© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
This feature is essentially made up of three parts, two of which previously posted to the blog. The motivation behind this effort to combine and re-post this information about composer, arranger and reedman Jimmy Giuffre is to have it serve as a kind of a blogospheric substitute of his music until a proper biography of him comes along.
This inducement has been given further impetus by the following statement from an edition of Gene Lees’ Jazzletter which he originally wrote as an introduction to his piece about the significance of Sheldon Meyer, the long-serving editor who did so much to further the cause of Jazz at Oxford University Press.
“In the past few years, I have been only too aware that primary sources of jazz history, and popular-music history, are being lost to us. The great masters, the men who were there, are slowly leaving us. I do not know who said, "Whenever anyone dies, a library burns." But it is true: almost anyone's experience is worth recording, even that of the most "ordinary" person. For the great unknown terrain of human history is not what the kings and famous men did — for much, though by no means all, of this was recorded, no matter how imperfectly — but how the "common" people lived.
When Leonard Feather first came to the United States from England in the late 1930s, he was able to know most of his musical heroes, including Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. By the end of the 1940s, Leonard knew everybody of significance in jazz from the founding figures to the young iconoclasts. And when I became actively involved in the jazz world in 1959, as editor of Down Beat, most of them were still there. I met most of them, and became friends with many, especially the young Turks more or less of my own age. I have lived to see them grow old (and sometimes not grow old), and die, their voices stilled forever. And so, in recent years, I have felt impelled to do what I can to get their memories down before they are lost, leading me to write what I think of as mini-biographies of these people. This has been the central task of the Jazzletter. And always underlying my efforts in the past ten years has been the quiet confidence that, thanks to Sheldon, these works would end up between hard covers on library
shelves for the use of future music historians. That is no longer so.
When I wanted to know something about one aspect or another of music history in the 1960s, I could pick up the telephone and call these older mentors, such as Alec Wilder or my special friend Johnny Mercer, or Robert Offergeld, music editor of Stereo Review when I wrote for it and one of the greatest scholars I have ever known. If I wanted to know something about the history or the technique of film composition, I could telephone my dear, dear friend Hugo Friedhofer, who wrote his first film music in 1929. There was nothing worth knowing about film music that Hugo didn't know; and not much for that matter about the history of all music. I can't call Hugo any more. Or Dizzy. I can't call Glenn Gould either. Gerry Mulligan was ten months older than I. Shorty Rogers died while I was researching the Woody Herman biography; I was to interview him in a week or two.
Now, when my generation is gone, there will be no one much left who knew Duke Ellington and Woody Herman and Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins. All future writers will be dependent not on primary sources, which all of these people were for me, but on secondary sources, which is to say documents. And earlier writings. And I have found much of the earlier writing on jazz, such as that of John Hammond and Ralph J. Gleason, to be unreliable — sloppy in research, gullible in comprehension, and too often driven by personal and even political agendas.
Errors — and lies — reproduce themselves in future writings.
It is in this light that the great body of Sheldon Meyer's work must be seen. And no one has ever more fully embodied the dictum that an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man than Sheldon Meyer. What the world of jazz owes him is beyond estimate, and most of its denizens don't even know his name.”
What follows is not an integrated feature, but rather, one that is made up of three disparate writings about Jimmy Giuffre’s music. The first essay is from Jordi Pujol’s insert notes to the reissue on his Fresh Sound label of The Jimmy Giuffre 3: Hollywood and Newport 1957 [FSCD-1026]. The second focuses on what I consider to be the epitome of Jimmy’s approach to Jazz, the Tangents in Jazz Capitol LP [T-634]. Fortunately, this LP along with Jimmy’s other Capitol and Atlantic LP’s have been reissued by Michael Cuscuna’s Mosaic Label as The Jimmy Giuffre - The Complete Capitol and Atlantic Recordings [MD6-176]. The third part of this feature consists of excerpts from Francis Davis’ excellent insert booklet to this compilation which Michael has allowed to be reproduced on these pages. It was first published on the blog on April 29, 2008, shorty after Jimmy’s death.
I have populated the piece with images of Jimmy drawn from various sources as well as three videos that will give you an idea of the Giuffre approach to Jazz as it sounded during the 1950s before he took up residence in New York and formed his trio with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow. That story and the continuation of Jimmy’s career in the succeeding decades is for another time.
