Jimmy Giuffre: Cry Freedom
Other offers presented themselves: “He was contacted by someone who wanted to write a number of commercials for Mobil Oil, and it was just at the time that we were having trouble in the Middle East. What happened was, they used his commercials, he was going to do, oh, I forget how many. We were going to make a couple of series of commercials and then there were going to be five or six in this first period of time. He had gotten through five when this political issue came up, and the political debate about how Mobil was the enemy in this thing, and poor thing, they used one Jimmy’s commercials to prove their point. It had nothing to do with Jimmy. So, that little contract went down the drain. They paid us for the first series anyway, and that was that.”
In addition to theater and commercials, Giuffre also scored films. “There was a movie called Sighet, Sighet that Jimmy did for [Nobel Prize winner] Elie Wiesel, and he did just the music itself. He just played the clarinet straight through the whole thing and it was really done with very beautifully. He [Wiesel] was very pleased with the music, because you know, Jimmy can be very mournful and it depicted some things that happened in Sighet. I think it was his birthplace, and it dealt with anti-semitism and the horrors that went on.
"There was also a little movie called Smiles. I don’t know if you know the name John Avildsen. He directed Rocky. Now, John Avildsen was in New York and knew of Jimmy’s music before he ever got started big time. He borrowed money from his folks and anybody he could get money from and paid Jimmy a small amount once again to play the clarinet. The picture Smiles just showed how a friendly smiling person can be infectious and can go from one person to another. Jimmy played clarinet throughout the whole thing and it was done once again very beautifully, very sparsely. Jimmy always believed you should not have to be aware of the music, that it just should draw you into whatever the movie’s about. So, when he [Avildsen] went out west and made it big, we never heard from him again. That was the end of our fling with John Avildsen.”
In addition to composing music for commercials, Jimmy appeared in some as well. “Jimmy did some commercials with his hands. His hands were so beautiful that Tony Schwartz had him do some things with just his hands. One was for a pen and it showed him writing with the pen. Nobody bragged about the commercials. Then, they took advantage. They knew he wasn’t from the commercial world therefore he didn’t know how to charge.”
In the ‘80s Giuffre formed the Jimmy Giuffre 4, keeping Randy Kaye, adding Phil Levin on electronics, and Bob Nieske, electric bass. They recorded three albums for Soul Note, now all very hard to find. Happily, Hat Hut has released a live improvised duet album Giuffre performed with Andre Jaume in 1988, called Momentum. Jaume wrote to Giuffre requesting lessons, and when he returned to France and started touring, he invited Jimmy along.
The album of wind duets features Giuffre on the upper registered clarinet and soprano sax and Jaume on bass clarinet and tenor sax. Their intimate association as teacher and student yields the kind of telepathic musical communication Giuffre thrived on. The entwining ideas, counterpoint, and free flights show him on top of his game. The title track features him solo on soprano, his tone sonorous, his ideas luminous. If music could be compared to poetry, many musicians can be seen as similar to Whitman and Ginsberg with their endless, sometimes excessive lines and variations. Giuffre would be Basho or Li Po, distilling a few focused elegant lines into a potent statement of concentrated brevity. That windy loudmouth Charlie Parker reputedly said, “If you can’t say it in few measures, you can’t say it.” Giuffre can take two minutes of your time and give you something to think about and feel all day.
By the early ‘90s, a growing recognition and appreciation of the music created by the Giuffre/Bley/Swallow trio yielded a recording contract and tour of Europe. They originally disbanded after only 18 months when following a performance in a coffee house in New York, they passed the hat and made only thirty five cents each. Now, it seemed the world was finally catching up to these aging mavericks, thirty years after the fact. Unfortunately, Parkinsons Disease was catching up to Jimmy Giuffre.