prose.

And sometimes I get to finish something that only needs some details added so that it can finally be heard and played. Such a project involved Gerry Mulligan.

Back in 1995, I worked with Gerry to prepare a play-along book/CD package. The customer buys the book filled with lead sheets of the tunes, and plays the music with the accompaniment recorded on the CD, which I produced. Gerry and I spent much of the summer working on this project, and he grew to trust my judgment. He was ill, but our meetings energized him, and he shared a great deal with me about his music and his life. He had had bad experiences with publishers, but knew that there was a demand for his music, and I spoke to him about publishing the music of the tentet and the Concert Jazz Band. He warned me that he changed a great many things in the CJB book, but he said, “Look, you know what I want musically, and I trust you. If you want to get my music out, do whatever you think is best.” I was flattered beyond words. As it turned out, Gerry’s widow Franca’s wish has always been to get as much of Gerry’s music available as possible. Gerry died in 1996.

©2012, Jeff Sultanof

Jeff concludes his story in the next exhibit.

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  1. says

    Just got my computer connection back after the hurricane, and found this good piece. Thanks Doug, and Jeff. Looking forward to the second installment.