Gerry Mulligan, a short sweet encounter

I was just corresponding with a clarinetist who is looking for a baritone saxophone and remember a story which may be appreciated by some. Actually there are two stories.

About a year after starting the clarinet, I was in Rayburns Music in Boston, buying reeds as usual and trying to soak up some of that great atmosphere that hung about the place. Ray himself, played the trunpet and was the son of Simon Sternberg, who had played in the persussion section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. They were both extremely friendly to me, as was the wife of Simon, who used to give me reeds and not charge me. ( a box of VDs were 3.75 for 25 reeds)
On this afternoon, Ray was talking with a young man, and handed him the neck of a baritone saxophone. The only thing I remember was Ray telling the fellow, “Its OK, just send me the bread from the road”.
I asked who the fellow was. Ray said, “Serge Chaloff”, along with Harry Crney and Gerry Mulligan, perhaps the best baritones saxophone players in history. It is something a kid never forgets. I probably listened to “Early Autumn” that afternoon. This was the baritone player with Woody Hermans Band, and the song was so beautiful for the saxophone section.

At the New England Conservatory was a very lovely young woman who studied the clarinet and with whom we were all friends. Donna came by my practice room one day and dragged in none other than Gerry Mulligan, who was just reaching the height of his fame. I was very proud to meet him. He immediately asked me if I wanted to pay some duets. I asked him, on saxophone? “No, I play clarinet”
So we made an appointment for the next morning and in he comes with a clarinet.
We played one of those Bach transcriptions that were published by Rubank back then.
It was an allegro in 2/4 time. He played the notes, kind of fuzzy, but what was strange was the totally Jazz conception he gave to every note he played. If there were 4 sixteenth notes, he would accent every other one. I mean heavily. I stopped
I said, “we don’t play this music like that” ( I was very young)
He replied, “Take off your glasses you fat bastard and we’ll settle this”.
That is all I remember. It was the end of that particular session.
I liked Serge Chaloff and Harry Carney better after that.

best always,


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