© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
As this article attests, there was a time following World War II when it was possible to chart the activities of local Jazzmen through the bimonthly issues of Downbeat and other Jazz magazines published on monthly basis.
It was still a period before televisions settled into family living rooms when people went out to bars, clubs and dance halls for regular entertainment.
Most of these gigs didn’t pay much but it was a time for local musicians to learn their trade by interacting with one another and performing what they were learning as they were learning it in front of an appreciative audience. As Jimmy Gourley would later observe - “Working steady is the greatest.”
Obviously, the majority of them were young, still finding their way in the world and staying dedicated to the music while, hopefully, avoiding the always-lurking pitfalls of the Jazz Life.
In the case of guitarist Jimmy Gourley, his stateside apprenticeship came to a sudden halt in 1951 when he abruptly left for Europe. Why?
At the end of the year Jimmy Gourley decided to leave Chicago with the idea of trying Europe. According to Gourley, his main motivation for leaving Chicago was that drugs were everywhere in the jazz community. "It was happening all around me. Guys dying, guys getting busted, and I did not want to live in that environment."
Here’s the background leading up to that departure and what happened when and after Jimmy got to Paris. This piece also provides a wonderful retrospective on the developments associated with the nascent Jazz scene in Paris in the 1950s.
“Many American musicians visited France after La Liberation, some famous, some not so famous. But, curiously, the guitar as an instrument was always poorly represented, with John Collins' brief stay in May 1948 as the only noteworthy example. Jimmy Gourley became the first prominent guitarist to visit the country in the early 1950s, a time when Django Reinhardt was still the benchmark for jazz guitar in Europe.
Born June 9, 1926, in St. Louis, Missouri, James Pasco Gourley moved to Chicago at the age of 8. His father was the founder of the Monarch Conservatory of Music in Hammond, Indiana (where, sadly, they taught everything but jazz). Jimmy learned to play the guitar at 12, and 3 years later, in 1941, he joined his High School dance band with his friend Lee Konitz, who was then playing tenor saxophone. Their young orchestra performed at the synagogue dances, getting $1 per musician. At that point, Jimmy was content to accompany "with the amp wide open," as he said. He did his first chorus at 17 in some funny circumstances: one day his conductor asked him to play a solo and Jimmy tried to refuse, but he was forced to under threat of not being paid.
He dropped out of high school about six months before graduating. By then he was starting to play steadily, and music "interested me more and more. I was reading, actually taking my first solos, just jumping around," he said. He still had almost eight months left before he was to be drafted and in the meantime he was offered to join a band. "We went to Oklahoma City. It's where I first went and it was fantastic."
After a 6-month tour with the band, Gourley decided to enlist in the United States Navy in 1944 before his number was up. He spent the next two years on a Pacific island, without seeing a Japanese, nor shooting a single shot, just killing time, playing golf and listening to V-Discs. Two years without making any music as well: his father sent him a guitar, but he never received the parcel.
In June 1946, after being discharged, he returned to Chicago, with the firm intention of playing guitar again and rejoining the jazz scene in the Windy City, which was at a low ebb. This didn't deter the local cats though, who were passionate about Jimmy Dale's band, which included several of the best young musicians in town—among them Lee Konitz (as), Lou "Count" Levy (p), Gail Brockman (tp), Kenny Mann (ts). The band had been working together, playing some bebop dates mainly on the South Side of Chicago, but they went on to appear on three successive off-night sessions at the Band Box club.
After that, Dale's band started meeting at the Argyle lounge, where they managed to organize some exciting Monday night sessions. Work was scarce, and most of these musicians played in different modern jazz outfits, especially in the 17-piece band of a Chicago lad by the name of Jay Burkhart, who played a little piano and scored amazingly well. After departing the service in 1946, Burkhart wrote some scores for Gene Krupa before he decided to build his own band, around a nucleus of Marine dance band arrangements (which were written around Vido Musso incidentally). The idea jelled. Comprised of Chicago sidemen, Jay's crew first played the Tune Town in St. Louis, Missouri, and in October 1946 they began a series of weekends at the Rip Tide, in Calumet City, even though the band was still mainly unknown in Chicago.
Burkhart made some changes to the personnel, and worked on building a new book. But beyond the occasional few nights of local work, the group didn't go far financially speaking. Then the owners of the Embassy club at 119th and Michigan took a chance and gave Burkhart Monday nights. Result: the joint was jammed every week, and gained an enthusiastic and loyal following, with a band including such names as Lou Levy, Gail Brockman, Kenny Mann, Sandy Mosse (ts), Bob Anderson (as), Cy Touff (v-tb), and visiting guitarist Jimmy Raney.
