Reference: FSRCD 870
Bar code: 8427328608701
In 1952, with what became known as West Coast Jazz on the cusp of national and international recognition, the Hollywood area was buzzing with the music. One of the leading lights of what was a vibrant, multi-faceted jazz scene there was trumpeter Chet Baker, soon to rise to major stardom as part of the then recently formed Gerry Mulligan Quartets tenure at a tiny club called The Haig.
In June 1953, while Mulligan was away, Stan Getz, who was playing at the nearby Tiffany club, was invited by producer Dick Bock to fill for him at The Haig - John Bennett, the Haigs owner, recalled that Mulligan had suggested Getz as the ideal substitute in his absence, so the great tenor saxophonist joined Baker in the formation of the piano-less line-up for a couple of weeks. It would not be the last time they played together. Their paths were to cross throughout what would be two of the biggest careers in jazz, but their L.A. get together at The Haig was their first celebrated encounter.
"In the Spring of 1952, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan secured a standing Monday night gig at a small club (85 seats) called The Haig, which was located on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles, California. At this point, he was playing with a rotating group of musicians out of which the eventual Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker was formed. Although there were several iterations of this group in the subsequent months, in early 1953 the band with Mulligan/Baker, bassist Carson Smith and drummer Larry Bunker came into being. Through the spring and early summer of 53, this group gained fame and recognition far beyond the confines of their resident club location at The Haig. However in June 1953, Mulligan ran into trouble with Californias narcotic laws and was confined to the Sheriffs Honor Farm for a six-month period.
In order to fulfill the Quartets commitment to The Haig, Mulligan suggested that Stan Getz be his replacement for the engagement. Hence, we have the genesis of this recording. Now while Getz and Baker recorded together later in their careers, the end was in sight for the Mulligan/Baker band. Since Mulligan was away for this six-month period, Chet Baker moved on to form his own quartet with pianist Russ Freeman, which also gained notable recognition. As for Getz, although he was filling in for Mulligan, at the same time he had his own quintet with Bob Brookmeyer, Frank Isola, John Williams and Teddy Kotick. That band began a gig at another Los Angeles jazz landmark, Zardis, once Getz had finished at The Haig.
After that rather lengthy story to set the stage, now on to the music which unfortunately is less than the sum of the parts. The set list, all of which came from the Mulligan/Baker band book, were Mulligan arrangements meant to exploit the fully developed gruff power of Mulligans baritone sax, contrasted against the sensitive expressive style of Bakers trumpet. Getzs lighter lyrical tone did not offer the same dynamics.
There is some nice stuff here starting with Charlie Parkers Yardbird Suite with the two leading principals fully engaged in the contrapuntal voicing that gave the number its colour. Bassist Carson Smith has a strong solo and drummer Larry Bunker shares his drum breaks between Getz and Baker. Miles Davis Half Nelson is another bop piece done in sprightly style with Getz at the forefront showing his remarkable improvisational chops. This seems to pick up Baker as he stretches his harmonic range. There is some dazzling spontaneous interplay between the two. Denzil Bests Move gained some musical stature when it was included as part of the Miles Davis Birth Of The Cool album. Baker and Getz turn up the heat in this rendition to burn through the track.
The band seems to fall apart for several numbers starting with All The Things You Are when Baker and Getz cant get coordinated on the theme and seem to be playing different melodies in different keys. Getz goes off on tangent that has no relevance and has difficulty getting back to the theme. Bakers solo is full of clunkers and uncertain key changes. Mulligans Soft Shoe is a bit of a mess with Getz dropping in quotes from Sweet And Lovely and some unaccustomed honking. Baker meanders around without purpose or interest. On Whispering, Baker falls out without completing the melody. Getz tries to re-establish the theme, but sounds uncertain where he should take the tune. Baker returns but is off centre and again falls victim to unpredictability. With the front line in disarray, it is left to bassist Smith to try to pick up the pieces and he does a yeomans job in an extended solo.
The final tracks are generally more consistent, with Bernies Tune smartly rendered with Getz offering a clever solo that demonstrates his expressive technique. Baker takes over and while he occasionally sounds tentative, he nevertheless delivers the goods. The final track Winter Wonderland is a bit of a mystery since the recording location is Los Angeles in the middle of summer. Although it swings along, it is completely out of context and seems to be a throwaway number. Finally the quality of the recording is first rate despite the fact that it was a live club recording done in 1953. However the original album was recorded by Dick Bock at Pacific Jazz Records so perhaps this outcome was to be expected."
—Pierre Giroux (December 2015)
"Once upon a time, the most exciting sounds in jazz and popular music was when the jazz artists stopped screaming at the audience and whispered sweet and intricate melodies to their fans. Here's a recent reissue from Fresh Sound Records to show how to make people listen harder by playing softer.
Stan Getz is caught here post Woody Herman and before starting the Bossa Nova craze. Hes replacing Gerry Mulligan in the famous pianoless quartet with James Dean-like star Chet Baker at this LA gig in the tiny club The Haig in 1953. Both Getz and Baker sound wonderfully hip and bop oriented with Carson Smith/b and Larry Bunker, as they bop along on unison lines during Yardbird Suite and Move, while defining California Cool on Bernies Tune. Baker sounds like hes giving Miles Davis a run for his money on The Way You Look Tonight and Getz is warm and breezy on Yesterdays and Whispering. Did jazz ever get better than this?"
—George W. Harris (November 2, 2015)
"Stan Getz was much taken by the innovation of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet so that, when its leader was put in the slammer for six months for drug offences, he eagerly replaced him at The Haig, a small Los Angeles bar. Getz and Baker had played together before and were to work in tandem again. The musical union they had developed fell apart during their European tour of 1983, but these were happier days, and both men played at their contemporary best.
Getz hoped the absence of a piano would give him more freedom, but there's no overt sign of that here - Getz could swing if he was backed by nothing or even a banjo. Back in New York he'd already formed the band with Brookmeyer and was only a month away from recording Crazy Rhythm, one of his hardest swinging performances on record.
Baker was sometimes criticised for limited technique, a heinous slur as he demonstrates with every solo here - he was in fact the product of an army band from which he'd soon have been ejected if he'd shown any such weakness. Throughout this session, originally recorded for Pacific Jazz but unissued by them, he plays with authority and cool fire.
The appeal of the Mulligan quartet was crucially in the contrast between the depth of sound of the baritone and the lighter touch of the trumpet. Here the instruments are closer together and there's no such contrast. But the improvising is excellent and Mondragon's and Bunker's playing is ideal.
In his 1992 notes Jordi Pujol suggests that the bassist is Carson Smith but discographers Arne Astrup and Thorb Jørn Sjøgren, in their Getz and Baker discographies respectively, have it as Mondragon."
—Steve Voce (September, 2015)