Jimmy Giuffre
richard laird

Multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Giuffre (b.1921 in Dallas, Texas) is an eclectic musician who has always gone his own way, quitely blazing new trails in jazz. He began playing clarinet at age 9 and later added saxophones and flutes. He received his Bachelor of Music degree from North Texas State Teachers College (now known as North Texas State University) and performed with local bands. After a stint with the official Air Force band, he became an arranger and saxophonist with the Boyd Raeburn Band, the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, and the Buddy Rich Band. He then began playing and writing for Woody Herman & His Thundering Herd, gaining much notice for his 1947 composition "Four Brothers," which featured a new saxphone sound and became a jazz classic which in 1984 was inducted into the NARAS Hall of Fame.

In the early 1950s, he moved to Los Angeles and became a fixture in what was to be known as "West Coast Jazz Movement." There he studied with Dr. Wesley La Violette, one of Jimmy's major influences in the field of composition, and developed a reputation as one fine reed player (on tenor and baritone saxophones and clarinet) and composer. By 1955 he was working not only without piano but also without drums, playing most notably in a trio with guitarist Jim hall and valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. (They are heard playing "The Train and the River" in the famed Newport Jazz Festival movie Jazz on a Summer's Day. The group's whole set that day can be heard on the Fresh Sound disc listed below.) In 1959 (and again in 1962), he recorded solo clarinet pieces and wrote orchstral music with conductor-improvised cues, both anticipating trends a decade or more in the future.

His music gradually changed from "blues-based folk jazz" (his term) to a new, quiet free jazz with a new Jimmy Giuffre 3 (again drumless, with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Shallow). During these periods, he also composed music for larger ensembles as well as for theater, film and dance companies. He brought clarinet to the fore of his music at a time when it was considered old-fashioned, associated mostly with swing and even earlier styles. He has played clarinet, tenor sax, soprano sax, baritone sax, flute and bass flute in a way that reflects the blues without resort to bluster. (He's a tenorman from Texas, but hardly a "Texas tenor.")

In The '70s, he also began teaching at colleges; he taught at New York University, Rutgers, the New School of Social Research and currently the New England Conservatory (Boston). Moved in the late '70s to investigate electric instrumentation after hearing Weather Report, he started utilizing electric bass and keyboards. When he recorded Dragonfly for Soul Note in 1983, it was his first studio date in a decade as a sole leader. On that and his next two Soul Note albums, he played a variety of instruments within a quartet. His famed trio with Bley and Swallow (on electric bass this time around) reunited in 1993 and is heard on his newly released Soul Note album, which find Giuffre sticking to clarinet and soprano sax. At this point he has recorded over 33 albums as a leader.

 

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