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Gerry Mulligan: 'Night Lights'

The cover of Night Lights


A.B. SPELLMAN, National Endowment for the Arts: That's a cream and butter ensemble sound crafted by the very important baritone saxophonist, composer and arranger Gerry Mulligan. The CD is called Night Lights. And Murray Horwitz, tell me why it's in the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library.

MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: Well, A.B., in the mid-1950s, Gerry Mulligan put together a series of piano-less groups. The most famous were the quartets with trumpeter Chet Baker. But for my money, the best are the sextets featuring the valve trombonist and composer Bob Brookmeyer. To my ears, not having a piano makes the harmonies more transparent, and puts even more emphasis on the musicians listening and playing together. It's reminiscent of the best chamber music, and the sound they called it back then: cool.


SPELLMAN: Murray, in 1963, Mulligan brought out an outstanding sextet to the Nola Studios in New York City to deal with the craze that was sweeping the country then — the Brazilian rhythms of the samba and the bossa nova.

HORWITZ: Yeah and you know, A.B., the techniques of cool jazz were a perfect bridal groom for that Brazilian bride. And in Night Lights, Mulligan, Brookmeyer, and the trumpet and flugelhorn virtuoso Art Farmer joined guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Bill Crow, and drummer Dave Bailey to create a gorgeous, and as you said, A.B, "butter and cream, rich sound" with an irresistible Latin feel.


HORWITZ: You know, A.B., I mentioned chamber music, and there's literally a classical chamber piece here that Mulligan integrates with the bossa nova. It's a Chopin prelude. It's kind of like Poland meets Brazil.


HORWITZ: These are terrific musicians and their work, solo and with one another, is a joy to here. Everything is subtle and softly swinging. This is just very beautiful music.

SPELLMAN: And, that's certainly reason enough to add Night Lights by Gerry Mulligan into our NPR Basic Jazz Record Library. It's on the Mercury label. For NPR Jazz, I'm A.B. Spellman.

HORWITZ: And, I'm Murray Horwitz.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A. B. Spellman
Murray Horwitz
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