Jimmy Gourley: Cool Guitar

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I most recently posted about guitarist Jimmy Gourley last year. As I noted at the time, Gourley was an American born in St. Louis who moved to Paris in 1951 and died in France in 2008. Enamored of Jimmy Raney's playing style, a combination of several picking techniques, Gourley gigged and recorded with French jazz artists in Paris as well as touring Americans. Why move to Paris in the first place?

Apparently, Chicago was too depressing for Gourley given the morass of jazz musicians hooked on heroin in the late 1940s and in 1950. The event that likely convinced Gourley to remain in Paris was the shocking death of his friend and guitarist Ronnie Singer, a heroin addict.

Singer and his wife, Jennie, had been married for two years. They were found fully clothed on a bed at New York's Colborne Hotel at 79 Washington Place in Greenwich Village in December 1953. Their deaths were listed as a suicide pact.

To quote from Jordi Pujol's liner notes in this wonderful Fresh Sound release, The Cool Guitar of Jimmy Gourley: Quartet & Trio Sessions 1953-1961:

Gourley had been told that France had a good jazz scene, and he thought that it could be a good country to start a new stage in his life. So he applied for a scholarship for former American combatants under the G.I. Bill... Gourley arrived in Paris sometime in April 1951 to study piano and French. But his true calling was jazz, and so it didn't take him long to meet Henri Renaud, a young pianist, a staunch follower of Al Hag and an enthusiast of cool jazz.

What we hear on the new Fresh Sound release are four sessions—one with Renaud in October 1963, one with American bassist Buddy Banks in October 1954, and two as the leader of a quartet in January and October of 1961. All showcase Gourley's ringing guitar sound and swinging style. His taste level was extraordinary. Like many top guitars of the period, he could take any song turn it into a hip expression.

As for Ronnie Singer, Gourley was said to have tapes of the unrecorded guitarist whom Gourley thought was on par with Raney or better. At the time of his death, Gourley was allegedly trying to get them issued. It's unclear what happened to the tapes. Hopefully someone will reach out to Singer's sister, Joyce, who is on Facebook as “Ronnie Singer."

JazzWax clips: Here's You're a Lucky Guy...



And here's Changing My Tune...



Bonus: Here's Jimmy Gourley, organist Lou Bennett and drummer Kenny Clarke...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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