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Tony Denton | Pinders Heath | Wakefield | WF1 4TH | Telephone: 07863786344

"Halt! Who goes there?"

An iconography of jazz baritone saxophone iconoclasts

(Tony Denton CASS Conference Cardiff 2002)

The aim of this paper is to show some of the unique hallmarks that are associated with certain individual styles, and to briefly note how those hallmarks became exemplars influencing other players. (This is a personal view and one that is reflected in the author's own professional, eclectic, playing style.) My sub-title – (An iconography of jazz baritone saxophone iconoclasts) could suggest a conflict of opposites. But I mean to show (mainly by audio example) that certain associations, through less than a handful of individual players, have had the effect of changing direction in the development and establishment of the solo jazz baritone saxophone style – a different way of doing things, if you will.

Example: Pepper Adams (1959) – Moanin'

Take that ostinato theme, for example. Most people would probably now associate it with the recent (c.2000) television advertisement.
So, just how many ways are there to play solo jazz baritone saxophone? It is generally held that the two most influential exponents are Harry Carney and Gerry Mulligan. But to these two, I would add a third – Park "Pepper" Adams. So, I say there are three ways to play the solo jazz baritone saxophone.

First Way– Harry Carney

Example: Harry Carney (1963) – Rockin' in Rhythm

Carney possessed a formidable technique and a great sound – once described as brooding and oily. He was regularly featured as a soloist with the band, on records and in concerts. He was fortunate enough to be the first jazz baritone soloist to receive a high level of media exposure. His career and development spanned from the mid-20s to 1974.
He perfected a technique of circular breathing, and no Ellington concert was complete without him demonstrating this extra-ordinary feat. This next example shows this, and is also one of the memorable tunes that became synonymous with him. Joe Temperley played it at his funereal in October 1974. It is said that, when Mercer Ellington heard Joe play at his father's funereal, he hired him to take the baritone sax chair in the band. (The clip starts from the end of the middle 8 to the end.)

Example: Harry Carney (1964) – Sophisticated Lady

My final example for Carney is from Ellington's "Far East Suite," where he demonstrates his total authority and mastery of the instrument – a fine example for all saxophone players.

Example: Harry Carney (1963) – Agra

Second Way– Gerry Mulligan

Like Carney, Mulligan also brought the instrument to wider public notice. He was classified as a "modernist," but his memorable melodic lines, lyricism, lightness of touch, and freshness of sound, owed a lot more to mainstream and Dixieland techniques. These were more easily assimilated and offered a much wider appeal to a greater variety of listeners. He owed a huge debt to Carney, and acknowledged that himself on many occasions, but his phrasing and melodic and harmonic construction were very different – fitting the newer "cool school" definition better.
In his solo playing, Mulligan well demonstrated his lyricism, but he also possessed formidable skills as an arranger and composer. This next example, of a recording made in 1957 of an original Mulligan composition, was a hit for the Gene Krupa Band in the mid-1940s, well before Mulligan became better known.

Example: Gerry Mulligan (1957) – Disc Jockey Jump

He had great success in forming and leading different types and sizes of ensemble. While Carney remained constant to Ellington, Mulligan played with any-one-and-everyone. He seemed, very often, to be in the right place at the right time. Note for example, his involvement as a composer, arranger and player in the famous 1949/50 Miles Davis "Birth of the Cool" band.

Example: Gerry Mulligan (1949) – Jeru

This innovative band was way ahead of its time, and it took a few years before even the "cool" sound caught up with it.
Like Carney, Mulligan also had wider public exposure, and the promotion of him as a youthful, cool, "modern" image gave him a much wider, almost "pop" idol, appeal. His appearances in films such as, "I want to Live>" (1957) and "Jazz on a Summer's Day" (1958), served to re-enforce the image, and his popularity.
That Mulligan was a great innovator is beyond dispute. His innovations came principally through two things – his piano-less band, and his use of counterpoint in his compositions and improvisations. The piano-less quartet was partly born out of necessity – an accident you could say! The band took a residency at the Haigh Club in San Francisco in 1952, and there just wasn't sufficient room in the club for a piano!
Mulligan's skilful and extensive use of counterpoint came through his ability to know instinctively what would "work." It was totally integral to his compositional thought processes. Mulligan was an eclectic. A renaissance musician, he recorded with many different types of groupings – popping up in the most unlikely places. Here is a snippet of him playing with Lionel Hampton. Note the melody and counter-melody he wrote in "Line for Lyons."

Example: Gerry Mulligan (1994) – Line for Lyons

He continued to compose and to record, virtually to the end. Here is one of his very last recordings, made just a few months before his death in January 1996.

Example: Gerry Mulligan (1995)  - Ninth Life

It is clear from this, however, and from listening to his many other recordings from the intervening years, that his style and technique, though innovative at the time and perennially attractive, was effectively fully developed by the end of the 1950s.

