“Disc Jockey Jump”
Composed and arranged by Gerry Mulligan.(*)
Recorded by Gene Krupa and His Orchestra for Columbia on January 22, 1947 in New York.
Gene Krupa, drums, directing: Ray Triscari, first trumpet; Ed Badgley, Tony Anelli and Don Fagerquist, trumpets; Dick Taylor, Clay Hervey, Emil Manzanec and Jack Zimmerman, trombones; Harry Terrill, first alto saxophone; Charlie Kennedy, alto saxophone; Buddy Wise and Mitch Melnick, tenor saxophones; Jack Schwartz, baritone saxophone; Buddy Neal, piano; Bob Lesher, guitar; Bob Strahl, bass.
The story of the dissolution of Gene Krupa’s first band in 1943 is told elsewhere on this blog.(1) Gene formed another big band in the summer of 1944, and led it with great success until mid-1950. Baritone saxophonist and arranger Gerry Mulligan (1927-1996) began working with Gene Krupa’s band in early 1946, but mostly as an arranger.(2) He worked for Krupa through 1946, then moved on to work for several other bandleaders as an arranger. Later he emerged as a great jazz baritone saxophonist. (Above right: Gene Krupa in 1946.)
In February of 1946, Gerry Mulligan joined Gene Krupa’s band. He was not quite nineteen years old. Basically, his job was as an arranger, though with the challenges of keeping musicians in every chair of the band for performances seven days a week, Mulligan was sometimes pressed into service subbing on alto or tenor saxophone in the section. Mulligan was precociously talented as an arranger, though understandably immature as a person. He later recalled one of his stints playing saxophone in the Krupa band: “Somebody got sick, so one time I got pressed into service when we were doing a split week in theaters in Ohio and Indiana. I was playing second alto. Harry Terrill was the lead alto man. He was kind of a sergeant at arms of the band. I was the arranger… and I was impatient sometimes playing four or five shows a day, playing these ballad things, some of which I wrote. I was always changing notes and this drove Harry crazy. In one show in Akron, Ohio, he got so mad at me that when the curtain came down, he put his horn down and lunged for me.” Krupa intervened to restore order. “I was a terrible sideman because I didn’t know what my own boundaries were, and I was always stepping on people’s toes. One time, after a particularly hard trip, we were kind of exhausted when we played a job, and the band really sounded sloppy. I got up out of my seat (in the saxophone section) and turned around and said, ‘The band sounds so sloppy. What’s the matter with you guys’? Gene was looking at me in kind of stunned surprise. ‘I’m sorry old man,’ he said, ‘but your outburst is unforgivable.’ So that was the end of my playing career with the band. But I kept on writing for them after that.”(3) (Above left: Gerry Mulligan in 1945 outside of WCAU radio in Philadelphia. He was encouraged in his arranging by Johnny Warrington and Elliot Lawrence, both of whom led bands on WCAU.)
Although Gerry Mulligan wrote quite a few arrangements for Gene Krupa’s band, relatively few of them were recorded. “Disc Jockey Jump,” the most successful commercially, is a swing-to-bop piece that definitely swings throughout, but also encompasses several jazz solos that reflect an awareness of what was happening in late 1946-early 1947 in the bop idiom. Those solos were played by Charlie Kennedy on alto saxophone; Dick Taylor on trombone; Buddy Wise on tenor saxophone and Don Fagerquist on trumpet.
The high quality of those solos should not detract from the excellent arrangement Mulligan wrote to showcase them. The introduction spots Buddy Neal playing the band on, at a brisk tempo, at the piano. The boppish main melody throughout the first chorus is stated by what sounds like a cup-muted trumpet (likely first trumpeter Ray Triscari, or jazz soloist Don Fagerquist, who could play anything), playing in unison with a tenor saxophone, likely Buddy Wise. The tart and rhythmically taut backgrounds behind these instruments make an ideal, colorful background for the foreground unisons. Mulligan uses the same unison duo in the foreground on the bridge, with a bit of stop-and-go rhythm, which allows for a couple of crisp Krupa drum fills.
The second chorus begins immediately with Kennedy’s sixteen bar jazz solo. In this sequence, Mulligan uses only piano, bass, guitar and drums as a background for the solo. Dick Taylor follows for sixteen bars of swashbuckling jazz trombone, played against a cushion of gliding saxophones.
There follows a transitional sequence, which allows Gene to play a solo that centers on his snare drum, and is quintessential Krupa. Many commentators have observed that in boppish surroundings, Krupa played essentially what he had always played on drums, which was not boppish. To me, this is an invalid criticism. Gene Krupa was always himself musically. He was a performer who always played well, and whatever he played swung and worked within the context of whatever else was going on musically. That is exactly what happened here. (Above left: Charlie Kennedy – late 1940s, holding a tenor saxophone.)
The ascending fanfare that sets up Buddy Wise’s entry on tenor saxophone is followed by Wise playing a downward series of notes before launching into his jazz solo. Mulligan sets off the sound of Wise’s tenor saxophone with bursts of open brass. There is particularly tasty comping in this sequence by pianist Buddy Neal. The next solo is a brilliant jazz outing presented by trumpeter Don Fagerquist, played against a colorful background of open trombones and saxophones. (At right: trumpeter Don Fagerquist.)
The next half chorus presents the entire band playing with zest and precision, and a few short Krupa drum rolls. This is followed by a reprise of the first chorus tenor saxophone/trumpet melody statement.
“Disc Jockey Jump” is an astonishingly mature arrangement to have been written by a nineteen-year-old. Bravo Gerry Mulligan for writing it, and bravo Gene Krupa for giving him the opportunity to do so, and maintaining the superb band that played it so well.
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(*) The composer credit on the various Columbia records on which “Disc Jockey Jump” was issued reads Gene Krupa and Gerry Mulligan. Although many people have seen this as the bandleader “stealing” a part of the composer credit, the fact is that without Gene Krupa’s sponsorship of Gerry Mulligan, the commercial value of Gene’s name in the marketplace, and the great band he maintained that brought Mulligan’s music so vividly to life, the performance that was recorded may never have been preserved on what became a successful commercial recording. I see it as a win-win.
(2) Gerry Mulligan worked mostly as an arranger for Gene Krupa because during the time (1946-1947) they were associated. Mulligan’s saxophone playing had not yet arrived at a level where he would fit comfortably into the Krupa reed section. Nevertheless, Mulligan still filled-in on saxophone from time to time in the Krupa band. At least one photo exists showing him in the section holding an alto saxophone.
(3) Jeru’s Journey …The Life and Music of Gerry Mulligan, by Sanford Josephson (2015), 8-9.