Part 1: The Jimmy Giuffre 3: Hollywood and Newport 1957 [FSCD-1026]
“James Peter Giuffre was born in Dallas on April 26th, 1921. His parents encouraged his interest in music, and when he was 9 years old he started to learn to play an E-flat clarinet. Later, at 14, he became interested in the tenor saxophone. In 1938 he went to the North Texas State Teachers College, where he became close friends with roommates Herb Ellis, Gene Roland and Harry Babasin. The companionship was stimulating and everyone profited from the talkfests and jam sessions. Jimmy earned a Bachelor of Music Degree in 1942, and later that same year he found himself in Air Force blue uniform after graduating. He became a member of the official Air Force band led by Harry Bluestone.
The Air Force band travelled all over, and California featured among the many different places that Jimmy saw. "I knew when I got out that I would settle in either New York or Los Angeles. I chose L.A. because of my teacher, Dr Wesley La Violette, and for its climate. I was able to study with Dr La Violette on the G.I. Bill, and that was a very fortunate thing". In 1946 his old college buddy Harry Babasin, who had himself settled in L.A., introduced Jimmy to band-leader Boyd Raeburn, with whom Jimmy stayed briefly. From then through 1955 he worked with Jimmy Dorsey, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Garwood Van, Spade Cooley, The Lighthouse All Stars and Shorty Rogers' Giants. During those years he combined his professional playing with the study of composition with Dr La Violette.
Much of Jimmy's musical thinking stemmed from his studies with Dr La Violette: "I studied with him for 10 years, and he opened up things for me so I could use an imaginative approach. There was no system really, just broad principles. I studied the music, and he taught me the principles. They have to be there for the music to be lasting. He also helped me to break down the inhibitions I had. He made me realize I could do things my own way. The clarinet helped too. There was only one way I could play it, in the middle and low register. My lip just wasn't ready to play in the higher register". Shelly Manne and Shorty Rogers helped him when work was tough to find. Both helped him even further than that - "Shelly was the first who allowed me to write any way I wanted and who encouraged me," Giuffre recalled. "This was while I was playing with them in the group. It really helped a lot to get that from someone you liked and respected. And Shorty allowed me to play the clarinet any way I wanted and with the rhythm section in a way that felt comfortable for me. That was good of Shorty,and it helped me discover the way I wanted to do things." Further, Jimmy was encouraged to take the steps necessary to form his own group, to play his own kind of music. "Shorty had a wonderful attitude towards me," added Giuffre, "He said: 'You're a musician. Play the way you want to'".
It was in the Los Angeles area that the Jimmy Giuffre Trio was born, and Jimmy termed the birth "miraculous." At the time he is quoted as saying: "it was miraculous that a group comes so close in a meeting of the minds in music. I don't know if there's even a handful of musicians who would want to play as we play. And it's such an advantage to have the same home base." Although Giuffre might have wanted to experiment further with the group which cut "Tangents in Jazz" for Capitol, he foresaw the problems of getting those musicians to go out on the road with him, and in obtaining adequate substitutes for them if he they did go. Somehow he combined with Jim Hall and his sensitive amplified guitar and Ralph Pena with his big-toned bass. "It could have been two instruments," Jimmy said, "but the important thing was I found two men who thought my way. So, that's how the trio was."
A lot of his musical feelings came from the work he'd done with his horns. Jimmy's distillation of the tones on the reed instruments he played - the clarinet, tenor and baritone saxophones - often startled listeners on first hearing. The clarinet had a true woody sound, almost as if it were a pipe or a wind-blown wood instrument. The tenor had a soft, pure sound. The baritone was hoarse, but never rasping or aggressive. Because he used such stiff reeds, Jimmy often sounded breathy on the horns. This is among the reasons he and the group were so sensitive to the balance in any location they appeared. Giuffre was always cautious and concerned about his horns. "If you've got a bad reed, you can think you've got the wrong instrument. You can feel like you never should have taken up the sax. My reeds are stiff, but the sound is the thing. If it is not a pleasing sound, you can't play the music. If my sound is unpleasant, I'm dead. A stiff reed gives a heavier, meatier sound. My sound has gone from harsh to soft. It feels better. It's got to sound good to me. You may think it sounds good, and it doesn't, but you still have to go with the way it feels. If you get the sound that you like, man, you can begin to play some music. If you're not getting a sound you like, and you're sensitive to sound, you might as well go home. You're not going to play any music. The only reason I'm in music is because I like the sounds. What I'm doing is a way to be in music. I couldn't do it just writing, or being in someone's group. The only way is with my own group, and with our own sound. I feel that our best music is the original music that comes out of the trio." And music did come out of the trio. It poured through the Giuffre pen onto the scorepads, was translated into rough form by Jimmy himself, guitarist Jim Hall, and bassist Ralph Pena, and polished into shining form through the combined efforts of the three musicians.
