James Peter Giuffre (April 26, 1921 ? April 24, 2008) was an American jazz composer, arranger and saxophone and clarinet player. He is notable for his development of forms of jazz which allowed for free interplay between the musicians, anticipating forms of free improvisation. Born in Dallas, Texas, Giuffre (pronounced "Joo-fray") was a graduate of Dallas Technical High School and North Texas State Teachers College (now the University of North Texas). He first became known as an arranger for Woody Herman's big band, for which he wrote the celebrated "Four Brothers" (1947).
Born in Dallas, Texas, Giuffre (pronounced "Joo-fray") was a graduate of Dallas Technical High School and North Texas State Teachers College (now the University of North Texas). He first became known as an arranger for Woody Herman's big band, for which he wrote the celebrated "Four Brothers" (1947). He would continue to write creative, unusual arrangements throughout his career. He was a central figure in West coast jazz, cool jazz, and was a member of Shorty Rogers's groups before going solo. Giuffre played clarinet, as well as tenor and baritone saxophones, but eventually focused on clarinet.
His first trio consisted of Giuffre, guitarist Jim Hall and double bassist Ralph Pena (later replaced by Jim Atlas). They had a minor hit in 1957 when Giuffre's "The Train and the River" was featured on the television special The Sound of Jazz. This trio explored what Giuffre dubbed "blues-based folk jazz". This same special matched Giuffre with fellow clarinetist Pee Wee Russell for a leisurely jam session simply titled "Blues".
When Atlas left the trio, Giuffre replaced him with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. This unusual instrumentation was partly inspired by Aaron Copland. The group can be seen performing in the film Jazz on a Summer's Day filmed at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.
In 1961, Giuffre formed a new trio with piano player Paul Bley and double bassist Steve Swallow. This group received little attention when they were active, but were later cited by some fans and musicians as among the most important groups in jazz history. They explored free jazz not in the loud, aggressive mode of Albert Ayler or Archie Shepp, but with a hushed, quiet focus more resembling chamber music. The trio's explorations of melody, harmony and rhythm are still as striking and radical as any in jazz. Thom Jurek has written that this trio's recordings are "one of the most essential documents regarding the other side of early-'60s jazz."
Giuffre, Bley and Swallow eventually explored wholly improvised music, several years ahead of the free improvisation boom in Europe. Jurek writes that Free Fall, their final record, "was such radical music, no one, literally no one, was ready for it and the group disbanded shortly thereafter on a night when they made only 35 cents apiece for a set."
In the early 1970s, Giuffre formed a new trio with bassist Kiyoshi Tokunaga and drummer Randy Kaye. Giuffre added instruments including bass flute and soprano saxophone to his arsenal. A later group included Pete Levin playing synthesizer and replaced Tokunaga with electric bassist Bob Nieske. This group recorded three albums for the Italian Soul Note label.
During the 1970s, Giuffre was hired by New York University to head its jazz ensemble, and to teach private lessons in saxophone and music composition.
Into the 1990s, Giuffre continued teaching and performing. He recorded with Joe McPhee, and revived the trio with Bley and Swallow (though Swallow had switched to bass guitar, giving the group a different sound). Through the mid 1990s Giuffre taught at the New England Conservatory of Music. He suffered from Parkinson's Disease and in his last years he no longer performed. Giuffre died of pneumonia in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on April 24, 2008, two days short of his 87th birthday.