All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

General Articles

In Memoriam: Jimmy Giuffre (1921-2008)

By Published: June 15, 2008
Jimmy was quite an addition to my life. He was kind of a father figure to me, especially since my old man split when I was seven. I learned so much from Jimmy musically. For instance, if he had written something and he wanted the melody phrased a certain way, he would say, "Try to make those notes string together" so it sounded more like a wind instrument though played by guitar. Especially because I would be playing lines along with Jimmy—first with [bassist] Ralph Pena and we went through a few other bassists and eventually the trio was with [Bob] Brookmeyer and me. So I was a soloist and a rhythm player. He didn't change how I played, but tried to make my playing fit in. And he was open to everything. He was a help personally and musically. I admired him as a person, his integrity. I remember when I met Jim; I had first arrived in LA coming from Cleveland. They had these jam sessions in Hollywood and I saw him outside. I told him how much I enjoyed his playing and he said, "Same to ya" in his Texas accent. And one of the last conversations we had over the phone when he was deep into the Parkinson's, his wife Juanita was holding the phone up to his ear and I was telling him how important he was to me and he said, "Same to ya." That's the kind of the closure we had.

—JIM HALL, Guitarist

Jimmy was a strong man. I talked to his lovely wife quite a few years ago (maybe 10!) and asked to speak to Jimmy—she said "Be prepared!" We exchanged some words (from me) and not clear words from Jim, until in slow but clear articulation he said, "I wish we could play together!" He was a big musician—did everything, very personally and fresh. He wrote music for five saxophones (Lee Konitz Meets Jimmy Giuffre, 1959) and music for a brass section and me (You and Lee, 1959) and we did an album with Paul Bley (IAI Festival, 1978). Jim was lucky all these last years; Juanita his wife took loving care of him. I was lucky to have done some music with him.

—LEE KONITZ, Saxophonist

My friend, my brother, Jimmy Giuffre, was a quiet storm, an always-evolving artist who pushed his own musical boundaries without regard to the consequences. No one sounds like Jimmy. No one ever will. A profound musician is gone from us.

—GEORGE RUSSELL, Composer

When I was a little kid I used to go into a club on Hollywood Blvd. & Vine and Shorty Rogers was playing there and Jimmy Giuffre was in the band, and they'd let me sit in with them. Jimmy had an apartment on Melrose with Gene Roland and I used to go there and hang out. Then Jimmy Giuffre got a chance to do his first record on his own, as a leader, with Capitol Records and he gave me the job. It was my first recording session...at the old Capitol Records on Melrose next to Nicodell's. Then we went on to do Tangents In Jazz... it was just drums and bass, sax and trumpet; he was always very modern. I played with him off and on until he moved to New York. We worked a lot together. We worked at The Lighthouse and The Crescendo in Hollywood. So he gave me my first chance in jazz. He was always a great player and a great writer.

—JACK SHELDON, Trumpeter

Many called Jimmy Giuffre's music "understated" but I consider it one of the bolder statements in jazz: that you could swing without drums, find clarity without form, speak volumes without volume. Above all this was sound: his horns, his tunes, his groups. If jazz and improvised music is in a healthy state these days (and I'm one that thinks it is), Jimmy Giuffre is much to be thanked.

—JAMES FALZONE, Clarinetist

He was a remarkable man. He composed most of the material that the Lighthouse group played in the early '50s. In an album, the first we ever did in the Lighthouse (Early Days, Vol. 1) with Shorty Rogers, Art Pepper, Shelly Manne—we recorded most of his tunes then. He of course wrote "Four Brothers" for Woody Herman and for me he wrote "Four Others." We played "Four Brothers" every night. That was so wonderful, coming out of the roaring Herman band. It meant a lot to me because I came from the Kenton era, from that side. Coming from him, the Herman side—I felt I had a more complete view of the period. When both leaders decided they wanted a break, their band members were stranded in the LA area and because of the musicians union they couldn't take a steady job. They had to work for two months to get a regular card, but because Jimmy and them were working for me at the Lighthouse, the first two months allowed them to get a Local 47 card. That was the real reason Jimmy first started working for me and it was a real pleasure to work with him. One thing that Giuffre did, that seemed to me to be his most valuable contribution, is that he tied the East and West Coasts together because he fit on both sides. He projected material for both sides. And he was never the kind of guy that was looking for applause. He seemed to live on the fact that he knew what he was doing and he was pleasing himself with his work.