Third Way– Park "Pepper" Adams

Adams emerged in the late 50's, early 60's. He was active as a bandsman in a number of key bands at significant times. His work with the innovative and sometimes controversial bands of Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, and Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, for example. His performances on the Monk at Town Hall, and the infamous Mingus at Town Hall recordings, exemplify his involvement in such historic performances.
From being heavily influenced by Coleman Hawkins and Harry Carney, Adams' stylistic development progressed rapidly through to a much more adventurous use of harmony and rhythm. His innovative use of repeated, complex phrases and sequences, outside of the basic tonality, of repetitive rhythmic patterns based on fourths, often rotated through augmented or diminished scales, gave him a fresh and exciting sound. His phrase lines were cutting and searing. Mel Lewis said of him "We called him 'The Knife' because when he'd get up to blow, his playing had almost a slashing effect on the rest of us. He'd slash, chop, and before he was through, cut everybody down to size."

Example: Pepper Adams (1963) - Conjuration

Adams' stylistic and harmonic development evolved continually throughout the 60's, 70's, and into the 80's, as is well evidenced in his recorded output. His main interest towards the end of his career (and he died in 1986) was his involvement with small group recording, and in club appearances. Along with Mulligan, he was well able to sustain the listener's interest in jazz quartet work. Adams always exhibited an urgency and thrust, as if this was to be his last utterance! - even when playing ballads!

Example: Pepper Adams (1963)  Alone Together

He was a gutsy player whose sound owed much more to Harry Carney than to Gerry Mulligan. He had less 'fame' than the other two, but once famously said "I'm all in favour of grants for musicians. Or any other good brand of Scotch."
My final Adams musical example shows him with another great player, Nick Brignola, who sadly died in June 2002. This is Charlie Parker's Donna Lee, based on the Dixieland number, Indiana.

Example: Nick Brignola & Pepper Adams: (1977) - Donna Lee

Summary Of 'The Three'

One contributor at a past IAJE (International Association of Jazz Educators) Conference, when speaking of Carney in particular, but it applies equally to the other two of my examples, said "It is with some reluctance that one uses the term 'side men' when referring to these players." But they were certainly that - Carney with Ellington; Mulligan with Elliot Lawrence, Gene Krupa, Miles Davis, himself, anybody; and Adams with Monk, Mingus, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis. And Carney and Mulligan were lucky enough to enjoy wider media exposure - to 'celebrity' status even.
They were all 'geniuses', with formidable techniques and brilliant improvisatory skills. They each made major contributions to the way the instrument is played and received, and were a major influence, in one way or another, of all the other players.

Harry Carney - established the sound, gave it the full authority of a solo instrument, was a consistent part of a great American 'institution,' and widened public awareness.
Gerry Mulligan - developed a 'lightness' of expression, countering Carney's 'majesty,' he gave the instrument its own special repertoire, and was stylistically consistent over the whole of his career, (You always know where you are with Mulligan), and he widened public awareness (finally emerging as a 'pop' idol).
"Pepper" Adams – extended the harmonic and rhythmic vocabulary of the instrument, introduced a new level of urgency and excitement in the style, and became a 'modern' exemplar.

All jazz baritone saxophone soloists, however, owe the biggest debt to Carney, who remained constant to the Ellington Band his entire career.

Today's Performing Context

So what of today? Well, Hamiet Bluiett, Ronnie Cuber, Charles Davis, Gary Smulyan, and the UK's own John Surman,and Joe Temperley of course, are players in the forefront, so far as the jazz baritone saxophone is concerned. Surman's work in particular, for example, is pushing at the boundaries through extending the range of the instrument. And his use of percussive techniques, of pre-recorded tapes and synthesisers, has considerably advanced the instrument's capabilities. He still sounds a lot like Carney, though.
New ways of playing are being developed through free group improvisation, and good examples of this can be found in the recorded output of the World Saxophone Quartet and The 29th Street Saxophone Quartet.

It is probably too early to say with any conviction whether any of these 'modern' masters will turn out to be durable innovators responsible for changing a direction. I am keeping a watchful eye on these players and others, in the hope that I can add a fourth member to my "ways to play solo jazz baritone saxophone."

In the meantime . . .

One last example serves to show Harry Carney as a fully developed jazz artist, exhibiting great authority, and at his most magisterial.

Example: Harry Carney (1956) - Telecasters

Audio Examples

Pepper Adams (1959) - Moanin' (Charles Mingus, Blues & Roots, Atlantic)
Harry Carney (1963) - Rockin' in Rhythm (Ellington, The Great Paris Concert, Atlantic)
Harry Carney (1964) - Sophisticated Lady (Ellington, Jazz Group 1964, Atlantic)
Harry Carney (1963) - Agra (Ellington, The Far East Suite - Special Mix, Bluebird)
Gerry Mulligan (1994) - Disk Jockey Jump (Mulligan, The Gerry Mulligan Songbook, Pacific Jazz)
Gerry Mulligan (1949) - Jeru (Miles Davis, The Birth of the Cool, Capitol)
Gerry Mulligan (1994) - Line for Lyons (Mulligan, The Blight of the Fumble Bee, NJL)
Gerry Mulligan (1995) - Ninth Life (Mulligan, Dragonfly, Telarc Jazz)
Pepper Adams (1963)- Conjuration (Adams, Conjuration: Fat Tuesday's Session, Reservoir)
Pepper Adams (1963) - Alone Together (Adams, Conjuration: Fat Tuesday's Session, Reservoir)
Nick Brignola & Pepper Adams (1977) - Donna Lee (Brignola, Baritone Madness, Reservoir)
Harry Carney (1956) - Telecasters (Ellington, Such Sweet Thunder, Atlantic)

© Anthony W Denton 2002 | Rev.2016