Gerry Mulligan was born Gerald Joseph Mulligan on April 6, 1927 in Queens Village, Queens, New York. His father’s career as an engineer moved them frequently through numerous cities and while less than a year old, the family moved to Marion, Ohio. Taking on a nanny to help raise the children, Lily rose became fond of Gerry and he spent time at her home and became enamored with her player piano that had amongst it collection of rolls, Fats Waller. Her home was also a boarding house for Black musicians who came through town giving him the chance to meet them..
During a family move to Kalamazoo, Michigan he took up the clarinet in the Catholic school’s orchestra and made an attempt to arrange the Richard Rodgers song Lover. By 14 he was in Reading, Pennsylvania studying clarinet with dance-band musician Sammy Correnti, who encouraged his arranging. During this period Mulligan began professionally playing the saxophone in dance bands in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which was the family’s next move.
He attended the West Philadelphia Catholic High School for Boys, organized a school big band, and wrote arrangements and by 16 was selling arrangements to local radio station WCAU. Dropping out of high school during his senior year he worked with a touring band Tommy Tucker, picking up a $100.00 a week for two or three arrangements.
A move to New York City in 1946 saw Gerry joining the arranging staff on Gene Krupa’s bebop-tinged band pumping out arrangements of Birdhouse, Disc Jockey Jump and How High the Moon” that quoted Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology” as a countermelody. He began arranging for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, along with Gil Evans and occasionally sitting in as a member of the reed section.
In September 1948, Miles Davis formed a nine-piece band that featured arrangements by Mulligan, Evans and John Lewis that ended up on the Capitol Records album, titled Birth of the Cool. The band initially consisted of Davis on trumpet, Mulligan on baritone saxophone, trombonist Mike Zwerin, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, Junior Collins on French horn, tubist Bill Barber, pianist John Lewis, bassist Al McKibbon and drummer Max Roach. The Davis nonet has been judged by history as one of the most influential groups in jazz history, creating a sound that, despite its East Coast origins, became known as West Coast Jazz.
Throughout the late Forties and early Fifties he worked with Davis, George Auld, Chubby Jackson and led his debut as a leader with Mulligan Plays Mulligan. By 1952 he was moving to Los Angeles, California and arranging for Stan Kenton and getting a recording contract with Pacific Jazz Records. These sessions enlisted trumpeter Chet Baker as part of his pianoless quartet that included bassist Bob Whitlock and Chico Hamilton on drums.
Valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer would replace Baker, and Mulligan and Brookmeyer both occasionally play piano, would enlist Jon Eardley, Art Farmer, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Lee Konitz and Annie Ross. He performed as a soloist or sideman with Paul Desmond, Duke Ellington, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Jimmy Witherspoon, André Previn, Billie Holiday, Marian McPartland, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Stan Getz, Thelonious Monk, Fletcher Henderson, Manny Albam, Quincy Jones, Kai Winding and Dave Brubeck, to name a few. Mulligan appeared in Art Kane’s A Great Day in Harlem portrait of 57 major jazz musicians taken in August 1958.
Gerry appeared in the films Follow That Music, I Want to Live!, Jazz on a Summer’s Day, The Rat Race, The Subterraneans and Bells Are Ringing and wrote music for A Thousand Clowns, Luv, La Menace, and Les Petites galères and I’m Not Rappaport.
Baritone saxophonist, clarinetist, composer and arranger Gerry Mulligan passed away on January 20, 1996 in Darien, Connecticut at the age of 68, following complications from knee surgery. He had won numerous awards not limited to Down Beat Poll Winners, Kennedy Center Honors, and a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance by a Big Band for Walk on the Water.
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Ralph Pena was born February 24, 1927 in Jarbidge, Nevada and started out playing baritone saxophone and tuba before switching to the bass. At age 15 he began playing professionally with Jerry Austin from 1942 to 1944. He went to college in San Francisco and became a fixture in the West Coast jazz scene.
Among his many associations were Nick Esposito, Art Pepper, Vido Musso, Cal Tjader, Billy May, Barney Kessel, Stan Getz, Charlie Barnet, Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, Buddy DeFranco, Bob Brookmeyer. In the 1960s, Pena worked with Ben Webster, George Shearing, Frank Sinatra, Joe Pass, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day and many others. He recorded and released a couple of albums with Pete Jolly between 1958 and 1962.
Bassist Ralph Pena, who lead one record session, he did lead his own groups on an occasional basis before his early death at age 42 on May 20, 1969 in Mexico City, Mexico.