Since Jimmy Raney had no specific job offers in New York, he moved from his hometown Louisville to Chicago in June 1945, to work with pianist and vibes player Max Miller. There he also met Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano. Soon he was mingling with Lou Levy, Cy Touff and Sandy Mosse as well, before finally joining Burkhart's band in the fall of 1946. Jimmy Gourley got to play with all of them in jam sessions, a real chance to learn from Raney. And while Raney was not yet the consummate musician he would soon become, he was already playing personal, flowing lines, which would have a definite impact on Gourley's style.
After the success of the Argyle and the Embassy jam sessions, the music scene was getting hipper, and Monday night sessions were catching on. Thus starting September 1947, at the Silhouette club on Howard Street, the so-called "Celebrity Night" brought together a line-up with some of the best local talent. Gene Ammons, Gail Brockman, Lou Levy, Jimmy Raney, or Bob Anderson were among the musicians who would help in the revival of jazz in Chicago, at least in the bebop wing.
Jimmy Gourley joined as many jam sessions as he could for the chance to perform with his friends, invaluable experiences that informed his jazz inclinations. Opportunity called soon, when in January 1948 he became the guitarist of Burkhart's band as a replacement for Jimmy Raney, who left for New York to join the new Woody Herman orchestra at the recommendation of drummer and composer Tiny Kahn. Raney had met Kahn back in June the previous year, while the drummer had been in Chicago with Georgie Auld's Quintet. In his downtime, Kahn was fond of joining local jam sessions, and Raney had managed to make an impression. Another important Burkhart man who had left the orchestra shortly before Raney, was pianist Lou Levy, who went to Sweden with the Chubby Jackson sextet. The vacancy was covered by Gene Friedman.
On Monday, April 19,1948 Burkhart's band began what was a series of coast-to-coast remotes from the Martinique, fed by WON to Mutual. According to Down Beat reporter Ted Hallock: "Burkhart's air shot was a complete gas—great!" A week later they played his second and final remote and job at the club. WGN's director said Burkhart's was "not a dance band; not the type that WGN wants to broadcast." Martinique owner Tony Desantes (also operator of the already defunct Embassy), fired Jay because the band "was just not mickey [corny] enough." But Hallock pointed out that this was due to lack of support and publicity, concluding: "Chicago is showing the first band to show promise of any kind in ten years the back of its [...] hand."
Despite his frustrating experience at the Martinique, Burkhart's boys kept jumping madly, with his accomplished staff of arrangers willing to try anything to spark the fire in that fluid group of young men. "Bop glasses and all, they're tremendous," wrote Hallock.
Jimmy Gourley was already one of the band's outstanding soloists. They appeared at the Rip Tide, and on Saturdays during the summer at the Via Lago ballroom. In addition, Gourley continued to play jam sessions at the Argyle, in a quartet with his pals from Burkhart's rhythm section: pianist Gene Friedman, bassist Don Lundhal, and drummer Red Lionberg. In October, all four friends accompanied tenor saxophonist Vido Musso to Milwaukee to open the Show Boat for a two-week engagement. Gourley would return later that year to take the stage with the Gene Ammons sextet at the Blue Note and with Sonny Stitt at the Yes-Yes club, 452 S. State Street.
Early in 1949, we find Gourley with Don Lundahl's bopping sextet, a.k.a the Jaybirds, a group made up of the six lead soloists in Jay Burkhart's hand. Joining frontman Lundahl and Gourley were Cy Touff, Joe Daly, Gene Friedman, and Red Lionberg. The sextet played Sundays at the far-southside Casbar, then moved on to Sunday afternoons at Nob Hill Club, 5228 Lake Park. In March, they opened at the Hi-Note, 450 N. Clark Street, in what would become their first stable job, to the delight of modern jazz fans. It was their chance to establish bop sounds in a land populated with countless "novelty" trios.
Their appearance at the Hi-Note was a resounding success, as can be red Pat Harris' review for Down Beat: "Daly's smooth tenor and Touff’s [Kai] Winding-like trombone have long sparked Burkhart's band, but ratting with them as soloist has been 23-year old Jim Gourley.
"Guitarist Gourley, who believes the most important thing for a musician to do is 'swing,' certainly fulfills his own requirements. His single-string work has a bounce and drive that never fails. Somewhat reminiscent of Christian, it is nevertheless non-imitative, and always a stimulant to the band. '"Working steady is the greatest,' Gourley observed in reviewing the scattered jobs he and his friends have had around town. Perhaps they'll get a chance at the 'greatest' from now on."
On May 5,1949, the Chicago National Music Week culminated with a performance in the Kimball Room advertised as "Back to Bop." Gourley was among the participating musicians, along with Gail Brockman (tp) and Kenny Mann (ts), two Burkhart men who also were members of the new Bill Russo Orchestra; Cy Touff, Gene Friedman, and Red Lionberg.
