Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Jimmy Giuffre, Clarinetist Who Bridged Eras, Dies at 86

Jimmy Giuffre, who brought the clarinet from the big band era into the realm of free jazz during a lengthy career, died April 24th of pneumonia and complications of Parkinson’s. He was 86.

Giuffre was born in Dallas on April 26, 1921 and began playing clarinet at age 9. During high school and college he performed with local bands, and he continued to do so in the Air Force Band. In the 1940s he worked with several popular big bands, including stints with Boyd Raeburn, Jimmy Dorsey, Buddy Rich and Woody Herman. With Herman Giuffre composed “Four Brothers,” which became a jazz classic.

In the ’50s, Giuffre moved to Los Angeles, where he studied at UCLA and played with Shorty Rogers and Howard Rumsey. Later in that decade, Giuffre began pushing the clarinet beyond its traditional role, forming a trio (sans piano, bass and drums) with guitarist Jim Hall and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, appearing in the film Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Giuffre began recording for Capitol Records in 1954, and he also cut albums for Atlantic and Verve during that decade.

In 1956 he formed the Jimmy Giuffre 3 with Hall on guitar and Jim Atlas and Ralph Pena alternating on bass. By the early ’60s Giuffre had forsaken that lineup and teamed with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow-several recordings of this lineup are available on ECM, Sony Legacy and other labels. In 1959 and 1962, Giuffre also made solo clarinet albums, a revolutionary idea at the time, and began working in film, theatre and dance contexts.

Following the 1962 release of Free Fall with Bley and Swallow, Giuffre became increasingly involved as an educator, although he did record sporadically. He continued to work into the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, adding additional reeds to his sound, as well as drums, electric bass and electronics. He briefly reunited the Bley-Swallow group and also recorded with other musicians for the Soul Note label, but he was never prolific, preferring to concentrate on his teaching at the New England Conservatory, New York University and Rutgers.

Originally Published