Hot Track: Venus De Milo


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Gerry Mulligan
In 1949, Gerry Mulligan arranged a song he wrote called Venus de Milo for the Miles Davis Nonet, better known now as the Birth of the Cool Band. The group recorded the song in April of that year. Eight years later, the song was recorded again in early December of 1957 by an octet. The album was The Gerry Mulligan Songbook Vol. 1 and featured a killer lineup of players: Lee Konitz (as); Allen Eager (ts); Zoot Sims (as,ts); Al Cohn (bar,ts); Gerry Mulligan (bar); Freddie Green (g); Henry Grimes (b) and Dave Bailey (d). Bill Holman wrote the arrangements.

Who came up with the idea to assemble some of the best section reed players around (it could have been Pacific Jazz's Dick Bock), who decided to call Bill to write the octet arrangements (it might have been Mulligan or Bock) and why the album was recorded in New York rather than Los Angeles remains a mystery. What we do know is that Bill wrote sensational arrangements and the blowing on Venus de Milo and the other tracks is stellar. [Photo above, from left, of Lee Konitz, Allen Eager, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn in the studio]

In 2008, I asked Bill about the session:

JazzWax: In late 1957, you wrote all of the arrangements for The Gerry Mulligan Songbook Vol. 1. Those are breathtaking by any measure. Bill Holman: Originally that album was supposed to be recorded in 1956, with the usual West Coast guys—probably Bob Cooper, Bob Gordon, me, Herb Geller and Art Pepper—but we never got that far. Something happened with Gerry's scheduling and he couldn't make it out to California. So he put the session aside for a year. Which turned out great, considering the players he got to record with him in New York—Lee Konitz, Allen Eager, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn.

JW: Did you enjoy writing those arrangements?

BH: Very much so. I always felt a kinship with Gerry and felt Gerry that I would be giving him a tribute if I did the tunes my way.

JW: Were you at the session?

BH: No. Since they recorded it in New York. I was never in the studio. JW: Were you happy with the result?

BH: Oh, sure. My only complaint was that they added Freddie Green on guitar. I love Freddie, but the feeling I wanted when I wrote the arrangements was not a guitar thing. A guitar playing a steady four-four rhythm nails down the rhythm section a little too tightly. The sound worked well for [Count] Basie for years, but I had a different feel in my writing. It's really a sax soli album, and the guitar makes the trio behind the saxophones sound too rigid instead of the looser feel I wanted.

Why the album had “Vol. 1" in its title can only mean a “Vol. 2" was planned but Bill and the guys on the date didn't have the time, ultimately, to record it.

Here's Bill Holman's arrangement of Gerry Mulligan's Venus de Milo, with solos, in order, by Mulligan, Konitz, Cohn and Grimes. Dig Mulligan's huge anchor on the bottom with Lee loud on top...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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