"When a composer sits down to write a pure work, that is, a piece of art music, he doesn't try to duplicate what he did in his previous piece, except, maybe, in mood. Maybe he has a little figure or several bars, and he works with that. We tried to approach the trip that way. Before, I'd start to write a piece and it would continue in that way. The band would play it in the same style as maybe a dozen other bands. But with the trio, we found we had to call on things that we'd never used before. There was a whole new set of requirements. Number one: Each of us had to be able to play a part all by himself and make it speak without depending on a rhythm section. And you've got to learn to do that yourself. You can't depend on someone prodding you. Number two: We had to constantly listen for balance. Number three: We had to learn to find a part that went with the other parts, and which didn't conflict with the important part. There was never any letup. You had to hold your own.
You had a little bit of rest, but that was your lip rest. You had to keep listening because while you're resting, the others were taking over. We put ourselves under the same kind of microscope as a string quartet. It was stimulating. It had to be that way."
In Giuffre's words the music here is a "near equal mixture of writing and adlibbing. There is a folksy, bluesy, down-home, natural, funky air about all the tunes." Downbeat critic Martin Williams said in 1958: "that Giuffre's intentions had been clear a uniquely conceived improvisational chamber music which drew on all kinds of American popular and folk forms as well as jazz. The substitution of Brookmeyer's trombone for bass not only enlarged an already remarkably full texture but opened a formerly tight and self-limiting structure into a free and widening one; the lack of time-keeping (except occasionally from Jim Hall's guitar) was no loss, but a release in almost every respect."
The music on this CD, taken "live" from the "Stars of Jazz" KABC TV-show [Oct. 27, 1958] and from the Newport Jazz Festival [July 4, 1958], is of enduring value, and fully demonstrates the talented writing of Jimmy Giuffre. He has always been an intensely stimulating player.
Cover photo: Ray Avery
Produced for CD release by Jordi Pujol. © & © 1992 by Camarillo Music Ltd.
Part 2: Tangents in Jazz
© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“It’s just one way and every man must go his own way.”
- Jimmy Giuffre, Down Beat, November 30, 1955
“Jimmy is an innovator and much has been written about his contributions to clarinet playing style and to Jazz composition, but this is secondary. It is the basic quality of his music, with its uncontrived simplicity and glowing inner feeling that sets Jimmy apart.”
- Gary Kramer, liner notes to The Jimmy Giuffre 3 [Atlantic 1254]
“the spirit of Jazz suffuses all of these performances …and important step in the long Giuffre musical odyssey … they are simply marvelous, full of life brimming with ideas, and chock-full of rich, rewarding, imaginative writing and playing.”
- Peter Keepnews, liner notes to the PAUSA: Jazz Origins reissue of Giuffre’s 1950 Capitol LPs
“When one listens to Giuffre's music for what it is—and not for what one thinks it should be—the beauties of this rich and strange musical landscape begin to emerge. Or rather, landscapes. For Giuffre never found a single musical Garden of Eden, a definitive style or format he could stay in for long. Like his more celebrated contemporary Miles Davis, Giuffre remains a musical chameleon, a distinctive stylist who constantly feels compelled to change his sonic setting.”
- Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1969 [p.227]
Almost forty years after I first heard it, I tracked down Jimmy Giuffre and wrote him a letter about how much I enjoyed the music on his Capitol LP – Tangents in Jazz [T-634].
Jimmy was living in Massachusetts and I in San Francisco at the time. Because of health issues, his wife Juanita helped compose his response. Juanita, a professional photographer, also kindly enclosed a portrait of Jimmy which he had autographed,
In my letter to him, I explained that I had been particularly taken with the four relatively short pieces on the Tangents in Jazz LP entitled Scintilla I-IV.
