“Begin the Beguine”
Composed by Cole Porter; arranged by Gerry Mulligan.
Recorded for Verve on October 21, 1958 by Gene Krupa and His Orchestra in New York.
Gene Krupa, drums, directing: Carl H. Severinsen, first trumpet: Ernie Royal, Al Di Risi, Marky Markowitz and Al Stewart, trumpets; Urbie Green, first trombone; Jimmy Cleveland, Willie Dennis, Kai Winding trombones; Sam Marowitz, first alto saxophone; Phil Woods, alto saxophone; Frank Socolow and Eddie Wasserman, tenor saxophones; Danny Bank, baritone saxophone; Hank Jones, piano; Barry Galbraith, guitar; Jim Gannon, bass.
Gene Krupa was the premier drummer of the swing era. He became known to a nationwide audience while he was with Benny Goodman’s first band. That band appeared on network radio frequently, was featured in two Hollywood films, and made a series of remarkable recordings for Victor during the years (1935 into 1938) that Krupa was their very high-profile drummer. Gene formed his own band in early 1938, and had middling success with it until the arrival in 1941 of the spectacular trumpeter, Roy Eldridge, and the edgy jazz singer, Anita O’Day.
Gene Krupa poses with his new 1940 Packard.
Then it moved into the top ranks of swing era bands. Unfortunately, Gene was the victim of a great miscarriage of justice in 1943, when he was essentially framed on a bogus drug (marijuana) possession charge. By the time that sad series of events played out, Gene had lost his band, was tried and convicted (conviction later reversed), and jailed. When he was released from jail, he worked for a time with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, basically testing the waters to see how fans would react to seeing him again. Their response was overwhelmingly positive. Gene formed another band in the summer of 1944, and led it with great success until mid-1950.
Gene spent much of the 1950s playing on many of impresario Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic tours, in addition to accepting various other high-level jobs including a few Hollywood films, including his biopic The Gene Krupa Story, starring Sal Mineo as Gene. Jazz critic Leonard Feather described that film as “ludicrously inaccurate, even by Hollywood standards.”(1) Nevertheless, it kept his name in wide public currency with a younger generation of music fans. By the late 1950s, Gene chose his work carefully.
The great baritone saxophonist and arranger Gerry Mulligan (1927-1996) began working with Gene Krupa’s band in early 1946 as an arranger. He worked for Krupa through 1946, then moved on to work for several other bandleaders as an arranger, most notably Claude Thornhill and Elliot Lawrence. He began his association with Miles Davis in 1948, and then gradually began performing more as a baritone saxophonist. He contributed the compositions/arrangements “Jeru” and “Godchild” to the now legendary Davis Birth of the Cool recordings that were made for Capitol in 1949. By the 1950s, Mulligan was very often the leader of his own small jazz groups, though he occasionally he still contributed an original composition/arrangement to a bandleader, such as “Young Blood” and “Swing House” to Stan Kenton in 1952. Mulligan, playing baritone saxophone, formed his piano-less quartet in mid-1952 with sidemen Chet Baker on trumpet, Bob Whitlock on bass and Chico Hamilton on drums. He achieved considerable success and public recognition with that group. In mid-1953, Mulligan had some legal difficulties as a result of his use of heroin (which he successfully overcame), after which worked for a while in England. Mulligan resurrected his quartet in 1954 in Europe, with the second horn being the valve trombone of Bob Brookmeyer. Upon his return to the USA, Mulligan continued leading various jazz groups, to continuing acclaim. By the mid-1950s, Mulligan had become a masterful jazz soloist on baritone saxophone.
By the time the Gene Krupa LP from which the version of “Begin the Beguine” presented with this post was taken was recorded, Gerry Mulligan had become a well-known jazz star whose name had acquired its own commercial value. Norman Granz, who produced that LP for his Verve record label, undoubtedly understood that to put the names Krupa and Mulligan together at that time in a program of music that celebrated Gene’s early patronage of Mulligan would have both musical and historical value. It did. The LP that was produced has a lot of good music on it, and is a credit to both Krupa and Mulligan.
