Jimmy Giuffre: Cry Freedom
The resulting album, Conversations with a Goose, consisted mainly of group compositions. The title track finds Jimmy in fine form, playing sweeping lines over the loping rhythm section. Swallow’s flawless articulation in the higher registers of the electric bass is present, as well as Bley’s easy facility between times and styles. Two back to back tracks, “Echo Through the Canyon” and “Three Ducks,” add up to 1:52 and give Jimmy enough solo space to create to different and memorable solo outings on clarinet.
Mrs. Giuffre remembers the tour: “It was amazing. The last tour we took in Europe, I guess it was ’95 or ’96. I had plenty of chance to just listen, either backstage or in the audience. He was suffering from Parkinsons at the time, which I thought was pretty good for him to do what he did. Really miraculous to me, because I went to make sure he was okay, and I ran interference for him, making sure everything was as easy for him as possible. The way Paul would go to him when Jimmy would kind of slump a little bit, he picked him right up and Jimmy would just get right back on there. Paul did a beautiful job, as did Steve.”
After the tour, Jimmy Giuffre quit his long tenure at the New England Conservatory and retired to the old mill with the stream for a backyard, battling Parkinsons and listening. “That’s the one thing he responds to, definitely responds to. It’s very hard with his speech because whatever brain damage Parkinsons does, which is pretty ugly, it sometimes affects your speech. And, the medication itself causes confusion and hallucinations. He’s weathered through nicely, actually. He’s not terribly depressed. I keep him going, friends keep him going, he keeps himself going. It’s harder on me than it is on him, I think, at this point. He doesn’t have the full understanding of what’s happening, which is hard to watch. To silence a voice so talented is kinda rough.
“We still get some royalties. That dwindles after a person is no longer active. You get some, but it’s definitely not peak. This guy who turned down a lot of jazz musicians but evidently like Jimmy enough and knew of his problem said we’ll collect as much as we can and try to protect whatever we can of his interests. We have some friends in the business. It’s not too often people can say that,” she laughs.
While Jimmy Giuffre did not create free improvisation, he was certainly part of the birthing team. His subtlety and understatement, evident goodwill and spirituality, good humor and lofty technique, soulful blues and classical influence combine to make his body of work unique. His unrelenting courage in his convictions should inspire every artist in any discipline inflamed to traverse the unknown. Although too much of his recorded work sleeps in record company vaults, what’s available points unequivocally to one of the most valuable recorded voices of human expression. Happy Birthday, Jimmy.