On the album, the four-parts of Scintilla are sequenced: Scintilla II, Scintilla I, Scintilla IV and Scintilla III.
On a lark, I had decided to re-track these four Scintilla parts and record them in consecutive, numeric sequence.
I had included a copy of a tape recording with the re-sequenced Scintilla I-IV along with my letter to Jimmy.
In his reply, Jimmy shared that this was the first time that he had heard this music in its original order since he wrote and recorded it in June, 1955!
He also explained that although Will McFarland’s liner notes to the LP indicate the four Scintilla pieces being played in numerical order, somehow when the album was being prepared for pressing, it was sequenced according to the Master numbers assigned to each track when they were recorded on June 6,7,10, 1955.
Interestingly, when Mosaic Records reissued these recordings as CDs and LPs as part of their The Complete Capitol and Atlantic Recordings of Jimmy Giuffre [Mosaic MD6-176], Mosaic also used the master track sequence instead of grouping the four Scintilla tracks as a consecutive, interconnected musical “suite.”
So what you hear as the audio track to the following video tribute to Jimmy is the four-part Scintilla suite in the original sequence. And unless one has re-tracked and recorded this music in a similar manner, no one has heard this music quite this way before.
The video is followed by Jimmy’s “Questions and Answers” about the music on the album which form the original LP’s liner notes, excerpts from Will McFarland’s descriptions of Scintilla I-IV and a postscript on the album by Ted Gioia.
As an aside, I got to know Artie Anton, the drummer on these tracks, quite well as he was for many years a drum shop proprietor and drum teacher in near-by North Hollywood, CA. He always considered his playing on Jimmy’s 1950s Capitol recordings as “one of my most enjoyable times in music.” He would also declare to anyone who would spare him the time to listen to them that his “… playing on these cuts proves that the drums are a musical instrument [big smile – His]!.”
The puckish trumpet work is provided by the inimitable Jack Sheldon; also prominent on all these performance is the robust bass tone of Ralph Pena who sadly left us much-too-quickly at age 42 because of his involvement in a fatal car accident in Mexico.
“A top-level soloist and writer makes his most daring move to date: Jimmy Giuffre sets forth a bold new form for improvised music.
The music is revolutionary; yet its advent was a foreseeable, logical step in jazz maturation. Giuffre's new concept is controversial ; its evidence here is a must for serious jazz-followers, yet the range of its appeal is so unpredictable that its champions could include bouncing dilettantes, hard-shell traditionalists, even jazz-apathists.
Specifically, this music puts on view a quartet that functions without an audible beat — no walking bass, no riding cymbal; yet thanks to Giuffre's indomitable folksiness, this flouting of tradition results in jazz that out-thumps the music of most of his heavy-handed neighbors.
Jimmy answers some leading questions...
Q What is this music?
A Jazz, with a non-pulsating beat. The beat is implicit but not explicit; in other words, acknowledged but unsounded. The two horns are the dominant but not domineering voices. The bass usually functions somewhat like a baritone sax. The drums play an important but non-conflicting role.
Q Why abandon the sounded beat?
A For clarity and freedom. I've come to feel increasingly inhibited and frustrated by the insistent pounding of the rhythm section. With it, it's impossible for the listener or the soloist to hear the horn's true sound, I've come to believe, or fully concentrate on the solo line. An imbalance of advances has moved the rhythm from a supporting to a competitive role.
Q But isn't the sounded beat an integral part of jazz?
A The sounded beat once made playing easier, but now it's become confining. And to the degree that the beat was there to guide dancers, it is, of course, no longer necessary to concert jazz. I think the essence of jarz is in the phrasing and notes, and these needn't change when the beat is silent. Since the beat is implicit, this music retains traditional feeling; not having it explicit allows freer thinking.
Q Hasn't this been done before, particularly by you?
A Several of today's writers have dropped all sounded beat for contrast, but never for an entire work. I've written works completely lacking sounded beat, but the difference between this music and all previous work is the use of the drums. My previous attempts at this approach, while achieving some of the clarity I sought, were always vaguely unsatisfactory to me until I realized the trouble: the drums, by their nature, cannot carry a simultaneous or overlapping line; when the drum is struck, any other note is obliterated, and attention is torn away from any other line. In this music, the drums' lines are integrated but isolated.
