Wednesday, April 30, 2008

R.I.P.: Jimmy Giufree

R.I.P: Jimmy Giufree

born on April 26, 1921, in Dallas
died on April 24, 2008, in Pittsfield, Mass

"(...) Giuffre ging seinen Weg konsequent. Sein Trio, das er 1961 mit dem Bassisten Steve Swallow und dem Pianisten Paul Bley neu auflegte, entwickelte eine kammermusikalische Form der Improvisation, die alle Grenzen sprengte und dennoch stets sensibel und gebändigt schien(...)", schreibt Stefan Hentz in der NZZ vom 29. April 2008.
Und von "epochalen Aufanhmen", die "später von manchen Musikern als eine der wichtigsten Gruppen der Jazzgeschichte betrachtet wurden", schrieb Christoph Merki im Tages-Anzeiger vom 28. April 2008. Und weiter: "1992 hat ECM-Chef Manfred Eicher mit sicherem Instinkt Aufnahmen aus dieser Zeit unter dem Titel "Jimmy Giuffrre 3, 1991" wieder herausgegeben (...). Wir wetten darauf: Man könnte diese fabulöse, geheimnisvoll abstrakt funkelnde Kammermusik auch in diesen Tagen herausgeben und manch einer würde sagen: It's Now!"

Besser und nachhaltiger, als ein Nachruf wäre es, sich die folgenden CDs mit dem wunderbaren Trio JIMMY GIUFFRE, PAUL BLEY, STEVE SWALLOW anzuhören oder sich endlich zu beschaffen; es sind zeitlose, grosse Meilensteine inspirierten kammermusikalischen Improvisierens (J.A.):
"JIMMY GIUFFRE 3, Emphasis, Stuttgart 1961" - hatART CD 6072
"JIMMY GIUFFRE 3 , 1961" - ECM 1438/39 - 2CD. (1992-Re-Edition der 2 VERVE-LPs "Fusion" und "Thesis" plus previously unissued tracks).


Jimmy Giuffre, Imaginative Jazz Artist, Dies at 86
Published: April 26, 2008

Jimmy Giuffre, the adventurous clarinetist, composer and arranger whose 50-year journey through jazz led him from writing the Woody Herman anthem “Four Brothers” through minimalist, drummerless trios to striking experimental orchestral works, died on Thursday in Pittsfield, Mass. He was 86 and lived in West Stockbridge, Mass.

The cause was pneumonia, brought about by complications of Parkinson’s disease, said his wife of 46 years, Juanita, who is his only survivor.

Among the half-dozen instruments he played, from bass flute to soprano saxophone, it was the clarinet that gave him a signature sound; it was a dark, velvety tone, centering in the lower register, pure but rarely forceful. But among the iconoclastic heroes of the late 1950s in jazz, he was a serene oddity, changing his ideas as fast as he could record them.

His album “Tangents in Jazz” (1955) did away with chordal instruments like piano or guitar two years before Sonny Rollins famously did so; his trios from 1956 to 1961 were without a drummer, prefiguring the quieter, classical-timbred music of vanguardist jazz circles in the 1980s.

Little of this impressed more traditional audiences, however. What made Mr. Giuffre important to big-band aficionados was one composition, “Four Brothers,” a big hit for Woody Herman’s Second Herd in 1947. It established the characteristic Herman front-line sound of three tenor saxophones and a baritone saxophone, played fast, in harmony and without vibrato.

Mr. Giuffre (pronounced JOO-free) was born on April 26, 1921, in Dallas. He began playing clarinet at 9. He attended what was then North Texas State Teachers College, where he earned a degree in music in 1942; upon graduation he joined the Army for four years, playing with a quintet in mess halls at mealtimes, and then moved to Los Angeles. After trying graduate work in music, he gave it up to study composition privately.

In the late 1940s he became a freelance arranger and, in some cases, saxophonist for a number of big bands. In the early 1950s West Coast cool jazz began, and Mr. Giuffre took part. Usually playing tenor saxophone, he was in small groups led by Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne and Howard Rumsey.

Meanwhile, he was growing stronger as a composer. Mr. Giuffre’s teacher from 1947 to 1952, Wesley LaViolette, emphasized the virtues of contrapuntal writing, and counterpoint became the structural glue for Mr. Giuffre’s art, making some of his most outré experiments hold together. Mr. LaViolette also taught Mr. Giuffre that jazz could accommodate any amount of composition, not just for the front-line instruments but for all of them, and in the mid-’50s Mr. Giuffre began to write specific parts for bass and drums, sometimes winnowing their roles to providing color and accent.

The late-’50s versions of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 — with the guitarist Jim Hall and the bassist Ralph Pena, then with Mr. Hall and the trombonist Bob Brookmeyer — gained him some commercial renown. (The Giuffre-Hall-Brookmeyer trio is immortalized in a sequence in the film “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” playing its best-known piece, “The Train and the River.”)

If Mr. Giuffre was long on ideas, he was not a partisan in aesthetic matters. Though he prized his even, smooth sound quality on clarinet, he did not disdain players who had a more fractured sound. He never saw an irreconcilable split between American and European influences. He admitted that the instrumentation for his late-’50s trios had a European inspiration, Claude Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp; at the same time he used those trios to convey a sense of rustic, bluesy Americana.

From the mid-’50s on, Mr. Giuffre taught music, initially at the Lenox School of Jazz, the late-summer educational conference in Lenox, Mass., which existed from 1957 to 1960. (A remark made the rounds at the time: when told that Mr. Giuffre would be there to teach clarinet, among other things, the writer André Hodeir joked, “Who will be teaching the upper register?”)

It was at Lenox that Mr. Giuffre first encountered Ornette Coleman, a scholarship student at the school, in 1959. Mr. Giuffre was knocked sideways by Mr. Coleman’s conviction and freedom and had a sort of ecstatic transformation.

In short order Mr. Giuffre changed his music again. The result was the moody, overlapping improvisations with no fixed key or tempo that characterize the playing of his trio with Paul Bley on piano and Steve Swallow on bass, heard on the ECM reissues “1961” and “Free Fall.” This trio lasted for less than two years, playing ever more uncompromising music; Mr. Swallow wrote that the group made its last stand at a Bleecker Street coffeehouse in New York, finally breaking up on a night when each musician earned 35 cents.

But when “1961,” a pairing of trio albums, was reissued in 1992, it was greeted with awe by some younger musicians and critics for its prescience about the post-1960s jazz landscape. The album received a five-star rating in Down Beat.

A similar belated reception awaited “Free Fall,” which included some piercing, agitated solo improvisations. Though the album was a commercial failure on its initial release in 1963, when Columbia brought it out again 25 years later, “The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD” gave it the book’s highest rating.

After “Free Fall” Mr. Giuffre’s momentum was broken: he made no albums for 10 years. He taught at the New School and New York University, and in 1978 he joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where he taught until the early 1990s. He also created another version of the Jimmy Giuffre 3, which turned to sounds from Africa and Asia; in the 1980s he made a series of quartet recordings for the Italian label Soul Note.

Also in the ’80s he formed a productive association with the French saxophonist André Jaume, who recorded Mr. Giuffre several times on Mr. Jaume’s label, CELP. As a duo, the two musicians recorded a live album, “Momentum” (Hatology). The 1961 edition of Jimmy Giuffre’s trio, with Mr. Bley and Mr. Swallow, reunited sporadically for performances and recordings, including “The Life of a Trio” (Owl, 1990) and “Conversations With a Goose” (Soul Note, 1992).

Bruce Weber contributed reporting.

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