Meanwhile, Jay Burkhart's band continued to be almost the sole local bop group (from trio up) working regularly in Chicago. Burkhart and men had been playing with phenomenal success Monday nights at the Nob Hill, in front of their many loyal fans. The band was sponsored by disc jockey Dave Garroway, who was responsible for getting it into the Blue Note, 56 W. Madison Street, for four consecutive Tuesday nights that same spring. Their success earned them a renewal for six more. "It was a good time for me," Gourley said. "I made a lot of progress during my time at Burkhart's." Rumors were the crew would go into NYC's Royal Roost, but the deal fell through. But not all of the bebop at Nob Hill was reduced to the brilliant performances of Burkhart's band. Three guys from his rhythm section, Gourley, Gene Friedman, piano and Ted Poskonka, bass, continued to propose modern jazz for six nights a week over the spring.
During that time most bop bands and musicians in Chicago rehearsed at artist Gertrude Abercrombie's house sometime or other, and jam sessions held in the parlor included musicians all the way from Bud Freeman to Dizzy Gillespie. But no music ever seemed quite so suited to the décor as that of the singer Jackie Cain (who also sang with Burkhart's band) and pianist Roy Krai's unit, which with Jimmy Gourley, spent many evenings there.
After a number of rehearsals, the Cain-Kral team opened July 26 at the Candlelight club on the outskirts of Joliet, southwest of Chicago, and Gourley came out triumphant after playing with them for two months, the time it took Johnny Romano—the guitarist who was originally scheduled to play in the group—to return from playing with Bill Turner's band.
It was the end of 1949, and Gourley was taking a band on the road each Monday night to bring bop to the Pla-Bowl, 156th and Burnham Avenue, in Calumet City. With Gourley were Cy Touff, Gene Friedman, plus two recent additions to Burkhart's band. Bob Paterson (b), and Hal Russell (d, and vibes).
During 1950 he alternated performances with his own group and the Monday night sessions with Burkhart's band at the Nob Hill, several of which found Tiny Kahn on drums, and Max Bennett on bass, both members of the Georgie Auld Sextet that was playing at Chicago's Jump Town.
At the end of the year Jimmy Gourley decided to leave Chicago with the idea of trying Europe. According to Gourley, his main motivation for leaving Chicago was that drugs were everywhere in the jazz community. And as a non-user, he was especially affected by the dramatic situation that some of his best friends were going through, like guitarist Ronnie Singer, a young musician from Chicago with incredible talent and an original style, possibly just as good as Jimmy Raney. "It was happening all around me. Guys dying, guys getting busted, and I did not want to live in that environment."
He 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. The bill was passed after WWII and it provided a range of benefits to all veterans who had been on active duty for at least 90 days and had not been dishonorably discharged.
Jimmy Gourley arrived in Paris sometime in April 1951 to learn 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 Haig, and an enthusiast of cool jazz, the new style that drew inspiration from the flowing lines and smooth sound of Lester Young's tenor sax. Lester was better known then than at any other time. Not because of what he was giving jazz at the time, but because a whole school of tenors had assimilated what he was doing in the 1930s and then played extensions of that style.
Gourley liked Lester Young particularly well. "He really is the 'President'," he told Pierre Cressant in Jazz Hot. He appreciated Charlie Parker and Miles Davis almost as much. Among the pianists, Jimmy cited Bud Powell, Lou Levy and Al Haig. As for the tenors, Al Cohn, Herbie Stewart, Zoot Sims and Sandy Mosse. "They are really 'stylists'," he explained. Asked about Stan Getz, he said: "I also admire Stan a lot, of course, but I prefer Al Cohn, Zoot or Herbie. One day, after a jam with Al Cohn and H. Stewart, Getz said to me: 'They are really the ones to listen to'. Many American musicians think the same thing: Cohn, Stewart or Zoot are original in each chorus, Getz Plays more clichés. He is the best known of the Four Brothers, but he is not the best." He was also very fond of Tiny Kahn and Gerry Mulligan, but he never listened to Tristano, Shearing or Kenton. Jimmy preferred "to hear a good old Basie, with Lester, a 'Taxi War Dance' or a 'Shoe Shine Swing'!"
Renaud, who so far had always performed alone in bars, quickly recognized Jimmy Gourley's knowledge of modern jazz and the two young men became inseparable colleagues. "Jimmy had brought some 78 rpm records that had not yet been released in France, like Herbie Steward's two Roost albums with Jimmy Raney. I also remember four Triumph sides: Al Cohn's quartet with George Wellington on piano and Tiny Kahn on drums," recalled Renaud in 2001, explaining that: "I hired him to play as a duo at the 'Boite a Sardines', a club located at 4 rue Balzac, near Etoile, where many American civilians who worked for the United States government used to hang out. Gourley was a huge fan of Jimmy Raney, a total stranger in Paris at the time." Through Henri Renaud, Gourley quickly became part of the small modern Parisian jazz scene.
