Giuffre’s Fusion and Thesis
The first time I heard Jimmy Giuffre was in a Jazz History class in my community college years. We were talking about small group Jazz and we were going to watch a film about Jazz at Newport. This film talks about the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. It changed my life on what music was and taught me about some really great classic artist such as Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong and countless others. The opening music was one that stuck with me for quite a while. The music was different, sure it was Jazz, but it was not what I thought Jazz was. Before watching this segment (which is at the end of this post) I thought Jazz needed Bass and drums to keep the music going. I did not realize that it trombone and guitar could drive music in a direction like no other. It was “swinging without the use of what I thought it needed to swing with.
The music was quite extraordinary and just added a new kind of perspective for me. Each person was making a complex piece into a larger piece of a really great puzzle. In retrospect it showed how hip things were at that time. Rock and Roll was about to get launched and the world of hip and cool Beatnik time was around at the same time and of course just to be hip was part of the world view. It seemed carefree and fun and all “the hip cats” were into it. It was cool to be cool as it were. The music of Jimmy Giuffre was just unique.
I really did not know much about him but I really thought I could ask my teacher. I was surprised by his response and attitude about him and his music. He told me one day after class that he did not care for his music because it was not cool or popular. I did not understand that coming from a teachers mouth.
It was in a way narrow minded and not rational thought. Why would the teacher dismiss the musical (of what I thought) genius of Jimmy Giuffre. Since I did not like the answer that he gave I decided to go ask someone who was actually around at that time. The person I asked was a teacher who I had in High School. He went to college in Boston and he told me he was part of a lot unique Jazz experiences.
When I came up to him and asked him about Jimmy Giuffre he gave this wide gaze. He asked me how I stumbled upon his musical genius. Finally someone who really understood this greatness. When I asked this teacher he told me he loved the way Jimmy Giuffre played in many drummerless groups. Not only was there a group of guitar and trombone, but there was a group of piano and upright bass. He told me that was the ones that were really unique. Both groups had a interesting world to them. He also told me that the bass and piano ones were the ones to seek out. The two people that I should listen to were Paul Bley and Steve Swallow. They are the ones that put out some of the best Jimmy Giuffre’s trios.
They put out three well know albums that made everything sound perfect according to my old teachers words. My teacher told me that Jimmy Giuffre is quoted as saying that the inspiration for his late 50s drummerless trio was Claude Debussy’s diaphanous SONATA FOR FLUTE, VIOLA HARP. This is the music that really has it’s place for understanding what he wanted to in the Jazz world.
The albums I should pick up were two classic in Jimmy Giuffre’s cannon. They were called Fusion and Thesis. Both albums are not your typical albums, but they were sure going to turn your head.
It took me a few years to find them on one two CD set that ECM put out in 1992. My teacher was right. The music is great. It’s not like Jazz you ever heard, but it’s a study on smart and creative music that does not force or keep your toe tapping. It is the ultimate brain music for Jazz fans. It is really well done and if you can find a copy, get it and really see what is so great about music without a drummer or a beat for that matter. Enjoy and get your notes out on this one, there might be a quiz. Enjoy.
Lovely post on Jimmy Giuffre, which I completely share your enthusiasm for, such a wonderful player.
If you have time pass by my blog to read my little appreciation of JG’;s music and playing. I should really add some more to my posting but somehow the idea of keeping it short (especially when I don’;t have so much solid information) seemed a better idea.
You should also check out the work of John Carter, another completely individual composer and improviser on the clarinet – or maybe you already have.
All the best – Joe.
Here’;s the link to the article (hope you don’;t mind).