Q How is it possible to ensure this isolation during solos, when tacit is usually unpredictable?
A By writing rests in the ad lib parts, allowing the drums to fill. I strive to write the rests at natural phrase endings, holding restriction to a minimum.
Q But isn't there generally more restriction — don't the soloists have a good deal less freedom than before?
A In a sense, they have more freedom. No longer fed a stream of chords, or fighting a pounding beat, they are free to get a more natural sound out of their horns, and try for all sorts of new effects.
Q Didn't you have to select your musicians with extra care?
A Yes, I discussed my plans at length with each of them to make sure they were completely attuned to the project. Artie Anton, the drummer, has had wide band experience; from the beginning he was sympathetic to my new ideas. He is a skilled reader, as is Ralph Pena, a bassist with great sound, jazz feeling and a classical background, who has worked with many big bands and Stan Getz. Pena has recorded previously with me, as has Jack Sheldon, an ex-Lighthouse trumpeter who has also recorded under his own name. Sheldon is a major soloist, and fits perfectly into my conception of the quartet.
Q This music is such a sharp departure; do you have any misgivings about making the leap?
A This music is no novelty; it's the result of almost a decade of formal study, the culmination of all my thinking, writing and blowing. To me, it seems like sheer insanity to continue to play against that hammering beat. Classical music, once the rhythm is stated, assumed the freedom to move unaccompanied, and if jazz is going to continue to grow, it needs this same freedom.
Q New styles usually provoke extreme reaction; what sort of general judgment do you hope for?
A Early works in a new style necessarily grope; each new tune helps to expand and define the form; this album is not final. All I really ask for this music is an isolated judgment —for what it is, rather than for what it isn't. It isn't an attempt to compete with, or supplant other forms; I knew when I took the step that I must sacrifice a large segment of the usual jazz audience. It is, I think, jazz, and a swinging music, but those are ambiguous terms. Does it excite interest? Is it pleasurable? Does the interest hold up? These are the real questions.
Q You've been considered one of the great blowers with the very sort of rhythm you now flee; are you abandoning it for good?
A As a working musician, I must continue to play other music until the quartet works more steadily, and there are problems — such as the extreme awkwardness of any turnover in personnel. I still enjoy playing with a stomping rhythm section occasionally, but my heart lies here; I believe in this music.
Will McFarland comments on the four Scintilla selections ...
Scintilla One — This bright brief opener, mostly ensemble work, serves both as an introduction to the album and as a basis for three subsequent sparkling variations. There is no improvisation or development as yet, but extensions of the form are heard.
Scintilla Two — The ensemble plays the first eight bars of Scintilla One to introduce a development of that theme — minus extensions. This fast, tough, earnest variation is used as a basis for blowing; it's Giuffre's tenor all the way, very free.
Scintilla Three — Another variation on the root Scintilla, lighter and cute this time, stars the trumpet. Jack Sheldon's depth in running ideas is given plenty of leeway, and the clarinet comments from the middle-ground, half written, half spontaneous.
Scintilla Four — Climaxing the album, Giuffre unveils a stirring development and finale: the drums are fingered; there is imitation; all four players take a final four; all previous Scintilla material is recapitulated and used; a couple of canons, and the concert closes.
– Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1969 [pp. 235-36, paragraphing modified]
“Despite Giuffre's rhetoric, the pieces on Tangents in Jazz do swing. In many ways the listener is even more drawn to the rhythmic element of the music, by the way it moves from instrument to instrument, instead of resting solely with the "rhythm" section. On Tangents Giuffre was again joined by Pena, Sheldon, and Anton, and though none of them stretches out at length during the course of the album, each is very much put in the spotlight as Giuffre employs a wide range of compositional devices: call-and-response figures, two- and three-part counterpoint, unison and harmony lines, canonic devices. These take the place of solos in Giuffre's new conception.
As a filmmaker conveys a sense of momentum through a sequence of rapidly shifting camera angles, Giuffre's constant movement from one musical device to another achieves a similar effect. Part of the achievement of Tangents in Jazz is that, despite the leader's stated disregard for a "propulsive" beat, these pieces are constantly propelled, if not by a metronomic beat, certainly by Giuffre's constant changes in compositional focus. If anything, Giuffre overcompensates on Tangents, avoiding lengthy solos and shifting musical gears with abandon. The result is a highly concentrated music—which may be pleasing to the listener, but also makes severe demands on the attention.”
