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In Memoriam: Jimmy Giuffre (1921-2008)

By Published: June 15, 2008
—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


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