MULLIGAN AND “YARDBIRD SUITE”
By Jeff Sultanof
When Jazz Lines began operation, Rob DuBoff had a meeting with Franca Mulligan and made an agreement. I contacted him about what Mulligan had said to me, and became his editor. Obviously the CJB library was a priority, but Jazz Lines also issued new editions I prepared of Mulligan’s contributions to the Miles Davis Nonet, which originally appeared in book form from Hal Leonard as scores only. (Photo by Hank O’Neal)
In 1995, Gerry told me he wanted to include “Rocker” (“Rock Salt”) in the play-along, and I asked him which version he wanted to use as a basis for the new lead sheet. He had a lead sheet already written, but made changes to it. He did not have the nonet version (Miles had that in storage, as I later found out), and he did not have his version for Charlie Parker with Strings (which was also in private hands and later donated to the Institute of Jazz Studies). Quite casually, I asked him about his arrangements for Parker and he said, “You know, I wrote something else for Bird, but didn’t finish it. I was going to California.”
When the Bird with Strings book of original scores and parts was acquired by IJS, it quickly became a collection examined by hundreds of scholars and fans. Rob published many titles recorded and unrecorded, which included a Mulligan composition named “Gold Rush” which was recorded privately. Of course I was thrilled to work on it, and figured that this was the mystery arrangement Mulligan had spoken about.
I was wrong!
Some months ago, Rob and I met with Franca to get more Mulligan music for eventual publication, including his Octet for Sea Cliff, and some CJB material. Rob was flipping through the master list of Mulligan’s collection and found the title “Yardbird Suite.” Surprised to see this listing, he located it in a folder with a photocopy of a sketch score inside. It was indeed “Yardbird Suite,” the arranger was listed as ‘Jeru’ (Mulligan’s nickname) and had the following note at the top right hand corner: “Bird, you’ll hafta (sic) do something with the last chorus – I couldn’t finish it.” Mystery solved!
Rob made a copy and sent it to me to evaluate. Could this be published? I figured that I would start working on it and see where the music took me.
Mulligan sketched this arrangement as two staves for two trumpets and a trombone, one stave for English Horn, two staves for five saxophones (including Parker), a stave with chord names, two staves for strings, and one for bass. He certainly would have written this out with each instrument on its own stave as a finished score that would be copied and played, but he had not gotten to that point and never would. He went to California during the Spring of 1952, so dating the music was not an issue.
Bird was touring with an ensemble of oboe/English Horn, strings and rhythm during this period, an instrumentation different in “Yardbird Suite.” Why the saxes and brass? I believe that this was written for a proposed recording date with a small ensemble and strings. The names Walter and Roy appear at one point on the score, indicating drummer Roy Haynes and pianist Walter Bishop, Jr., who were playing with Parker at the time. Solos in addition to Parker are for baritone sax (Mulligan) and trombone (at a guess, Kai Winding, but maybe J.J. Johnson or Bill Harris). Perhaps Bird wanted to make an album that was commercial (hence the strings) but would also be more jazz oriented; it is tempting to think of what such an album would have sounded like.
The second question: could this setting be finished? As it turned out, Mulligan sketched out only half of the last chorus. I examined every page of the sketch, and soon noticed that Gerry wrote two different versions of the last eight bars of the first chorus, and one of them could certainly be used to complete the arrangement. Except for filling in string harmonies in two spots (the chord changes were indicated, so this was simple based on how he wrote the rest of the arrangement), a final chord to end the piece, and a few other details, this is 97% Mulligan. It is now published and for sale.
“Gold Rush” showed how far Mulligan had come in writing string parts vs. his first experience with “Rocker.” “Yardbird Suite” takes this a bit further. Mulligan told me that by 1948 or so, he was thinking more horizontally than vertically when writing ensemble music, and he was no longer boxed in by standard chord structures, part of the legacy of his discussions with Gil Evans. There are subtle dissonances in “Yardbird” that fly by which lend a bit of spice to a beautiful swinging setting.
Mulligan had a real flair for string writing, and it is a pity he had few opportunities to feature strings in his music until much later, when he composed such symphonic orchestra pieces as “Entente for Baritone Saxophone and Symphony Orchestra” and “Momo’s Clock.” How wonderful it is to have a bit more of his writing for strings, just as it was incredible to discover that George Russell had written a Bird with Strings version of “Ezzthetic” that Bird didn’t play.
Obviously I consider this version of “Yardbird Suite” a very important find, and am very humbled by the opportunity to help bring it to light.
©2012, Jeff Sultanof
Rifftides is grateful to Mr. Sultanof for the opportunity to publish his story. We look forward to someone recording this Mulligan-Parker collaboration that never was. For more information about the score, and to hear a computerized indication of how it might sound by an orchestra, go here. If you’re a musician, you may be tempted to play along in the sections meant for Charlie Parker’s solos.