Jimmy Giuffre

April 26, 1921 – April 24, 2008

Jimmy Giuffre has had many accomplishments in a long career that has never been predictable. Giuffre graduated from North Texas State Teachers College (1942), played in an Army band during his period in the service and then had stints with the orchestras of Boyd Raeburn, Jimmy Dorsey and Buddy Rich. His composition “Four Brothers” became a hit for Woody Herman, an orchestra that Giuffre eventually joined in 1949.

Settling on the West Coast, the cool-toned tenor started also playing clarinet and occasional baritone. He was with Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars (1951-52) and Shorty Rogers’ Giants (1952-56), 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 Pena (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 Giuffre had a most unusual trio with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and guitarist Hall (no piano, bass or drums!), appearing in the movie Jazz on a Summer’s Day. After a couple years of reverting back to the reeds-guitar-bass format, in 1961 the new Jimmy Giuffre 3 featured pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow and was involved in exploring the more introspective side of free jazz.

From 1963 on Giuffre maintained a lower profile, working as an educator although Don Friedman and Barre Phillips were in his unrecorded 1964-65 group. He popped up on records now and then in the 1970s with diverse trios (including a session with Bley and Bill Connors) and his 1980s unit often utilized the synthesizer of Pete Levin. Giuffre, who started late in life playing flute and soprano and seems to have made a career out of playing surprising music, reunited with Bley and Swallow in 1992. He has recorded as a leader through the years for Capitol, Atlantic, Columbia, Verve, Hat Art, Choice, Improvising Artists, Soul Note and Owl.
— Scott Yanow, All-Music Guide

Read Jimmy Giuffre’s obituary.