The Day Krupa Fired Gerry Mulligan

SKF NOTE: Gerry Mulligan wrote some great arrangements for Gene Krupa’s big band. Lemon Drop and Leave Us Leap come first to mind. I never met Mr. Mulligan, but from many accounts I’ve read, in addition to his talent as a baritone saxophonist and arranger, he could be a hot head.

This story from Nat Hentoff’s book,Jazz Is (Discus Printing, 1978), supports Mulligan’s “hot head” reputation. It also shows his seriousness as a musician, and how not to criticize a bandleader or your fellow band members.

Kudos to Krupa for rising to Mulligan’s musical challenge. I’m guessing it hurt Krupa, at least musically, to fire Mulligan.

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[W]hile Mulligan was with Gene Krupa…the band had been working and traveling frenetically, and its playing in Mulligan’s opinion had become shoddy.

One night, at the end of a set, Mulligan rose and, in plain hearing of the audience, upbraided the band in general and then Krupa in particular for his inability or unwillingness to set higher standards.

“I told them all to go to hell,” Mulligan recalls.

At the meeting of the band next day, Krupa lit into the band first, and then into Mulligan for inexcusable behavior in public. Krupa proceeded to fire Mulligan, but he did not hold a grudge against his former employee.

“I had to admire that guy,” Krupa said a few years later. “You get too much obsequiousness in this business. There was no obsequiousness in [Mulligan], which I dug.”

Source: Nat Hentoff, Jazz Is, (Discus Printing 1978)

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