Jimmy Giuffre Biography

James Peter Giuffre, 26 April 1921, Dallas, Texas, USA, d. 24 April 2008, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, USA. A graduate of the North Texas College in 1942, Giuffre entered the US Army where he gained professional band experience playing saxophones and clarinet. On his discharge he played in a succession of big bands, including those led by Buddy Rich, Jimmy Dorsey, Boyd Raeburn and Woody Herman. It was with Herman that Giuffre gained most attention, both as a member of the saxophone section and as the composer of ‘Four Brothers’, which gave that particular Herman band its tag. After leaving Herman he worked on the west coast, playing mostly in small groups, and also began to teach. He formed a trio that included Jim Hall and, later, Bob Brookmeyer plus various bass players. Giuffre appeared at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and in the filmed record of the event, Jazz On A Summer’s Day (1960), playing his own composition ‘The Train And The River’. He made numerous records, including sessions with Lee Konitz for which he wrote beautiful and inventive arrangements, the Modern Jazz Quartet (At Music Inn) and Anita O’Day, for whom he devised elegant and deceptively simple charts (Cool Heat). Giuffre also began to explore the world of composition, writing both film scores (The Music Man) and neo-classical third-stream pieces, such as ‘Pharoah’ and ‘Suspensions’, both recorded by Gunther Schuller.

In the 60s Giuffre became involved in free jazz, leading a trio in which he was accompanied by Paul Bley and Steve Swallow. The trio’s recordings became increasingly abstract, culminating in 1963’s Free Fall, a collection of duos and trios interspersed by totally improvised tracks on solo clarinet. Free Fall was deleted within a few months of release and then, in Giuffre’s words, ‘the doors closed’ - his unique mixture of quiet, free and drummerless music proved so threatening to ‘jazz’ prejudices, it was nearly a decade before he was able to record again. In the 70s he was still moving with the times, introducing eastern and African sounds into his work. Later, inspired by Weather Report, he introduced electric bass and keyboards into his quartet, recording three albums for Italy’s Black Saint Records label (Dragonfly, Quasar, Liquid Dancers). He also recorded a duo album with André Jaume, Eiffel (one of the quietest records ever made!) and in 1989 was reunited with Bley and Swallow for two sessions released by the French Owl label. In 1990, Giuffre, his frail appearance proving deceptive, was in fine musical form at the South Bank Jazz Festival in Grimsby, England, where he premiered a new work, ‘Timeless’, commissioned by the festival organizers. He taught at the New England Conservatory of Music in the mid-90s, but the onset of Parkinson’s Disease curtailed his teaching career.

Giuffre’s playing of many of the lesser-known members of the saxophone family, and especially the bass clarinet (The Jimmy Giuffre Clarinet), helped to give his work unusual and frequently sombre shadings. Throughout his career, he was an important and visionary member of the avant garde, yet his playing was always filled with coolly reflective tonal qualities that proved most attractive.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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