After the groundwork laid by Kenny Clarke and Hubert Fol in the late 1940s in an effort to popularize bebop, Henri Renaud became a key figure in the evolution of the modern jazz movement in France in the early 1950s. In the spring of 1951, Renaud had taken the first steps in creating a group of young modernists, which he co-led with Belgian tenor saxophonist Bobby Jaspar. Their goal? To get both musicians and the public used to the new sound of cool jazz. The ensemble included two tenors, Jaspar and Roland Carsault, guitarist Bob Aubert, Jacques Tisne on drums and tenorist Serge "Bib" Monville on bass. They played the 5 to 7 sessions at the Kentucky club, 2 rue Valette, and were the first group to play cool jazz in France.
Renaud did not hesitate to invite Gourley to play with his new group, which by now also included tenorman Sandy Mosse, another recent arrival from the United States who came in to replace Carsault. "After Lester Young, his favorite tenor sax was Al Cohn, the guiding star for so many young American jazz musicians," the pianist remembered.
A few weeks later, Henri Renaud was commissioned by the organizers of the III Festival de Musique de Clamart to set up Sandy Mosse and Jimmy Gourley in an international modern jazz group that was to be featured in a night dedicated to jazz, scheduled to take place on June 14th. "My sextet included tenor saxophonist Bobby Jaspar from Belgium, two Americans from Chicago, tenorist Sandy Mosse, and Jimmy Gourley, and three French musicians, the incomparable bassist Pierre Michelot, Pierre Lemarchand on drums, and me on piano."
Despite having had little time to rehearse, they achieved a truly unified ensemble, and their performance was met with unanimous applause from the audience. Their success was as great as it was unexpected. Andre Francis, host of the event, had invited the director of the Saturne label to see the concert, and there he hired Renaud's sextet for a series of ten recordings to be released in five 78 rpm disks. The recorded performances included standards and jazz tunes such as "Godchild" by George Wallington, "Lady Be Bad," and "So What Could Be New" by Tiny Kahn, as well as "A New Date" by Gourley, and "Milestone #2," a tune that Miles Davis had given to Gourley and which had never been recorded.
These were the first albums in this new style to be recorded in France, and they were released at the end of 1951. By then, Jimmy Gourley and Henri Renaud were appearing most Saturday afternoons at the popular cafe-restaurant Sully at the Porte d'Auteuil metro station. There, they played in a young modern jazz quintet conducted by amateur tenor saxophonist Hubert Damish, who later became an acclaimed art historian. The other members of the group were guitarist Sacha Distel, Jean-Marie Ingrand and drummer Jean-Louis Viale, who was just starting. At the advice of Renaud, Viale started to highlight the off-beat on the hi-hat, a technique few drummers in France had adopted, but which would become highly popular in the following years.
Summer gave way to fall, and now with Michelot on bass, the group started playing at the Hot House until its closure in early 1952. They were occasionally joined by visiting musicians such as American trumpeter Nelson Williams, who had been living in Paris since September 1951.
In March 1952, Henri Renaud found himself in a small cellar at 33 rue Dauphine called Tabou, a little club that would make history. It was a quaint place, with no jazz background, but after this day, Tabou would be forever associated with the modern jazz that the Renaud wanted to play and spread in Paris. Every night, Renaud performed there with a quartet consisting of Andre Ross—a tenorist inspired by the playing of Stan Getz— bassist Jean-Marie Ingrand and American drummer Richie Frost. Sometimes Gourley joined them for fun, in part because he was not an official member, in part because the house would only hire four musicians. The beginnings of Tabou, however, were not too exciting. Gourley once mentioned he was under the assumption that France favored jazz above all other genres, but that so far he was unimpressed. Despite his initial judgement, it wouldn't take long for things to start moving.
In April, Tabou had its first memorable moment. The great Lester Young, famously nicknamed Prez by musicians and fans alike, was in Paris as a member of Norman Granz's JATP at the closing concert of the II Salon du Jazz, which took place Sunday, April 6th at Salle Pleyel. It was Prez's first trip to Europe, but his performance fell short of the hype it had generated, and audiences were somewhat disappointed. However, Prez being in the city was an occasion that Renaud did not want to waste, so he invited his admired saxophonist, his idol, to play three evenings the following week on the stage of Tabou. There, a motivated Prez fresh out of JATP was in a position to offer the best of himself. Backed by Renaud's quartet, and a brilliant Jimmy Gourley, this time he left his fans fully satisfied, in what were the first of the historic jams held at Tabou. Two other members of JATP joined the jams, Barney Kessel and Charlie Shavers.
