Ted Hogarth of The Mulligan Mosaics Big Band is having an affair, but his wife Lisa has nothing to worry about. In fact, she might even be responsible.
Her gift of a Gerry Mulligan CD set a couple years ago prompted her husband’s love affair with the jazz musician and ultimately the formation of Hogarth’s 13 piece band created as an homage to Mulligan.
“I was immediately enamored with Gerry’s music,” Hogarth said. “I listened to the CD set continuously for nine months. It was so new to me, and when I find someone I like, I go all out.”
Inspired by jazz icon Gerry Mulligan’s nontraditional compositions, the band led by Hogarth is comprised of jazz educators and composers from the Chicago area.
According to Hogarth, his is the only professional band that plays Mulligan’s music, other than a college band in Idaho.
Mulligan was a baritone saxophonist whose nontraditional compositions led him to fame in the late 1940s. Mulligan collaborated with several jazz icons, including Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck, and was the first jazz musician to form a piano-less quartet. He died in 1996.
“It wasn’t until three years ago that I really started to listen almost exclusively to Gerry’s music,” Hogarth said. “It was so new to me, and when I find someone I like, I go all out.”
And that he did. After completing a master’s degree in jazz composition from DePaul University, Hogarth went on to study Mulligan’s music, but not without difficulty. Information on the Internet was sparse, and Hogarth wanted to get his hands on some scores so he could understand how Mulligan’s music was constructed.
Luckily for Hogarth, one of his students, Chris Weller, shared the same interest in Mulligan’s music. After contacting the Library of Congress, Weller was able to put Hogarth in touch with Mulligan’s wife, Franca.
“Ted and I both really dig his music,” Weller said. “Mulligan’s music is simple. He doesn’t play a million notes, and yet there’s still a lot of feeling to his music.”
Since then, Franca Mulligan has played a pivotal role in the formation of Hogarth’s band. In addition to sending him copies of Mulligan’s music free of charge, Franca invited Hogarth and his wife to her home to look through her husband’s private library.
“I was completely floored. I was a stranger to her and she was inviting me into her house,” Hogarth said.
Hogarth began to study Mulligan’s music with a renewed passion. He worked on transcribing the music, which was all handwritten, to make it easier for himself and others to read. He then entered the scores into a music notation software program called Finale.
“The process was very labor-intensive,” Hogarth said. “It took anywhere from 20 to 30 hours per tune to prepare.”
Hogarth has completed 11 so far, and is currently working with the Library of Congress to make this information, now “pristine and in publishable form,” available on their website.
It wasn’t long after studying Mulligan’s music that Hogarth wanted to perform it. So he called some of the top players in Chicago, who happened to be good friends of his, and thus began The Mulligan Mosaics Big Band.
“The band is a collage of Ted’s musical life,” Lisa said. “So many players in the band trace Ted’s history as a performer.”
Since July the band has had two performances, both of which were a success. Hogarth’s favorite venue is FitzGerald’s Nightclub in Berwyn, Ill., where he’s performed with other big bands. The venue has been around since 1980, and provides big bands with the space they need to perform. Hogarth and his band will play at FitzGerald’s again on Sunday, Nov. 19.
“We’ve always gotten great feedback from our audience when big bands perform,” owner Bill Fitzgerald said. “They have a very powerful sound.”
While Hogarth could go on for days about why he chose to play Mulligan’s music, he said it all boils down to uniqueness. Through nontraditional chord voicing and instrument combinations, Mulligan “turned the rules of jazz on their head,” Hogarth said. He also took the piano out of jazz, which, according to Hogarth, enables the soloist to be more expressive.
That’s why The Mulligan Mosaics Big Band doesn’t have a piano.
“It makes a big difference in the sound and rhythm of the music,” Hogarth said. “The rhythm isn’t dictated by the piano. The soloist can improvise and play around the rhythms.”
Hogarth himself primarily plays the baritone saxophone, like Mulligan, and from time to time he plays the clarinet.
The Mulligan Mosaics Big Band is a project of Fernwork Arts Incubator (FAI), a public charity group whose mission is to foster the creation and presentation of art.
“It’s a challenging project that requires a bit of juggling but is supported by great love,” Lisa Rosenthal said of the band.
Despite the challenge, Hogarth has big plans for his band. They will be recording a few songs over the next month for promotional purposes, and to supply to jazz radio stations. Hogarth’s biggest goal is to continue and expand Mulligan’s legacy by performing his music and making it more available to the public online.
“I was immediately enamored with Gerry’s music. It’s so creative and unpredictable. It keeps me on my toes,” Hogarth said. “It keeps me honest.”