Jimmy Giuffre

Jimmy Giuffre was a composer, reedist and musical visionary. His career spans six decades and many genres. He is best known for creating the “Four Brothers” sound for Woody Herman’s Big Band and his trio with Jim Hall and Bob Brookmeyer. His exploration of orchestral composition and his own style of free jazz defied all expectations. Giuffre was often misunderstood because of the breadth of his talents. It is difficult to determine his place in jazz history without looking at his entire work. James Peter Giuffre was a Dallas native, born April 26, 1921. He began his musical career at the age of nine on the sopranino clarinet. He played clarinet and tenor in high school and college, and also played tenor sax with bands around Dallas. He received his bachelor’s degree from North Texas Teachers College in 1942. He was a member of the Stage Band in Texas and shared a home with Harry Babasin and Herb Ellis. He enjoyed dancing with small groups and listened to all the big bands in town, his favourite being Jimmie Lunceford. Jimmy joined the United States Air Force in 1942 and served from 1946 to 1945. He would have been denied the opportunity to play music if he hadn’t waited until he was drafted. He practiced and wrote a lot and gained much of the knowledge he would use later with Woody Herman. Jimmy was part of a seventy-piece orchestra and also played in an informal group that served lunch to officers every day. He used xylophones, guitars, tenors, basses, and drums with brushes. Giuffre moved to Los Angeles after the war and started a master’s degree program at the University of Southern California. Giuffre did not complete the degree. Instead, he chose to study composition under Dr. Wesley LaViolette. He gave him private lessons for 14 years. Giuffre was influenced by LaViolette’s emphasis on contrapuntal and linear writing. This allowed vertical harmonies to be dictated through the combination of melodies. Jimmy was a skilled tenor sideman and unique arranger in the Los Angeles music scene during the late 1940s and early 50s. He recorded with Jimmy Dorsey/Jesse Price/Boyd Raeburn and Buddy Rich. Also, Shelly Manne and John Graas were there. Jimmy’s West Coast tenor sound was transformed into a distinctively personal sound while he lived in LA. Jimmy’s first solo recordings were made in 1947 on tenor with Red Norvo and Dexter Gordon’s group. These sessions show Jimmy’s early playing, a Prez-influenced sounding tenor with a simple style that is reflective of his later work. Woody Herman recorded Giuffre’s “Four Brothers”, a composition he composed in 1947. The “Four Brothers sound” consisted of three tenors, and a baritone sax. This was an unusual grouping in 1947. Giuffre tried to combine Bird’s and Prez sounds in this piece. Each time the melody is played, there are slight variations. This gives it a more improvised sound. Inducted into the NARAS Hall of Fame, it was inducted in 1984. Giuffre was an original member of Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars, 1951-1953. Jimmy’s playing was more Texas-influenced than his sound from a few years prior. This can be seen in tracks like “Big Girl” or “Dynamite” on the Complete 1947-1953 Small Group Sessions. Jimmy joined Shorty Rogers’s Giants in 1953 to be with them. He was a part of some of Shorty’s most famous dates from 1956 through 1953. Jimmy was also a participant in two of the most important sessions on the West Coast, Shelly Manne’s The Three and the Two (1954) and Teddy Charles’s Evolution (1953). This foreshadowed his later ventures into free jazz. The Charles album is about modal sounds, while Manne’s record focuses on tone rows and free improvisation using unusual instrumentation. Both records were made years before such experiments were commonplace. Jimmy had previously recorded three studio albums: Jimmy Giuffre, Tangents In Jazz, 1955 and The Jimmy Giuffre Clarinet, 1956. Tangents was the first jazz record to feature a group of musicians without a piano. The Jimmy Giuffre Clarinet showcases his amazing clarinet playing, chalumeau register tone and brilliance as an author and record producer. This record features the first solo horn recording since Coleman Hawkins’s “Picasso” and it is beautifully composed with sounds that few other West Coast musicians were able to capture at the time. His simple duet with Jimmy Rowles, on celeste “Deep Purple,” as well as “Sheepherders,” which is a contemplative clarinet trio, are also worth listening to. Jimmy’s ability to mix classical elements and jazz is demonstrated by his work with Modern Jazz Quartet, which he founded in 1956 at Massachusetts’ Lenox School for Jazz. Jimmy’s writing and the “jazz feeling” are evident in “Fugue”, Serenade, and “Fun”. Around this time, he also wrote “Blue Birdland”, which was a popular number for Maynard Ferguson. Jimmy founded The Jimmy Giuffre 3 in 1956, one of his most beloved groups, after being inspired by Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp. The original group featured Ralph Pea on bass, Jim Hall on guitar, and Ray Brown on guitar. Red Mitchell, Buddy Clark and Ray Brown later replaced Pea. The group’s minor hit, “The Train and the River”, epitomized their contrapuntal and folksy swinging sound. Jimmy played baritone, clarinet and tenor on the same track. Giuffre described this group as an aural representation for an Alexander Calder mobile. No voice is ever dominant over another. The group recorded six albums and developed a unique sound. Giuffre called it “swamp Jazz” and others “folk Jazz”. In 1959 and 1960, the group toured with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic. The group was captured on film in a CBS broadcast in 1957, The Sound of Jazz. KABC’s Stars of Jazz also featured the group. In 1958, Bert Stern’s documentary on Newport Jazz Festival, Jazz on a Summer’s Day, featured the group. The group’s bass position was taken over by Bob Brookmeyer, a valve trombonist. The addition of a trombone to the group’s instruments brought out the interweaving, contrapuntal lines Giuffre wanted. Brookmeyer was a pianist on The Four Brothers Sound (also recorded in 1958), while Giuffre played overdubbed saxes. The group was independent and did not conform to preconceived notions of jazz. Jimmy worked with the 3 and composed in 1957. He premiered “Suspensions”, a commission for Brandeis University Jazz Festival of the Arts. In 1957, he recorded “Pharaoh” for brass and timpani on the album Music for Brass. In 1958, he recorded his own reworking of The Music Man’s songs. Giuffre was also able to arrange and compose a series for Verve. Each album featured a soloist, and Giuffre as the writer. Anita O’Day and Lee Konitz recorded one month apart in 1959. Konitz’s “Palo alto” was the most progressive and notable session. It also featured Warne Marsh, a saxohponist, and Bill Evans as pianist. Jimmy’s compositional abilities reached their peak in 1960 when he recorded the little-known, but ambitious and impressive “Piece for Clarinet and String Orchestra” and then “Mobiles.” Both of them abandon the “Third Stream”, which blends jazz and classical, and instead focus on more “classical” harmonic effects. Jimmy was influenced by Schoenberg, Debussy, Stockhausen, and Delius in his compositions. These works feature Jimmy on clarinet. He plays written parts in the first piece, and improvises on “Mobiles.” Mobiles also has ad-lib cues to the conductor, and the eight written movements of the piece can be played multiple times in any order. The record contains 16 “movements”. These records are not surprising if one considers Jimmy’s jazz ventures. Giuffre’s most controversial group was formed in 1961. It consisted of Steve Swallow (acoustic bass), Paul Bley (piano) and Jimmy (clarinet). Giuffre founded the group after hearing Ornette Coleman, a saxophonist, at the Lenox School of Jazz. This was Giuffre’s most ambitious attempt as a leader. It also ended Giuffre’s recording career for nearly a decade. The public wasn’t ready for what they saw. The three studio albums Fusion and Thesis, in 1961, and Free Fall, in 1962, are filled with moments that are angular, pointillistic and gentle. The group’s repertoire included Jimmy’s songs, some of Carla Bleys, trio improvisations and mixed improvisations. Some pieces were composed with three lines that could be played at any speed. The group didn’t always follow a strict meter and instead created its own pulse. Although the group did occasionally keep a set pace, many pieces had no chord changes or meter. This music is more in line with classical chamber music than jazz, according to most listeners. These recordings proved to be a commercial disaster. The group was a huge influence on jazz musicians who wanted to break away from traditional forms and instrumentation. The interest in the work of the trio has grown steadily over the years, leading to the release of several CDs with additional material. These include Emphasis, which is a live performance of the group in Stuttgart in 1961, and Jimmy Giuffre 3, 1961, an ECM album that includes the Carla Bley song “Jesus Maria”. Giuffre was unable to record or perform and turned to other interests for the next ten years. He taught at Rutgers, Manhattanville College and NYU. He composed for films (Leo Hurwaitz and Elie Wiesel, John Avildsen), for dance (Jean Erdman and Joffrey Ballet), and was awarded grants by the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Jimmy published Jazz Phrasing u0026 Interpretation in 1969. It is his only book. After nearly a decade of being away from performing, Giuffre formed his first jazz band. He was joined by drummer Randy Kaye (1972-1981) and bassist KiyoshiTokunaga (1981-1982). Jimmy played tenor and flutes. The trio recorded two albums: Music For People, Birds and Butterflies.

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