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Collection The Gerry Mulligan Collection

Astor and Franca

[Gerry and Franca Mulligan -- 1976]. Hank O'Neal, photographer. The Gerry Mulligan Collection, The Library of Congress Presents: Music, Theater and Dance, Performing Arts Reading Room.

In 1974, while recording an album in Milan with Astor Piazzolla, Gerry met his future wife, Contessa Franca Rota Borghini Baldovinetti, who was Astor's friend. She photographed Gerry for a magazine and later interviewed him, which led to them becoming a couple.

Edited Transcript

About this time, I had been in Milan and made an album with Astor Piazzolla. Astor was an Argentinean from Buenos Aires. He'd lived in Brooklyn when he was a kid, but Buenos Aires was his home. He had made a new idiom out of the tango and had composed a lot of stuff in this idiom. It turned out he'd had a kind of a fantasy for twenty years of doing an album with me, since he first heard the pianoless quartet and the "Birth of the Cool" album, and my Tentet and all that. And so there were these Italian guys, some of whom I knew, who gave him the opportunity, and they commissioned him to do our album, and so he started to work on it. He wrote all this music, and I wrote one piece; actually I wrote three, but two of them were lost in the mail. But one of my pieces got through, and Astor wrote an arrangement of it for this group, a tango instrumentation that he had devised. He played an instrument called the bandoneon that was like the grandfather of the accordion, a big powerful instrument. It had no keyboard, it was all buttons, and watching him play was incredible, because he would do these very modern voicings on the thing, and in order to reach these buttons, his fingers looked like snakes going all over. It had a really uncanny sense to it. The group also had piano, bass, guitar, percussion, and a bunch of strings. So he was in Rome, and I found out the following story later on.

[Gerry with Astor]. Franca R. Mulligan, photographer. The Gerry Mulligan Collection, Performing Arts Reading Room, The Library of Congress

Etude for Franca / Gerry Mulligan. Performed by Gerry Mulligan. From the Album "Lonesome Boulevard." [1980]

Franca, who later became my wife but whom I hadn't met yet, had a little apartment in Rome, and when she was there, that was kind of a gathering place, especially for South American poets and musicians. There were people there like a painter from Venezuela and a poet; and Vinicius de Moraes used to go there a lot, and Astor went there. Astor was all enthused about doing this project and was crying on Franca's shoulder about needing someplace to write. She said, "Listen, I've got the house over in Le Marche, which was over on the Adriatic coast. It's a big place and you can be on your own there. You can work as much as you want, you can socialize when you feel like it and be by yourself when you want." Great. And his wife was coming to join him. So sure enough that summer he went to Marche to the house and worked there, and then the record dates took place in September or sometime in the fall.

I was recording with him in Milan, and one day Franca came in the studio to see because it was the last day of recording and Astor was after her to come to the record dates. So she came by, and I looked up in the control room at one point, in the middle of recording, and asked, "Astor, who's that?" He said, "Who's what?" I said, "Who's that beautiful girl in there, who is she?" He said, "Oh, it's just a girl." He wouldn't say anything. So we went in and we were listening to what we had just recorded and he introduced me to her. We were tied up, but I figured she was going to stay there for awhile and I'd get to find out what was going on, but she left. I was really kind of teed off at Astor. I said, "Man, who was that?" He said, "Oh, well, you don't want to know." It was the last night of recording and we went out. Astor's wife Amelita [Baltar] had come, so they went off someplace, and so I went off with the other guys who were involved in the recording and the engineer. One was Mario Fattori, a guy I'd known a long time, who was in the movie business. He'd made a lot of TV commercials and so on. There were only one or two restaurants open late in Milan, so we went to this place called Santa Lucia. We got to the place, and I looked across the room and saw Franca sitting there with another woman. So I aimed our whole party, I kind of pushed them in her direction like a sheepdog, over toward her table and sat down next to Franca's table. What I didn't know was that the woman she was sitting with was her sister-in-law, Yolaine, the wife of her brother, and they were in the midst of a project. Yolaine had designed a line of clothes for children and they were photographing the clothes for "Harper's Bazaar", what they called the "Baby Bazaar," and Franca was the photographer. Yolaine said to Franca, "Why don"t you ask him to come out and pose with the children?" Franca didn't know who I was other than that I played saxophone on this thing with Astor, but her sister did. Franca said she couldn't do that, but Yolaine said no, go ahead and ask him. So Franca turned around and asked me if I'd like to come out tomorrow morning, Sunday morning, and have my picture taken with some children for the baby fashions. I said, of course, I'd go out Sunday morning (just what I was dying to do, you know). So she gave me their address. I was going to go by and pick them up at her sister-in-law's apartment.