Part 3: The Jimmy Giuffre - The Complete Capitol and Atlantic Recordings [Mosaic Records MD6-176]
© - Mosaic Records/Francis Davis, used with permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Saddened by the recent passing of Jimmy Giuffre [April 24, 2008], the editorial staff of Jazzprofiles thought it appropriate to pause in its preparation of other articles for the site and to offer a celebration of his memory by making available to its readers these exquisite insert notes that Francis Davis created for the Mosaic series [Jimmy Giuffre - The Complete Capitol and Atlantic Recordings MD6-176]. It has taken some liberties with the paragraphing.
These notes form a discourse on just how much thought Jimmy Giuffre put into his music, as well as, an indication of Mr. Davis’ thoughtful insights about Giuffre and how he created this music.
“Given a long history of animosity between musicians and those who write about music (or merely write about it, as some musicians would say), I hope that Jimmy Giuffre won’t take my suggestion that he would have made an excellent jazz critic the wrong way.
I simply mean that during his most prolific period as a recording artist, beginning with the release of his first 10” LP for Capitol in 1954, Giuffre in interviews and liner notes provided his listeners with a running commentary on his motives and methods, revealing in the process a great deal of knowledge of such other disciplines as philosophy and psychoanalysis.
Reading Giuffre on Giuffre, a critic might despair, because this is one of the rare instances in which a performer has already been as fair and impartial a judge of his own successes and failures as anyone could hope to be.
(Especially for an artist as committed to public trial and error as Giuffre was during the period in which he recorded most frequently. There is also a sense in which a new piece of music can be heard as a critique of the work that came before it – yet another way in which Giuffre beat after-the-fact commentators like myself to the punch).
Best of all, despite seeming to rebuke the jazz rank-in-file of the 1950s for their conformist tendencies, Giuffre never lapsed into what I call the existential fallacy, that leap of hubris by which an artist (or for that matter, any individual) presumes that his new direction is one that everybody should follow.
In one of his earliest pronouncement – a Down Beat [November 30, 1955] article published under his byline in 1955, in which he explained his decision to limit the bass and drums on his controversial new album Tangents in Jazz [Capitol T-634] – he was careful to point out in his lead that he wasn’t trying to “preach a sermon” in order to bring the rest of Jazz into line. “It’s just one way,” he reiterated at the end, “and every man must go his own way.”
Giuffre gave the fullest explanation of his “way” of that time in the liner notes to Tangents in Jazz, answering a series of “leading questions” put to him by an unidentified interviewer (if not annotator Will MacFarland, then possibly Giuffre serving as his own devil’s advocate, a` la Edmund Wilson or Norman Mailer).
“What is this music?” Giuffre was asked.
His reply – “jazz, with a non-pulsating beat” – accurately describes not only Tangents in Jazz, but also the more experimental of his Capitol recordings of a year earlier and some of his atonal work of the same period with Shorty Rogers, Teddy Charles and Shelly Manne. It also applies to most of Giuffre’s subsequent recordings, including even so deceptively “conventional” an effort as his 1957 “cover” of Meredith Wilson’s score for The Music Man.
“The beat is implicit, Giuffre went on to explain, [I]n other words, acknowledged but unsounded. The two horns [in this case, Jack Sheldon on trumpet and Giuffre on clarinet, tenor or baritone] are the dominant but not domineering voices. [Ralph Pena’s] bass usually functions somewhat like a baritone sax. [Artie Anton’s] drums play an important but non-conflicting role ….
I’ve come to feel increasingly inhibited and frustrated by the insistent pounding of the rhythm section. With it, it’s impossible for the listener or the soloist to hear the horn’s true sound. I’ve come to believe, or [to] fully concentrate on the solo line. An imbalance of advances has moved the rhythm from a supportive to a competitive role ….
[T]o the degree that the beat was there to guide dancers, it is, of course, no longer necessary to concert jazz ….
Several of today’s writers have dropped sounded beat for contrast, but never for an entire work. I’ve written works completely lacking sounded beat, but the difference between this music and all previous work is the use of drums. My previous attempts at this approach, while achieving some of the clarity I sought, were always vaguely unsatisfactory to me until I realized the trouble: the drums, by their nature, cannot carry a simultaneous or overlapping line; when the drums is struck any other note is obliterated, and attention is torn away from any other line. In this music, the drum lines are integrated but isolated.”
That may be fine during written passages, Giuffre’s interlocutor challenged, but how can such “isolation” be guaranteed during improvised solos, where a drummer’s responses are impossible to predict?
“By writing rests in the ad lib parts [and] allowing the drums to fill,” Giuffre answered, in effect arguing that composition and improvisation could overlap - a notion that may have struck some listeners of 1955 as far more treasonous than dispensing with the beat, even though it summarizes a lot of Duke Ellington and is practically a truism for today’s jazz avant-garde. “Classical music, once the rhythm is stated, [assumes] the freedom to move unaccompanied, and if jazz is going to continue to grow, it needs this same freedom,” Giuffre insisted, acknowledging that by taking such a giant leap, he risked sacrificing a “large segment of the usual jazz audience.”
Giuffre ultimately did pay a price for his boldness, once going ten years between new releases (after Free Fall in 1963) and being omitted from most contemporary roll calls of the 1950s. Luckily, Giuffre underestimated the progressivism of ‘50s jazz buffs. Although never a force in mainstream culture like Stan Kenton or Dave Brubeck, and never a cause celebre like Lennie Tristano or Ornette Coleman, Giuffre appealed to many of the same listeners, for similar reasons.
Having been acclimated to revolution by bebop in the late 1940s, modern jazz devotees of the 1950s kept their ears peeled for another uprising, and Giuffre was clearly up to something new.
The crux of the controversy that surrounded Giuffre following the release of Tangents in Jazz , reaching a crescendo with the introduction of the first of his several drummer-less trios a year later, was his aversion to the sort of drum thunder then coming to be identified by many as the very heartbeat of jazz.
But in complaining of “an imbalance of advances” in modern jazz, Giuffre was also questioning what he felt was an over-emphasis on harmonic movement at the expense of linear development and subtler aspects of timbre (he later characterized chord changes as “vertical prison” [Loren Stephens, “The Passionate Conviction,” Jazz Review, February, 1960], and in the liner notes to Tangents in Jazz, he identified being “fed a steady stream of chords” by a pianist or a bassist and “fighting a steady beat” as twin evils. Another way of putting it might have been to say that the innovations of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie had followed too quickly on the heels of those of Lester Young, with the result that Young’s still hadn’t been fully absorbed).
Giuffre’s displeasure with the chordal underpinnings of bop gave him something in common with Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan, in addition to anticipating Ornette Coleman. His solution was to substitute melodic counterpoint – which he called “slow motion counterpoint” – for harmonic structure, as well as pronounced beat.
Giuffre told Nat Hentoff in 1957 [“Jimmy Giuffre: Blues in Counterpoint” Saturday Review, July 13,1957]:
“The result is a certain feeling of suspension, of dissonance, if it’s handled right. In slow-motion counterpoint, for example, if one melody is an eight-note pattern that is changing notes often, the other melody changes notes much less often, perhaps every four bars. And for rhythmic interest, the slow-changing line can be broken up by repeated notes and rests. A third line and possibly a fourth could be proceeding at other varying rates of speed simultaneously."
Perhaps in response to a question from Hentoff about where this left the listener, Giuffre went on to explain:
“the contrast between lines made possible by this approach provides the clarity that is necessary to follow all the lines. [A]nd to a certain extent, the listener will have more time to absorb each harmonic feeling, because in my writing, the harmonies are the results of lines, rather than lines being fitted to the harmonies."
Were he less theoretically inclined, or less articulate, the native Texan could just have said that the folk-like material he was then writing for his trio allowed even the most casual listener an easy way in. But in outlining the principles of slow-motion counterpoint in such detail, he was paying tribute to his mentor and the theory’s father, Dr. Wesley La Violette, a Los Angeles-based classical composer and proto-guru whose other followers included Shorty Rogers and John Graas. “He had a great influence on my life,” Giuffre years later told Ted Gioia [West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California 1945-1960, New York: Oxford University Press , 1992]. “His scope of music is limitless …. It has given me the staff of life.”
