There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the 1963 LP, “The Great Gerry Mulligan”, you can‘t find information about it anywhere, meanwhile, there are people on the internet trying to pass it off as a valuable rarity, which is surprising since it came out on the Crown label. Crown was a very cheap budget label that often re-packaged old by-passed recording sessions in flimsy album jackets that were known to fall apart. In true Crown style, the credits on this album jacket itself are a source of wrong information. The cover lists five musician’s names, but there are clearly only four on the record. Apparently tenor saxophonist Bill Robinson appears on the album cover, but is nowhere to be found on the record itself. Also, a ‘’Bob Gibson’, who is supposedly the drummer, does not show on any other jazz records anywhere and was probably a drummer who could not use his real name, either for contractual reasons or just plain shame. Since Crown is apt to use older recording sessions, I searched high and low to see if these musicians had ever worked together on another recording and only came up with a big band date featuring trumpeter Dick Hurwitz with Bill Robinson, but then Bill doesn’t really play on this record so that was no help, ha. The fact that this is not the usual crowd that Mulligan normally worked with just adds to the dubious mystery of this LP.
So what about the music? Things start off strong with the up-tempo bop of opening track “Turnstile”, one of the few songs on the album to feature much in the way of chord changes and arrangement. Mulligan and Hurvitz play with the melody and intertwine like Bird and Diz making you think you have scored a really cool LP. Follow up cut “Side Track” continues in a similar vein, but then comes the downhill slide into mediocrity. The next two cuts are based on children’s folk songs of the variety that were used to force young people to sing in US public schools in the 50s and 60s. The rest of the album is comprised of blues based jams, probably improvised on the spot, as well as one more children’s song. To the musician’s credit, every song on the album is handled with wit and creativity, but the choice of material is of the variety that arises when you are hastily throwing something together. The 'jokey' song titles such as "Shoe Enough" and "Yknuf" only make this more apparent.
Certainly the great Gerry Mulligan has much better records out there than “The Great Gerry Mulligan”, but this LP isn’t that bad either. In a lot of ways this record sounds like an afternoon jam session at a club with the musicians getting a bit silly here and there with the cheezy folk songs, but is this a “valuable rarity”, I wouldn’t think so. I found my copy in a thrift store for a buck, that seems like a reasonable price. On the plus side, for a Crown release, the sound quality is quite good, featuring a very bold upfront analog sound with no gimmicks or additives.