[Gerry playing saxaphone with children], Franca Mulligan, photographer. The Gerry Mulligan Collection, Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.

So the next morning I got there, I guess it was nine or nine-thirty, whatever time they said to be there, and of course neither of them was up yet. I knocked on the door and I heard all this turmoil inside like they were racing to get up and get dressed. They let me in, and I got my horn out and was kind of noodling around. The reason I bring this up is because Franca took time out from getting dressed to take a picture that turned out really well, and so we used it on a couple of albums after that. Then we went out and spent the morning and the afternoon taking pictures with the children.

The following day, Monday, she got the stuff developed and took it in to the art director of the magazine, and he took one look and said, "Well, you've got Gerry Mulligan in here." She said "Yes?" He said, "Well, listen, instead of his being in this thing, we'll do a feature article on him. Do you know where he is?" She said, "Yes, he just left for Rome." He said, "OK, well, you go to Rome and you do an interview." She said, "I've never done an interview." He said, "OK, you’ll learn." So she did indeed. She called up a couple of friends of hers, Lula and Luigi Pezzini, and she was asking them about me, and they were very enthusiastic because they both thought I was terrific. They thought that Franca was weird because she didn't know who I was. And one thing that Franca said to Lula was, "They want me to run down and do an interview. What'll I do?" Lula said, "Listen, if you tell Gerry that you're doing this interview but you"re not really experienced at doing it, I'm sure he'll help you because he's a very nice man." So sure enough that's what she did. She came down, and we met at my hotel, and we had dinner together, then we sat and did this interview on tape. And it's so funny because we were drinking vodka or something and during the course of the tape our tempo gets slower and slower, and our voices get lower and lower, until we just practically put ourselves to sleep. So I saw her home to her apartment, which wasn't far away from the hotel.

[Rehearsing Happy Birthday]. Franca R. Mulligan, photographer. The Gerry Mulligan Collection, Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.

The next day I had to take off for the States, and so I met her for breakfast the next morning. It was like a scene from an Audrey Hepburn movie. She was running across the piazza with her hair flying and turned around and waved, with the French Embassy behind her. So I went back to the States because I had to get ready for this Happy Birthday thing in Alabama. Then, I called her up and invited her to breakfast. She said, "How can you be calling me now and taking me to breakfast tomorrow morning?" "You know," I said, "I'm calling from the States." So she said all right, fine. What she didn't know was that I was already at the airport when I made the call. So I got back the next morning into Milan and took her to breakfast. I found out she was going to Venezuela to visit with some friends, so I decided to go to Birmingham by way of Venezuela and joined her on that trip.


  1. The Tentet to which Gerry refers was the New York group with which he recorded in 1951 for Prestige (Mulligan Plays Mulligan. Prestige 7006). It included Jerry Hurwitz and Nick Travis (trumpets), Ollie Wilson (trombone), Allen Eager (tenor), Max McElroy and Gerry Mulligan (baritones), George Wallington (piano), Phil Leshin (bass), Walter Bolden (drums), Gail Madden (maracas). (back to transcript)
  2. Happy Birthday is a musical, based on the play of the same name by Anita Loos, for which the author asked Gerry to compose the music. It was never produced on Broadway, but received a student performance at Birmingham. (back to transcript)
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