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In Memoriam: Jimmy Giuffre (1921-2008)

AAJ Staff By

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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.


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 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.


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