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Ken Wiley

A short history of…”Walkin’ Shoes” (Gerry Mulligan, 1952)

A short history of..."Walkin' Shoes" (Gerry Mulligan, 1952)

“Walkin’ Shoes” is one of the most famous compositions by saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, one of the most important figures of West Coast jazz. It was written and recorded for the first time in 1952.

Around this time, Mulligan was known for writing and recording extensively with a number of quartets known for their lack of chordal instruments, such as a piano or a guitar.

Ted Gioia, in his book The Story of Jazz, wrote that Mulligan mines the potential of this limited instrumentation to the fullest through a variety of techniques: “counterpoint between the two horns; use of the bass and melodic voices; sotto voce basslines with the sax or trumpet; stark variation in rhythm and rhyming phrasing, ranging from Dixieland two-steps to swinging fours to pointillistic bop beats.”

He also credits the arrival of trumpeter Chet Baker in his quartet as adding an important factor that strengthened the marriage between the cerebral and the romantic, that was one of the most endearing qualities of West Coast Jazz. To be sure, this quality is one of the reasons why “Walkin’ Shoes” became so popular with Mulligan’s contemporaries.

Art Pepper’s 1959 arrangement of the song for an 11-piece band is particularly memorable. More recent re-interpretations include saxophonist Mark Taylor’s, which embraces the relaxed swinging nature of Mulligan’s original version.

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