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Benny Barth was born February 16, 1929 in Indianapolis, Indiana. As a child he was steeped in high school concerts, marching bands and orchestras and along with his Uncle Ben would go to the Indiana Rooftop Ballroom to hear jazz and big band as well as witnessing battles between the large ensembles of Tommy Dorsey and Buddy Rich.
He attended the Shortridge High School in his hometown and was a member of the Indiana Avenue jazz scene. After his graduation from Butler University , he moved to the West Coast where he worked with Conte Candoli and Lennie Niehaus.
He also worked as a session musician on numerous jazz albums and film scores. From 1957 to 1961 he was a member of The Mastersounds and recorded 12 albums playing with vibraphonist Buddy Montgomery, his brother bassist Monk Montgomery and Richie Crabtree on piano. He later became the house drummer for three years in San Francisco’s Club Hungi I. Barth would be a contributor to the album Drums on Fire, created together with Art Blakey and Chico Hamilton. He recorded with Wes Montgomery, Joe Venuti, Ben Webster, Jimmy Witherspoon, Pearl Bailey, Joe Williams, George Barnes and Mel Tormé.
In 1976, he accompanied Helen Hume on her album Deed I Do and appeared on some of the Vince Guaraldi recordings of the music for the television series Peanuts. Now at 87, drummer Benny Barth continued to play into the new millennium while mentoring young students.
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Joseph George Dodge was born on February 9, 1922 in Monroe, Wisconsin and was raised and grew up in San Francisco, California. He initially studied to be a symphonic percussionist, and like many young drummers of his generation, he was primarily influenced by Gene Krupa, Jo Jones, Jimmy Crawford and Shelly Manne, gathering different sources of inspiration that helped him to create his own creative style.
During World War II, Dodge fulfilled his military duties from 1942 until 1945 playing drums in the Coast Artillery band, where he met tenor saxophonist Dave van Kriedt, who introduced him to Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond. After his discharge in 1946 he worked in several dixieland groups and dance bands around the Bay area.
In 1950, becoming tired of road touring and economic instability took a job working in a bank but still kept in touch with Desmond, who arranged for him to play a Brubeck engagement as a temporary replacement for drummer Cal Tjader. The Brubeck octet was steady playing at the San Francisco Opera House, and opened for Nat King Cole and Woody Herman.
A few years later, Desmond again recommended Joe to Brubeck and he joined the quartet as Brubeck’s regular drummer. During his tenure he helped to record five successful albums between 1953 and 1956. During the same period, he was featured in two albums with different formats directed by Desmond.
By late 1956, Dodge was worn down again by the travel and intense schedule with the quartet and wanted to spend more time with his family. He then told Brubeck it was time to look for another drummer and took a day job in San Francisco. In 1957 he was offered a transitory position with Stan Kenton but again declined and from 1958 until he retired in 1981, he would combine working in the liquor business with evening musical engagements. Never losing touch with Desmond or Brubeck, he would play at the latter’s 50th wedding anniversary in 1992. Drummer Joe Dodge passed away on August 18, 2004 in Lake Elsinore, California at the age of 82.
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Joe Mondragon was born on February 2, 1920 in Antonito, Colorado. An autodidact on bass, he began working professionally in Los Angeles, California before serving in the Army during World War II. After his discharge he joined Woody Herman’s First Herd in 1946.
Over the next two decades, Mondragon became one of the more popular studio bassists for jazz recording on the West Coast, appearing on albums by June Christy, Buddy Rich, Buddy DeFranco, Marty Paich, Claude Williamson, Bob Cooper, Harry Sweets Edison, Gerry Mulligan, Art Pepper, and recording the Duke Ellington Songbook with Ella Fitzgerald in 1956. He also played on soundtracks for films such as The Wild One and Pete Kelly’s Blues.
Though Joe never recorded as a leader, he did however, record 45 albums as a sideman with Georgie Auld, Chet Baker, Louis Bellson, Buddy Bregman, Hoagy Carmichael, Herb Ellis, Jimmy Giuffre, Woody Herman, Harry James, Stan Kenton, Barney Kessel, Henry Mancini, Shelly Manne, Carmen McRae, Jack Montrose, Gerry Mulligan, Oliver Nelson, Art Pepper, Shorty Rogers, Pete Rugolo, Lalo Schifrin, Bud Shank and others.
Bassist Joe Mondragon passed away in July 1987 in Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico.
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