Shortly afterwards, Renaud called Gourley to replace Ingrand's bass. This change had a direct effect on the group, which could now play arrangements for tenor and guitar, and had a much freer flow of ideas. From then on, the quartet started gaining popularity with Parisian fans and musicians, who came night after night to listen and discover this "new sound" that was giving so much to talk about. Admittedly, not many knew what it was about yet. Tabou had become the bastion of the cool school, and the only club in Paris where you could listen to jazz music in the most modern style. Through Gourley, Renaud acquired a deeper understanding of modern jazz. "We recently had in France three valuable American musicians who could teach French soloists something. They are Sandy Mosse, Richie Frost and J. Gourley. The latter remained in France as an American state scholarship holder," declared Henri Renaud.
The way Pierre Cressant described Jimmy Gourley a year after his arrival in Paris is illuminating. "Jimmy is kind of the opposite of what you might think when you see him for the first time. He looks cold and haughty, but he is actually warm and cheerful. He is also a bit of a comedian: just ask for his impression of Sylvester Pussycat. Jimmy is also fond of classical music: his favorite composers are Bach and Bela Bartok."
For the second year in a row, the organizers of the IV Festival de Musique de Clamart, had included in their programming for June 18, 1952, an evening dedicated to jazz. Representing modern jazz, an All-Star group was brought forward, including Gourley as well as Hubert Fol (as), Renaud, Ingrand and Richie Frost. "Listeners enjoyed Jimmy Gourley's beautiful sound, which was supported remarkably by an excellent rhythm section," highlighted Jazz Hot.
In the fall, Pierre Lemarchand replaced Richie Frost, who had decided to return to his home in Los Angeles after having spent two very long spells in Paris (1948-1950 and 1951-1952). Back in LA he would trade jazz for a successful career as a studio musician, but his time in Paris playing jazz was never forgotten, and his modern style had a decisive impact on many French drummers such as Jean-Louis Viale, Bernard Planchenault and Roger Paraboschi.
Renaud, Gourley, Andre Ross and Lemarchand, soon to be replaced by Jean-Louis Viale, continued to do good business at Tabou. Then, Renaud came up with the idea to organize a sextet including a bassist, Guy Pedersen, and two guitarists. One of them was Gourley and the other the young Sacha Distel, who was back from a year in the USA. It is worth mentioning that even though Gourley and Sacha were regular members of the sextet, they were not hired by the house.
Despite Sacha's quick breakthrough, he still wasn't at the level of Jimmy Raney or Gourley. As a matter of fact, he was very much Gourley's pupil and the disciple at this point, and he owed him almost everything. He also admitted that he had gained a lot from his stay in New York, where he had known and played with Jimmy Raney and Stan Getz. Sacha arrived in France armed with tunes and arrangements from the Stan Getz quintet, the modern jazz group that had established milestones for an emerging "chamber jazz."
This new style of music added elements of harmony to pure swing, and to musical imagination, it provided a foundation on which to build, with emphasis on the mid and soft tone registers, and a delicate balance between improvisation and composition.
In fact, it was at Tabou, and thanks to the group of Henri Renaud, that the public came in contact with Gigi Gryce's "Shobuzz," "Melody Express," "Wildwood," and "Simplicity," with Johnny Mandel's "Hershey Bar" and "Not Really the Blues," or with Horace Silver's "Potter's Luck," played by the Getz quintet, and which gave the orchestra an attractive color and a new jazz approach. These swinging, innovative melodies could only be heard at Tabou. The success Renaud was having with his group motivated him to arrange a few standards such as "Jeepers Creepers," "You Took Advantage of Me," and even popular French tunes such as "Paris je t'aime" and "Venez donc chez moi." The sextet was swinging and fresh at home, playing the leader's on-point arrangements, and supported by the solid rhythm section provided by Renaud, Guy Pedersen and distinguished by the excellent timekeeping of Jean-Louis Viale, who was at the time the only French drummer to use the 2/4-time modern American drummers favored. Pedersen and Viale were replaced a few weeks later by Marcel Dutrieux and Pierre Lemarchand. "But the most brilliant soloist of the lot is Jimmy Gourley," wrote Pierre Cressant in Jazz Hot. "The finest quality of his playing is the honesty of his attack, his sound and precise articulation, as much as his intense swing. He has remarkable drive and carries the group effortlessly. His greatest musical influence is Lester Young — with the kind of reverence he has for the man, he might as well be a God."
Henri Renaud did not hesitate to praise Gourley's talent either, and highlighted his important contribution to the local jazz scene: "Jimmy had a great influence on many French guitarists and modern musicians in general, both in terms of rhythm and harmony. He cleaned up the conceptions of modern jazz in Paris and according to Renaud, rid some musicians of their 'gypsy' or 'French' complexes which had always distanced them from the true language of American jazz, "unlike our Belgian, English or Swedish neighbors..."
"I am happy to see that Jimmy's musical value is finally being recognized. Let's not forget he has been in France for two years, but most French musicians are just now beginning to appreciate his value. I hope concert organizers and recording directors follow suit, because so far they seem interested only in second-rate musicians for any recordings made in Paris. Organizers who used to fight for jazz (just jazz, not modern or old), now want to impose the exact same music they promoted fifteen years ago," Renaud pointed out.
