Mel Tormé, Gerry Mulligan & George Shearing at Carnegie Hall 1982
When I first conceived this column, one of the first programs that I intended to cover was one of my favorite concert broadcasts, a joint appearance by Mel Tormé, Gerry Mulligan and George Shearing on stage at Carnegie Hall in 1982. Impresario George Wein was responsible for encouraging the three men to perform together for the first time (though Tormé had performed separately with Mulligan and Shearing prior to this evening) and the concert was obviously a treat for those present. One of the running gags of the evening was their frequent reference to themselves as "The Terrible Trio," a moniker that obviously doesn't fit. Jazz Alive! broadcast almost two hours of music from the show on National Public Radio stations a few months later, when I happened upon it and taped it.
Imagine my surprise when Concord Records contacted me in November 2004 to ask me to do liner notes for an upcoming CD drawn from a portion of this historic evening. It was very unusual for me to write liner notes for music I was very familiar with that had never been released. Probably because single CDs tend to sell better than double CDs, the label chose what they thought were the best performances, though some valuable material remains "in the can." The Concord release, titled The Classic Concert Live , is due to be released on February 15, 2005.
It would be redundant for me to rave in this space how much I liked the music on the upcoming release, so just take my word and buy the CD! Of course, the focus of Not For Sale is music that is not commercially available, so I'll stick to discussing the unreleased tracks from the concert, rather than rehash my liner notes from the CD.
There were three big band instrumentals performed by Gerry Mulligan. "Another Kind of Sunday" is a loping piece that eventually appeared in a studio recording on his GRP CD Little Big Horn. The leader's mellow baritone is the centerpiece of the work, with a brief piano chorus by Mitchell Forman in the middle. "42nd & Broadway," which appeared on his 1980 big band recording Walk on the Water , is a relatively rare opportunity to hear Mulligan playing soprano sax on stage, which he described as his one "New York or Manhattan song." The brisk work seems to catch the atmosphere of a night out on the town on a fall day, with the weather perfect for walking to your favorite club, restaurant, or just around the great city. Sadly, the soloists heard on tenor sax, trumpet and trombone are not identified. "K4 Pacific," another lively original, kicked off the second half of the concert; it was first recorded for Mulligan's album The Age of Steam. Like Duke Ellington, Mulligan shared a love of trains. He takes the time to describe the typical ride from Philadelphia to Chicago before launching into a turbocharged performance that easily eclipses his studio recording. Mulligan introduces his rhythm section and several of the soloists, though some of the names aren't clearly audible above the thunderous applause. It must have been difficult for Concord to omit these three selections.
George Shearing is the vocalist in the first part of a two-song medley of works by Willard Robison. "Guess I'll Go Back Home" is a nostalgic, wistful look at what it might be like to return to one's hometown decades after leaving. Shearing adds a harmony vocal behind Tormé in Robison's well known "Old Folks," an amusing piece about the aging town character who tells a few tall tales and obviously has a few memory lapses. If that's not enough, they go back to the Robison songbook for a separate performance of "Cottage For Sale," a bittersweet song about a long married couple putting up their summer home for sale as their marriage is about to end. Tormé somewhat detracts from the performance by adding a humorous but overblown coda imitating Billy Eckstine, who seemed to hate to end this song. Sadly, I hurriedly clipped Shearing's final chord to their warm rendition of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "It Might as Well Be Spring." In their joint arrangement, they incorporate a bit of music by English impressionist composer Frederick Delius within the introduction to this lovely show tune. Tormé has rarely been in better form than on this performance; this track also must have been difficult to omit from the Concord CD The Classic Concert Live.
There are also two memorable duets by Shearing with bassist Don Thompson, who the pianist introduces as "One of the finest bassists that you will ever meet in your life." Together they negotiate the intricate changes of Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" and bassist Sam Jones' "One For Amos'? without difficulty.
I have no idea if other music was performed that night and remains in the vaults. But it is my hope that Concord will sell a ton of copies of The Classic Concert Live and be encouraged to go back to the master tapes of this historic night at Carnegie Hall to release the remaining selections on a follow up CD.