Jimmy Giuffre was born in Dallas, Texas in 1921. He has had many accomplishments in a long career that has never been predictable, an eclectic musician who has always gone on his own way, quietly blazing new trails in jazz. He began playing clarinet at age 9 and later added saxophones and flutes. Giuffre received his Bachelor of Music Degree from North Texas State Teachers College (now known as North State Texas University) and performed with local bands. After a stint with the official Air Force band, he became an arranger and saxophonist with the Boyd Raeburn Band, the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra and the Buddy Rich Band. He then began playing and writing for Woody Herman & His Thundering Herd, gaining much notice for his 1947 composition “Four Brothers,” which featured a new saxophone sound and became a jazz classic, and was inducted into the NARAS Hall of Fame in 1984.
In the early 1950s he moved to Los Angeles and became a fixture in what was to be known as “West Coast Jazz Movement.” There he studied with Dr. Wesley La Violette, one of Jimmy’s major influences in the field of composition, and developed a reputation as a exceptional reed player (on tenor and baritone saxophones and clarinet), as well as a fine composer. He was with Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All Stars (1951-2) and Shorty Rogers’ Giants (1952-6), recording with many top West Coast jazz players. In 1956 he went out on his own, forming the Jimmy Giuffre 3 with guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Ralph (later Jim Atlas). Giuffre had a minor hit with his recording of “The Train and the River,” a song that he played during his notable appearance on the 1957 television special The Sound of Jazz. In 1958 he had the most unusual trio with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and guitarist Jim Hall (no piano, bass or drums!). They are also heard playing “The Train and the River” in the famed Newport Jazz Festival movie Jazz on a Summer’s Day.
His music gradually changed to a new, quiet free jazz, with the creation of the new Jimmy Giuffre 3 with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow in 1961. During those years, Giuffre composed many extended works for larger ensembles, most notably, a work written for brass “Pharaoh,” which was recorded in 1956 on the historic Columbia Records album with Miles Davis and the Brass Ensemble of the Jazz and Classical Music Society. And it was later released in a collection of Outstanding Jazz Composition of the 20th Century. “Pharaoh” has since received numerous concert performances at various colleges and universities, and by other performing organizations. Giuffre also composed and recorded on Verve Records in 1964 two outstanding solo clarinet pieces “Piece for Clarinet & String Orchestra” and “Mobiles”; he wrote orchestral music with conductor-improvised cues, both anticipating trends a decade or more in the future.
In the ‘70s, he also began teaching at colleges; he taught at New York University, Rutgers, and the New School of Social Research and the New England Conservatory of Music. In 1983, he recorded several albums on Soul Note records, playing a variety of instruments within a quartet. On one of these recordings in 1993, he reunited with his famed trio with Bley and Swallow. Through the years, he has recorded over 35 albums on various labels, as a leader and with many top jazz players, including the famed Modern Jazz Quartet. Recently Mosaic Records released a multiple CD set “The Complete Capitol and Atlantic Recordings of Jimmy Giuffre.”
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