From early January until the summer of 1953, Renaud, with Gourley, Andre Ross and Lemarchand (replaced by Mac Kac in May), were the house musicians at Tabou. Their performances drew the attention of the jazz community, and made Henri Renaud the beacon of a new conception of jazz.
As a consequence, in February 1953, Eddie Barclay asked Renaud to form an orchestra and record it at Barclay's club, Boeuf sur le Toit. For this project, Renaud augmented his quartet with a selected group of modern jazzmen: Jean Liesse, trumpet; Nat Peck, trombone; Phil Benson, alto sax; Sandy Mosse, second tenor sax; Jean Louis Chautemps, baritone sax; Benoit Quersin, double bass; Fats Sadi, vibraphone; and arranger Francy Boland, who contributed with four scores. The result was a live recording, New Sound at the Boeuf sur le Toit, issued by Andre Francis on the Blue Star label. A month later, Renaud recorded an album for Vogue with a similar 11-piece band.
Meanwhile, at Club Saint-Germain, 13 rue St. Benoit, modern jazz at the hands of such names as Rene Urtreger, Bernard Peiffer, Bobby Jaspar, Sacha Distel, Bib Monville, Roger Guerin, Jean-Marie Ingrand, and Jean-Louis Viale began to garner its own audience. The same thing was happening at Bosphore, the former Ringside, 18 rue Therese, with Art Simmons, Fats Sadi, Pierre Michelot, and Lemarchand; and at the Riverside, 13 rue du Petit-Pont, with the Jean-Claude Fohrenbach and Maurice Vander quartet, all places that were echoing this new sound in jazz.
Renaud's trio with the inclusion of Jean-Marie Ingrand on bass, performed successfully at the V Festival de Clamart in June 1953, After summer gave way to fall, and with the departure of Andre Ross, Renaud returned to Tabou, with Gourley and Viale, a trio that managed to become one of the most interesting units that had been heard in Paris. Their performances drew every musician and every fan of modern jazz in the city. After one of these performances, Charles Delaunay enthusiastically offered to record for his Vogue label. Thus in October 1953 the trio, augmented by Pierre Michelot (who Gourley considered the best French instrumentalist) recorded eight arrangements specially prepared for this session at studio Jouvenet. Charles Delaunay himself wrote in the liner notes: "Henry and Jimmy have chosen a few tunes that have not been played recently and yet are excellent, such as: "Who Cares," "It's-De-Lovely," and "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." The arrangements, Renaud mentioned, were penned by Gourley, and in Delaunay's own words, "they were quite original, embellished by much needed inserts and codas which result in a truly unique voice."
For this album, Henri Renaud gave Jimmy Gourley lots of freedom. As he explained in the liner notes: "I wanted to give Jimmy the opportunity to show what he is capable of, which is to say, in my opinion, to take his rightful place right after Jimmy Raney or Tal Farlow. I met Jimmy as soon as he arrived in Paris in 1951, and we have played together since then. I hope this record will do justice to his great talent, because I believe that there are very few guitarists in America who have such a beautiful sound, such swing, and especially such masterly improvisational skills. What I mean is, Jimmy knows how to create a nice melodic line making use of the most complex harmonies, all while keeping his cool and articulating every single note."
Their extensive collaboration was not only limited to their appearances at Tabou, though. In 1953, Henri Renaud became the new musical director of Vogue, and he called Gourley for many recording sessions under the leadership of Bobby Jaspar, Lee Konitz, Gigi Gryce, Clifford Brown, and Zoot Sims. By the time fall came around, they had stopped playing at Tabou altogether, and in February 1954, Renaud traveled to New York where he would stay for a month to record a series of sessions with Al Cohn, Milt Jackson, Gigi Gryce, J. J. Johnson, Curley Russell, Al Haig, Max Roach, and Oscar Pettiford among other big names on the New York scene.
Moving on from his days at Tabou, Gourley went to work as a freelance in various groups until he joined pianist Martial Solal in May at the new Ringside, 23 rue d'Artois, in a trio with bassist Benoit Quersin. He also appeared in other sessions for Vogue, which the indefatigable Henri Renaud tried to organize whenever American musicians visited Paris. Thus when Woody Herman visited in May 1954, Renaud organized a group with four members of Herman's orchestra: Cy Touff (b-tp), Jerry Coker (ts), Ralph Burns (p) and Chuck Flores (d), as well as Gourley on guitar and bassist Jean-Marie Ingrand, who recorded an album released under the title The Herdsmen. A month later, Renaud took advantage of the fact that the new Gerry Mulligan Quartet was in Paris to perform at the Salle Pleyel during the III Salon du Jazz. Renaud organized a recording date with Mulligan's quartet without its leader. It was led by trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, and the rhythm section included Red Mitchell (b) and Frank Isola (d), as well as Renaud (p) and Gourley.