The music: The liner notes for the 1959 Verve LP Gene Krupa plays Gerry Mulligan arrangements contain this ambiguous sentence: “Before he heard these versions of the arrangements he’d done for Krupa, Mulligan had feared that the twelve years (between the time Gerry was arranging for the Krupa band in the mid 1940s and the time the Verve LP was recorded), would make them sound much too dated for comfort, but was hearteningly surprised to hear that they still stand up.” This leaves the impression that the studio band that recorded the music for the Verve LP at the end of 1958 simply played the arrangements Mulligan had written for the 1940s Krupa band. That is not true, at least in part. The arrangement of “Begin the Beguine” that Mulligan wrote for Krupa in the 1940s was quite different from the arrangement used for this recording. On the other hand, the arrangement on the Verve LP of “Disc Jockey Jump” is the same as the one used on the classic 1940s recording. So there was clearly some rewriting of arrangements done by someone for some of the tunes on the Verve LP. It would seem that Mulligan did that rewriting.
This performance of the great Cole Porter song “Begin the Beguine” begins with a dramatically fanfare-like introduction. The first of many musical contrasts comes immediately after, in the first exposition of Porter’s iconic melody. It is carried smoothly by the saxophones, with Sam Marowitz’s keening alto saxophone lead prominent in the sonic mix. Notice how Mulligan supports this singing melodic sequence with only the most subtle rhythm accompaniment. A burst of brass brings the silken-toned trombone of Urbie Green forward. He plays melodically for sixteen bars, against a cushion of sensuous saxophone sounds. (Urbie Green in the late 1950s is shown above right.)
The next sequence features the entire ensemble, which flares up and then falls away as a round with the open brass, the baritone saxophone of Danny Bank and the glistening piano chords of Hank Jones is heard. This is a wonderfully colorful transition that is followed by the pure-toned trumpet of Doc Severinsen, playing a bit of gentle jazz for sixteen bars. (After Doc plays the one-bar break at the beginning of his solo, Krupa can be heard saying “yes!” in appreciation.) Doc gets a bit funky at the end of his solo, satisfyingly so. Alto saxophonist Phil Woods, an uber-bopper, follows, playing some very tasty jazz that is most congruent with Mulligan’s arrangement, first as a counterline to the melody played by Green-led trombone quartet, and then against an aureole of warm trombone chords. (Doc Severinsen is shown in the late 1950s at left.)
Another ensemble passage consisting of high melodic brass counterpoised against an ostinato in the saxophones with Danny Bank’s low baritone saxophone prominent, leads to another tract of Woods improvisation. Notice how Mulligan deploys a kaleidoscopic blending of the brass and reed instruments as Woods’s solo reaches its conclusion. This is masterful arranging. (Phil Woods is pictured at right.)
The oscillating figure in the musical epilogue is something Mulligan borrowed from arranger Bill Finegan, who used it on his arrangement for the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra’s 1953 RCA Victor recording of “The Doodletown Fifers.” Finegan had borrowed it from Maurice Ravel, who conceived it as a part of the music he composed in 1909-1912 for the Sergei Diaghilev ballet Daphnis and Chloe. Ravel later wove it into his Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2.
As for Gene Krupa, one of the most dynamic showmen of the swing era, on this recording he tones it down, and plays with consummate taste, and facilitates a great performance by the band and soloists.
This is a brilliantly arranged and performed recording of one of the greatest melodies in American Popular Song.
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(1) The New Encyclopedia of Jazz by Leonard Feather (1960), 303.
Here is a link that explores Gene’s mid-1940s theme song, “Star Burst.”
Here is a link that showcases the powerhouse trumpet playing of Roy Eldridge with Gene’s band.
Here are some links to three of Gene’s greatest performances with Benny Goodman:
Here are two other celebrations of this great song: