Gerry Mulligan: Mr Tambourine Man (1965)

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Gerry Mulligan: Mr Tambourine Man (1965)

By the mid Sixties the once-popular jazz had been pushed to the margins of mainstream interest by the arrival of pop culture in the form the Beatles, the British Invasion and then the American response of the Turtles, Byrds and many other bands.

And of course by Bob Dylan whose literary sensibilities and political subtexts proved that popular music could be about something more than just holding hands.

Jazz didn't disappear of course, but many of its practitioners were beleaguered as gigs dried up and audiences diminished.

For some it was a matter of a begrudging, “If you can't beat 'em, join 'em”.

Which was exactly the title of baritone sax player Gerry Mulligan's '65 album on which he played Lennon-McCartney tunes (Can't Buy Me Love, A Hard Day's Night, If I Fell), a couple by Roger Miller (King of the Road, Engine Engine No 9) whom he professed to like (“a very talented guy” and the theme to the film Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte among others.

With his band of pianist Pete Jolly, Johnny Gray on guitar, bassist Jimmy Bond and the great session drummer and Wrecking Crew member Hal Blaine on drums, they delivered an album which is of minor interest to jazz audiences and probably very little to pop fans . . . aside from this idiosyncratic reading of Dylan's classic, lyric heavy song.

“I'm sure Bob Dylan will never recognise it,” said Mulligan in the album's liner notes. “Pete Jolly plays it so pretty in a sort of Erroll Garner style."

You sense there is somewhat condescending quality at work here and in his liner notes Gene Lees says that rather than bemoan the “severe depression of standards” since the Fifties and lamenting the current scene and hoping it would go away, it was time to restore the former excellence. And “it would have to come about through a raising of the standards within this kind of pop music itself. This had happened.”

Lees, also seeming to surprise himself, says that in the previous few years the pop field has begun to produce some good tunes.

It had, but aside from a couple of interpretations by Mulligan and his band here – the unusual take on the Dylan especially – they sound like they are wearily going through the motions and sleepwalking while waiting for those great days to return.

The album title says a lot.

Note: This comes with delightful surface noise. 

For more oddities, one-offs or songs with an interesting backstory check the massive back-catalogue at From the Vaults

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