Also during the Salon du Jazz, Jimmy Gourley joined the leading guitarists of the moment—Jean Bonal, Jean-Pierre Sasson, Sacha Distel, Raymond Beau, Roger Chaput, and Rene Thomas—in a concert dedicated to the memory of Django Reinhardt. Each of them, in their own style, brought Django's
compositions to life. Gourley shone bright with his rendition of "Swing 42."
In October 1954, former American tenor saxophonist-turned-bassist Alvin "Buddy" Banks, who had been living in Paris since 1953, was engaged by Frank Tenot, head of the jazz department of the Club Francais du Bisque, for a recording session with three other compatriots: Jimmy Gourley and pianist Bob Borough, playing on all eight tracks of the album, and drummer Roy Haynes—of Stan Getz fame—added on four of them. Haynes was just back from a European tour as a member of the Sarah Vaughan trio together with pianist-arranger Jimmy Jones and bassist Joe Benjamin. As for Borough, he was living in Paris after having left his post as Sugar Ray Robinson's music director and pianist, when Robinson left boxing temporarily to start a song and dance show with which he toured in Europe in 1954.
Each track on the album finds a good balance between rhythm and swing, performed by such a modern group of chamber musicians. Even though they had not played together before the session, the result was a finished sound that was polished and complementary to each instrument. The album was released under the title of "Jazz de Chambre," Gourley was the main soloist with excellent tone, phrasing and taste. In addition to these qualities, Jimmy delivered each of his notes with crystal clarity, swing, imagination, musicality and an innate sense of the right tempo for each tune as well as the chops to play it "in" that tempo. He said that harmonically, the piano and the bass are enough and that rhythmically, the drums are the only real necessity. And that for modern music, the guitar is only a solo instrument.
As the musical director of the Swing / Vogue label, Henri Renaud took advantage of the fact that Jimmy Jones, Roy Haynes and Joe Benjamin were still in Paris, to organize a series of recordings, one of them with Haynes as a leader. Renaud formed a group around the drummer and Joe Benjamin which, in addition to him on piano and Jimmy Gourley, also included Barney Wilen during his first recording session; and baritone Jay Cameron, who had already been in France for several years.
In November of 1954, Renaud and Gourley teamed up again to organize a quintet, this time with Barney Wilen—the new talent of the French tenor sax—Jean-Marie Ingrand on bass, and Renaud's favorite drummer, Jean-Louis Viale. They performed Saturdays and Sundays from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Ringside, with a repertoire consisting of new compositions by Horace Silver, Duke Jordan, George Wellington, Gigi Gryce, and Renaud himself. They were brilliant performances and, together with the sessions of the Club Saint-Germain, where you could hear, among others, Bobby Jaspar, Bib Monville, Jay Cameron, and Maurice Vander, they garnered the attention of modern jazz fans in Paris.
When Gourley suddenly disappeared from the Parisian scene near Christmas, it came as a shock. After almost four years in Paris, he decided to return to Chicago, probably because his scholarship had run out a year before. Upon his arrival, he reunited with his friend Sandy Mosse, and with him, organized a quintet with pianist Eddie Baker, bassist Leroy Jackson and drummer Dorrell Anderson, to play in clubs around Chicago. In the spring of 1957, Gourley was engaged to play in the orchestra of bassist Chubby Jackson. With Jackson he recorded the album Chubby's Back on the Argo label.
Towards the end of 1957, Gourley returned to Paris, and this time he intended to stay for good. "I didn't know it was for good, but it happened that way." Shortly after his arrival, he joined "La Nuit du Jazz," an event held December 21 at Salle Wagram which garnered a large audience. It didn't take long for Henri Renaud to call Jimmy and Jean-Louis Viale, his old Tabou partners once again. Renaud had spent over a year accompanying American singer June Richmond, but his new-old trio took precedence. They were featured on the television show "Disco Parade," and went on to record the music for several short films.
In the spring of 1958, Jimmy Gourley joined American pianist Art Simmons and bassist Michel Gaudry in a trio that played every night at the Le Mars Club, 6 rue Etienne, until July. After the summer, Renaud, Gourley and Viale met again and, with the addition of Jean-Marie Ingrand on bass, they began to play nightly at the Blue Note, a new club at 27 rue d'Artois. Billed as the Jimmy Gourley Quartet, they stayed together until the end of the year. In January, Henri Renaud left, and the remaining members became the trio that accompanied Stan Getz in his first concerts at the club. However, by the time Getz was playing at the Olympia on January 3, 1959, only Gourley remained in the quartet that accompanied the tenorist, alongside Martial Solal, Pierre Michelot, and Kenny Clarke.
