An American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, composer and arranger.
Though Mulligan is primarily known as one of the leading baritone saxophonists in jazz history – playing the instrument with a light and airy tone in the era of cool jazz – he was also a notable arranger, working with Claude Thornhill, Miles Davis, Stan Kenton, and others.
Mulligan's pianoless quartet of the early 1950s with trumpeter Chet Baker is still regarded as one of the more important cool jazz groups. Mulligan was also a skilled pianist and played several other reed instruments.
When Gerry Mulligan was 14, his family moved to Detroit and then to Reading, Pennsylvania. While in Reading, Mulligan began studying clarinet with dance-band musician Sammy Correnti, who also encouraged Mulligan's interest in arranging.
Mulligan also began playing saxophone professionally in dance bands in Philadelphia, an hour and a half or so away.
The Mulligan family next moved to Philadelphia, where Gerry attended the West Philadelphia Catholic High School for Boys and organized a school big band, for which he also wrote arrangements.
Mulligan dropped out of high school during his senior year to pursue work with a touring band.
Mulligan moved to New York City in January 1946 and joined the arranging staff on Gene Krupa's bop-tinged band. Notable arrangements of Mulligan's work with Krupa include "Birdhouse", "Disc Jockey Jump" and an arrangement of "How High the Moon" that quoted Charlie Parker's "Ornithology" as a countermelody.
Mulligan next began arranging for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, occasionally sitting in as a member of the reed section. Thornhill's arranging staff included Gil Evans, whom Mulligan had met while working with the Krupa band.
In September 1948, Miles Davis formed a nine-piece band that featured arrangements by Mulligan, Evans and John Lewis.
The band initially consisted of Davis on trumpet, Mulligan on baritone saxophone, trombonist Mike Zwerin, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, Junior Collins on French horn, tubist Bill Barber, pianist John Lewis, bassist Al McKibbon and drummer Max Roach.
Mulligan also regularly performed with and arranged for trombonist Kai Winding.
Mulligan continued the quartet format with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer replacing Baker, although Mulligan and Brookmeyer both occasionally played piano. This quartet structure remained the core of Mulligan's groups throughout the rest of the 1950s
Mulligan reportedly had a relationship with actress Judy Holliday until she died in 1965, and with actress Sandy Dennis from 1965 until they broke up in 1976.
Upon Mulligan's death, his library and numerous personal effects (including a gold-plated Conn baritone saxophone) were given to the Library of Congress.
'The Gerry Mulligan Collection' is open to registered public researchers in the library's Performing Arts Research Center.
The library placed Mulligan's saxophone on permanent exhibit in early 2009.
Mulligan formed his first "Concert Jazz Band" in the Spring of 1960.