—HOWARD RUMSEY, Bassist

I met Jimmy in 1986, when Andre Jaume came to study with him at his home. We had dinner, listened to some music and it was then that I asked about "The Train and The River." When I mentioned how much I loved this composition, a sparkle came in his eye and he disappeared, returning with the original manuscripts. He said the music heard on Jazz on a Summer's Day was only a part of this larger work. Uniquely, Andre Jaume, Raymond Boni and I had been playing together in a trio for some time, with instrumentation similar to Jimmy's trio with Bob Brookmeyer and Jim Hall. This was not something we planned, it was just so. To celebrate his 70th birthday, we decided to make a recording of some of Jimmy's tunes, add some of our originals dedicated to him and present it to him (Impressions of Jimmy Giuffre). A year later Jimmy and Andre invited me to join them on their duo date River Station, for one of the pieces. As we were at dinner just before the session, Jimmy asked what instrument I intended to play and I replied, "valve trombone." There again came the sparkle in his eye.

—JOE MCPHEE, Multi-instrumentalist

From 1961-63, Jimmy Giuffre elevated the role of the clarinet in jazz to its former status in the glory years of the Big Band Era. I was one of those "younger musicians" in 1992 that listened with a "sense of awe" (New York Times) to ECM's re-release of 1961—a pairing of the albums, Fusion and Thesis—that Giuffre recorded with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow. As a "young" clarinetist I sought out models to emulate, a rare thing to find in the early '90s. Along with John Carter, Giuffre paved the way for musicians like me to persevere with the instrument in a creative environment. His virtuoso playing, exquisite tone and adventurous compositional sense was everything one could ask for from a role model.

—FRANCOIS HOULE, Clarinetist

It was such an honor and a privilege to have not only known you but also had the opportunity to do some music together. Your embodiment of authenticity, creative naturalness, musical integrity, playfulness and good humor will continue for me as a constant source of inspiration.

—GARY PEACOCK, Bassist

James is a prince. He came up to me at a club in the village—the Five Spot—when I was playing with Oliver Nelson, and he asked me if I would play and record with him. That was how we first met. It was then I agreed to join his band. I left him to go with Sonny Rollins for a year, but other than that we've been in regular contact. And I could only leave with his consent—he had first call. For him, the proof of musicians is to play better tomorrow than you did yesterday. I remember we once did a concert outdoors in an Italian amphitheater—a miniature Coliseum—with people sitting on layers of stone. Giuffre showed up and when we were doing the sound check, he distributed the written music of his compositions. Well, a Shakespearean wind rose up and blew all of Giuffre's written music all over the amphitheater! He took it as a sign that we wouldn't need written music any longer and we never turned a page from that point on.

—PAUL BLEY, Pianist

I have been lucky with musical partners in my long life but there is one guy who remains in a special place—Jimmy Giuffre. He showed me a lot about courage, belief, trust and the dream. He pursued me mercilessly to join him (over my continued objections) and one Sunday afternoon in November he got me out to dinner—three hours later I was the new member of the J.G. Three—no bass, no drums. It worked so well and Jimmy was so right. I left too early, only to resume a studio life in NY—Jim then went on to Bley, Swallow and the ultra modern Three. It was not popular but it was a huge step ahead in our music. Typically, Jimmy studied clarinet for a year, became a virtuoso and never looked back. I will always be in awe of his courage and dedication. He was a man of his time and a man ahead of his time.

