April 25, 2008 4:48 PM   Subscribe

Multi-instrumentalist on the reeds, arranger for Woody Herman's band, pioneer of chamber jazz and free jazz, musician and teacher, Jimmy Giuffre (wiki) died yesterday at the age of 86 (NYT obit).

From the NYT obit. just linked to:

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.

Here's a trio clip (w/Jim Hall on guitar) that's worth a watch.

Among his recordings, I cannot recommend highly enough Giuffre's highly regarded, atmospheric masterpiece, 1961: featuring Paul Bley on piano and Steve Swallow on bass, these understated 1961 recordings have a haunting, bittersweet sound that plays like the soundtrack to a noir movie.
posted by ornate insect (18 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
posted by jammy at 5:07 PM on April 25, 2008

also of note is Giuffre's revolutionary 1962 recording for Columbia, Free Fall.

This record is one of the more "out" records of its time: as pioneering for being experimental/avant garde as anything in jazz at that time.
posted by ornate insect at 5:10 PM on April 25, 2008

Bad week for jazz musicians.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:23 PM on April 25, 2008

Bad week for jazz musicians.

Every week's a bad week for jazz musicians. (If by "bad" one means poor, under-recognized, etc). It's also a period when most of the giants are either dead or very old. There's not that many legends left (a few: Hank Jones, Sonny Rollins, etc)
posted by ornate insect at 5:26 PM on April 25, 2008

Damn. Giuffre was one of the greats, and as a white guy who played "out" he fell between all the stools and was probably the least appreciated innovator of the '50s. Free Fall is a superb record, one of the best of its day, and his reward was that he didn't get to make another one for ten years. A lot of jazz fans probably still associate him primarily with Woody Herman and "Four Brothers," which is like associating Miles with the "Birth of the Cool" recordings: undeniably great, but there's so much more. Giuffre had a good long life, but I wish he'd gotten to record more in his prime; at least towards the end he was getting some of the recognition he deserved.

In addition to the great recordings ornate insect mentioned, I'll recommend the Mosaic set (All About Jazz review), which collects his major work from 1954 through 1958, and The Train and the River from 1975—not a masterpiece, but a wonderful session.

Thanks for all the great music, man.
posted by languagehat at 5:33 PM on April 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Listening to the Mosaic set now. What a consolation jazz music is. If everyone listened to jazz, we wouldn't need politics.
posted by languagehat at 5:54 PM on April 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


One of the greatest.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:25 PM on April 25, 2008

Every week's a bad week for jazz musicians. (If by "bad" one means poor, under-recognized, etc). It's also a period when most of the giants are either dead or very old. There's not that many legends left (a few: Hank Jones, Sonny Rollins, etc)

I didn't even know of Giuffre, but felt welling in me a semi-automatic sadness when I saw this. Jazz - and poetry, and even the novel, to some degree - have hovering about them a valedictory air that sometimes makes it hard to see the art as it is. Part of this is just pointless nostalgia for some undefined time when the form was culturally relevant, which I can bat away - great art is great art, and when it was made doesn't matter - but there's also a very real sense of something vital fading away, and mourned more out of piety than grief.

So thanks for the recommendations, guys. I'll do my best to listen.
posted by dyoneo at 6:55 PM on April 25, 2008

There was a Jimmy Giuffre record that got me through college, somehow between him and Mingus and Monk (and some others) I was finally able to understand and really feel what was so special about Jazz. Rest in peace Jimmy and thank you.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:17 PM on April 25, 2008

Oh man, that's too bad. RIP, dear sir.
posted by sleepy pete at 7:34 PM on April 25, 2008

That Allmusic review of Free Fall is worth quoting at a little length:

Jimmy Giuffre's 1962 recording for Columbia with his trio is one of the most revolutionary recordings to come out of the 1960s. While Coltrane and Coleman and Taylor were trying to tear music down from the inside out to discover what it really counted for, Giuffre was quietly creating his own microtonal revolution that was being overlooked by other avant-gardists in jazz. On Free Fall, Giuffre, pianist Paul Bley, and bassist Steve Swallow embarked on a voyage even farther-reaching than their previous two Verve albums, Fusion and Thesis (both recorded in 1961), in their search of pointillistic harmony, open-toned playing, and the power of the nuanced phrase to open new vistas for solo or group improvisation...

Indeed, Free Fall was such radical music, no one, literally no one, was ready for it and the group disbanded shortly thereafter on a night when they made only 35 cents apiece for a set. Reissued in 1999, Free Fall predates all of the European microtonal studies and is indeed an inspiration to all who have embraced it.

Thanks for that clip, ornate insect; it was stunning.
posted by mediareport at 7:37 PM on April 25, 2008

posted by Wolof at 8:22 PM on April 25, 2008


I had the opportunity to study and play with him at NEC in 1992. From 16 years out, I can safely say that I didn't appreciate what an invaluable resource I had at my disposal. Unfortunately, he was already pretty frail at the time.

dyoneo, don't write off Jazz just yet. Not sure where you live, but here in NYC there's all kinds of great (new and old) stuff going on. Is it still under-appreciated? Absolutely. Are Jazz musicians phenomenally under-compensated, in light of the work, passion, and commitment they put into their craft? You'd better believe it. But the music is absolutely there...
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:10 PM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:54 AM on April 26, 2008

posted by Thorzdad at 4:51 AM on April 26, 2008

posted by Marquis at 12:17 PM on April 26, 2008

posted by nicolin at 3:28 AM on April 27, 2008

posted by BrotherCaine at 7:35 AM on April 27, 2008

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