After Getz left, it was Lester Young's turn to return to Paris to play at the Blue Note. His health was poor. He looked frail, but continued to play with the acrid sweetness that had always characterized his style. During his stay at the club, Lester felt at home, in front of an audience devoted to him, watching their idol slowly fade away. Prez had been ill for a long time and his condition had deteriorated in recent weeks. During the rest periods, he would walk slowly to the bar, have a drink, hardly speaking at all. His health got worse, but on March 2nd Prez managed to record one last album that was released posthumously for Verve, Lester Young in Paris, with Rene Urtreger, Jimmy Gourley, Jamil Nasser, and Kenny Clarke.
At the end of his engagement with the Blue Note, Lester had to delay his return to the United States for a few days because he did not feel like he would be able to make such a long trip. He finally made up his mind to fly, only to pass away the day after his arrival in New York, on March 15,1959 at around 4 p.m. in his room at the Alvin Hotel.
Meanwhile at the Blue Note, the same group but with Michelot on bass accompanied Sonny Stitt for two weeks starting May 18th. As for Gourley's trio with Urtreger and Jean-Marie Ingrand it continued as the house band, and they went on to accompany Bud Powell in December with the addition of Jean-Louis Viale. Then in January 1960, pianist Alice McLeod (who would later marry John Coltrane) arrived with her trio. Accompanied by Jimmy Gourley, they entertained patrons at the Blue Note for two long months, alternating nights with the Bud Powell trio with Michelot and Clarke.
In May 1960, Gourley joined the Kenny Clarke Quintet with trombonist Billy Byers, Renaud, and Michelot. Later he played with Lucky Thompson and
in constant shift, but Gourley was always present when it came to accompanying any illustrious guests. Notably, starting on June 20 Gourley and Clarke became the regular companions of organist Lou Bennett, who had arrived in France for the first time. His performances were a success, and they echoed across Europe, all the way to Italy where they appeared on RAI Television.
In October, Gourley, Maurice Vander (p), Michelot and Clarke, were the rhythm section to accompany Stan Getz on his return to the Blue Note, and later Zoot Sims, from November to January 1961. The group also participated in "La Nuit du Jazz" which took place on December 17th.
Also in January 1961, the Jimmy Gourley Quartet—with Henri Renaud, Jean-Marie Ingrand and Daniel Humair on drums—was one of the main groups featured on the Sim Copans TV show Modern Jazz at the Blue Note. In their two performances, Gourley showed that just as himself, his style was unchanged. He offered viewers some clean, flowing lines in a beautiful rendition of Gershwin's "How Long Has This Been Going On?" and showed he was still able to deliver strength, swing, and excitement when needed in his original "Clarisse Blues."
In February, Gourley and Clarke rejoined Lou Bennett to appear daily at the Blue Note until the summer, where they alternated with the Bud Powell Trio, and in spring accompanied such visitors as J.J. Johnson, Brew Moore, and Allen Eager. On September 16th at the Palais des Expositions at Porte de Versailles on the occasion of the 1961 Radio and Television Show, Gourley joined Henri Renaud in a quartet with Michel Gaudry and Jean-Louis Viale
On October 30th, Jimmy Gourley was invited to play at the Philharmonic Concert Hall of Warsaw, with the trio of pianist Krysztof Komeda—Adam Skorupka, bass; and Adam Jedrzejowski, drums. Two of their performances were included on a compilation album released by the Muza label, titled "Jazz Jamboree Vol.1." On the ballad "For Heaven's Sake," we can hear the emotional and deep warmth of Gourley's guitar, soloing in a natural, relaxed feeling, and impeccable taste. On the up-tempo version of "Three Little Words," Gourley's solos build beautifully to climax after climax with startling directness, bringing to life whatever he touched. By that time, the guitarist had developed to a point where he could be considered a worthy successor to Jimmy Raney.
The recordings included in this CD clearly demonstrate the talent of Jimmy Gourley. They belong to a time when he flew under the radar but still left his mark, and his contributions to the modern French jazz scene between 1953 and 1961 are undeniable. Even though Gourley was in great demand as a sideman throughout his career, he would have to wait until 1972 to record his first album as leader—Jimmy Gourley and the Paris Heavyweights.
There are no clear reasons for this surprising oversight, but nevertheless, Jimmy Gourley was—and continues to be after his death in 2008 at the age of 82—a highly respected member of the jazz community remembered for his level of musicality and congenial personality. There is no doubt that if Jimmy had stayed in the United States, he would have become one of America's finest jazz guitarists.”
Original Vogue and Club Français du Disque sessions, supervised
and produced by Charles Delaunay and Frank Tenot.
Produced for CD release by Jordi Pujol
This compilation © & © 2021 by Fresh Sound Records
The Cool Guitar of Jimmy Gourley: Quartet and Trio Sessions, 1953-1961 [Fresh Sound CD-1101] is available as a double CD and you can locate order information by going here.