Giuffre in the 1950’s was a man on a quest, much like Coltrane was a decade later. The difference was that Giuffre’s quest, like his music, was more muted, and that it manifested itself intellectually rather than spiritually. All jazz musicians seek their own sound, or at least pay lip service to that concept. The next step for those who find an individualistic means of expression is to attempt to broaden it into a group sound. For Giuffre, sound was a key to finding out who he was as a person, not just as a musician.
A former sideman with a variety of big bands, including those of Buddy Rich and Woody Herman, Giuffre was 33 when he began recording as a leader – a ripe age for a jazzman, by that day’s standard. He already enjoyed a reputation as a composer and arranger based on the success of his Four Brothers for Woody Herman’s Second Herd in 1947.
(Giuffre has always been quick to point out that he borrowed the idea of four tenor saxophonists – or in the case his anthem for Herman, three tenors and a baritone – playing in harmonic parallel and without a vibrato from Gene Rowland, his former roommate at North Texas State University).
He was in steady demand for gigs and recording sessions around Los Angeles in reward for a versatility that wasn’t limited to his being equally adept on three horns. On Howard Rumsey and the Lighthouse All-Stars’ 1952 recording Big Girl, Giuffre honked like a rock ‘n roller; at the opposite extreme, on Chant of the Cosmos, with Shorty Rogers three years later, he blew unpitched air through his horn without striking a note.
Such versatility is usually thought of as commendable in a musician, but Giuffre soon talked as though it was an elaborate mask for his insecurities, not as an improviser, but as a man.
“I began to see that I … had been changing my personally all the time he told Hentoff [op.cit.]. If I was playing with a Basie-type group, I’d sound more like them, and the same with a bop unit. I was a little bit of Stan Getz and Miles Davis and Charlie Parker and a thousand different things, depending on who I was with."
In a subsequent interview with Dom Cerulli [“Jimmy Giuffre: I’m a Trio Now, he Says, But I Used to Just be a Boor,” Down Beat, September 19, 1957], Giuffre expanded on this theme in a way that his identity crisis wasn’t just musical:
“With the group [the original Jimmy Giuffre 3, with Jim Hall on guitar and Ralph Pena on bass], I’ve found that since the background follows the soloist, I’ve been shaking off all schools. Before, when I felt I was playing in an original manner, I was actually playing like a whole bunch of guys ....
[Dr. La Violette] helped me break down a lot of the inhibitions I’ve had. He made me realize I could do things my own way. The clarinet helped, too. There was only one way I could play it, in the middle and low registers. My lip’s just not ready to play in the high register. I don’t know if I can do it. I think I can, but we’ll see.
As I began to play the way I felt, it became comfortable. I could hear these voices saying I must play the other way. But it felt so good, I said, “The hell with it.” It has reached the point where a lot of the musical ideas I have might be considered old-fashioned or bluesy. I used to wonder, “What will the cats think? What will Miles think? What will Getz think? And Stan is miles ahead of me in technique. But something strange happened. I began to hear it in the music of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Horace Silver, in Gerry Mulligan, in the Getz group with Bobby Brookmeyer.
They were playing with this mood of the old-fashioned blues. It has a fresh new way about it. It sounds like a modern man playing with the old blues feel.”
Revealing that his first wife accused him of being a boor as a human being while a Lighthouse All-Star – a blinkered individual who demonstrated no interest in the solos of his fellow band members and who would go to his room to practice between sets – Giuffre explained to Cerulli that upon forming the 3, he had “developed an interest in [things other than music] and other human beings.”
Said Jim Hall in the same article: “Jimmy has a theory: Through finding yourself and getting a grip on yourself personally, you can do the same thing musically. There is a direct connection between personal and musical directness.”
Still later, in 1959, Giuffre responded to Lorin Stephens’s question “Why was sound so important to you?” by admitting that “perhaps it comes from childhood/”
“It was sort of like not wanting to go out unless I was dressed properly. I couldn’t release the music inside of me unless it sounded perfect – that was the first consideration – to have beautiful sound quality.”
“But why so important?” Stephens persisted.
“Well, it goes with my personality, I’m sure. I won’t accept the thing that I am an introverted personality, which some have tried to make me out. I have gone through periods, and I won’t say that I have shaken them off completely, but I have gone through periods where I was quiet: I like the pastoral, the country; I like Debussy and Delius – I like peaceful moods.”
The music on the following video is Jimmy’s arrangement of Marian the Librarian from Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man.