—BOB BROOKMEYER, Trombonist

I honestly don't know what I could add to the volumes being written about Jimmy Giuffre's genius, his commitment to his art and his great contributions to American music. But then there's the man the public didn't know, a generous, fun-loving, courteous, soft-spoken gentleman with a sharp sense of humor that could zap you if you weren't paying attention. A few years ago I was visiting Juanita and Jimmy at their West Stockbridge home. Already subdued by Parkinson's, Jimmy was confined to a wheelchair. Most of his mobility was gone and only Juanita could decipher his efforts to speak. It was heartbreaking to see him that way. We were all gathered around the kitchen table, consuming Chinese takeout and talking about music, people, old times, etc., when I felt Jimmy poking my arm. He was looking at me with great concern. He mumbled something unintelligible, then very slowly and with great effort, raised a palsied arm toward the ceiling. Following his pointing finger, I looked up and saw...the ceiling. Nothing else. I held the pose long enough to be polite, then looked back at Jimmy. Damn! Eight years on the road with the man, I should have known! While I was properly diverted, Jimmy had grabbed a large shrimp off my plate, stuffed it into his mouth and was grinning at me ear to ear. It was impossible not to love this man.

—PETE LEVIN, Keyboardist

Just being around Jimmy was wonderful because the feeling of his being was very high; he was very calm, with a burning intensity inside. He was one of the first people I knew who studied Zen, and he had a very Zen quality. He didn't speak a lot; he used no extra verbiage, just like how he played. He was a very special man, and a major influence.

—PERRY ROBINSON, Clarinetist

Jimmy Giuffre taught me patience, in music and in life. He directed my attention to the smallest details of the music we played together, and smiled benignly on as I uncovered layers I hadn't suspected. I think I learned more about how to play my instrument from him than from any bassist. I won't forget the limitless faith he had that I'd learn what he needed me to know, a quality that made him a great bandleader and a cherished friend.

—STEVE SWALLOW, Bassist

Sad loss for the world of music...hopefully, a peaceful ending for one of our gifted musicians. We were friends from the late '40s on. I talked him into leaving a clothing store position, where he was working to support a large family, and joining the Buddy Rich Band as tenor player and orchestrator... creating a new sound for Buddy...and late nights after the gig to complete writing the book. Soon after we reached New York, he wrote "Four Brothers" for Woody Herman's band and the rest is history. He wrote some wonderful, innovative material for my RCA The Jazz Workshop recording and also I remember some things he wrote for the Lee Konitz sax section album. He had a unique approach and will always be remembered for his dedication and endless energy to find new ways to express himself.

—HAL MCKUSICK, Saxophonist

Jimmy Giuffre had a connection with music that bespoke great spiritual understanding. Pure, 'vibrational,' soothing, and intriguing, Jimmy made a music that defied categorization and generic branding. Was it jazz? Sort of. Was it chamber music? Kind of. I will leave it to academics and jazz scholars to surmise what exactly was happening on a technical level; I am happy with the smiles and the tears it continues to draw from me. Never one to deny the artistic impulse, Jimmy helped charter a creative path that many of us, myself included, still follow. We all have self-doubt about our choice to pursue a life of music, but all I have to do is listen to a few measures of Jimmy playing "Jesus Maria" and the feeling of my heart swelling as if it's about to break reminds me of the virtue of the struggle. Thank you Jimmy.

—JEREMIAH CYMERMAN, Clarinetist

The main thing I got from Jimmy was a sense of purity and truth. We were beginning a rehearsal and I was tuning my bass. This was at the very beginning for me (1980-ish) since it was my upright bass, which I only played with him a year or so at the beginning and then again some at the end. Jimmy says to me, "What are you doing?" I said "I'm tuning up." Then Jimmy said, "Well it doesn't sound like music. Don't ever touch your instrument unless you intend to make music." I got his point, and I agree with him, that it is too easy to get in the habit of taking the easy way with music and just fooling around. Don't ever take music for granted. He didn't want anything to be habitual, not vibrato, not anything.

—BOB NIESKE, Bassist

I first met Jimmy Giuffre in New York in 1970; I was working with Sheila Jordan at the time. Jimmy expressed an interest in trying drums after so many years and she told him about me. He invited me to his home—we played a blues, then he gave me a part to read and said I was hired. We did two records in the '70s (with bassist Kiyoshi Tokunaga). Jimmy had a vision for this music as he always did, then in the '80s Jimmy had yet another vision—electric—which took his writing to another place. Jimmy found Bob Nieske and Pete Levin; it was magical. We called ourselves an eating band. Jimmy was my mentor, my friend and my hero. All the best Tex.

—RANDY KAYE, Drummer


comments powered by Disqus