Jazz at 100 Hour 67: The Legacy of Jimmy Giuffre and Lennie Tristano

Paul Bley, Jimmy Giuffre, Steve Swallow

Clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre and pianist Lennie Tristano were heavily influential in the musical explorations of the 1960s. The Jimmy Giuffre Trio recorded a series of records in the early 1960s now seen as significant milestones in improvisational music, although they made no commercial impact at the time. His trio-mates – pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow – have been major players in the decades since. Lennie Tristano dropped out of sight in 1960, but his protégés Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh carried his legacy forward. Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley, Lee Konitz and Warne March in this hour of Jazz at 100.

Jimmy Giuffre.
“Giuffre’s drummerless trios and cool, almost abstract tonality created nearly as much controversy as Gerry Mulligan’s pianoless groups and probably with more reason. Nothing that had come along before quite prepares us for the astonishing work that Giuffre created with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow in two 1961 albums called Fusion (a term which hadn’t yet taken on its ’70s associations) and Thesis… Herb Snitzer’s session photographs are in deeply shadowed black-and-white. It’s arguable that Giuffre’s playing is equally monochrome and its basic orientation uncomfortably abstract; but it’s also often driven by an urgent swing. Fusion is perhaps the more daring of the two sets, balancing starkly simple ideas, as on ‘Jesus Maria’ and ‘Scootin’ About’, with some complex harmonic conceptions. Thesis is tighter and more fully realized, and tunes like ‘Ictus’ and ‘Carla’ have been an inexhaustible element of the pianist’s concert improvisations ever since.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Scootin’ About. Jimmy Giuffre Trio
(Jimmy Giuffre-cl, Paul Bley-p, Steve Swallow-b). From Fusion. 3/3/1961

Carla. Jimmy Giuffre Trio
(Jimmy Giuffre-cl, Paul Bley-p, Steve Swallow-b). From Thesis. 8/4/1961

“[Free Fall,] Jimmy Giuffre’s 1963 recording for Columbia with his trio is one of the most revolutionary recordings to come out of the 1960s. While Coltrane and Coleman and Taylor were trying to tear music down from the inside out to discover what it really counted for, Giuffre was quietly creating his own microtonal revolution that was being overlooked by other avant-gardists in jazz.” – Thom Jurek

“Swallow’s fiery scrabbles and sharply plucked single-note runs lend the music a new momentum and the sort of energy to be found in free jazz. Bley may be the least comfortable of the three by this stage, but he has always been a restless experimenter and by 1962 his eye was probably on the next step. Giuffre often sounds as if he is in a world of his own, intensely focused, totally aware, but communicating ideas for which there was no ready-made language or critical rhetoric.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Spasmodic. Jimmy Giuffre Trio
(Jimmy Giuffre-cl, Paul Bley-p, Steve Swallow-b). From Free Fall. 10/10/63

Threewe. Jimmy Giuffre Trio
(Jimmy Giuffre-cl, Paul Bley-p, Steve Swallow-b). From Free Fall. 10/10/63

The Jimmy Giuffre Trio disbanded in 1964 after making $0.35 each in performance one evening, realizing that they couldn’t support themselves on this music. Today these sides are most revered.

Paul Bley.
“Bley played hard bop in New York (where he married Carla Borg, who became Carla Bley) and began recording in 1953, for Charles Mingus’s Debut label. Five years later he helped introduce the music of Ornette Coleman when the saxophonist worked with him at the Hillcrest Club in Los Angeles… Closer is still a delight nearly 50 years after first release. The key track here is ‘Ida Lupino’, which Carla’s former husband turns into a rolling, almost filmic narrative with layers of detail that belie the simple materials. Some have noted a continuing cross-fertilization of ideas with Ornette Coleman on these tracks; his ‘Crossroads’ was on the original side two… That’s harder to hear if you aren’t aware of the association, but the staccato rhythms and bitten-off melodic ideas do point in that direction.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Ida Lupino. Paul Bley Trio
(Paul Bley-p, Steve Swallow-b, Barry Altschul-d). From Closer. 12/12/1965

Crossroads. Paul Bley Trio
(Paul Bley-p, Steve Swallow-b, Barry Altschul-d). From Closer. 12/12/1965

Lee Konitz.
“If Konitz’s tone seemed too prim in the early years (Andre Hodeir called it “diaphanous”), it became prismatic as his overall approach matured. By 1961, when he recorded the incomparable Motion, with Elvin Jones and Sonny Dallas, it had weight and soul and dark depths of angst to match the clarion harmonic dazzle. Yet even Motion, which stands alongside Coleman’s Ornette! and Coltrane’s Live at the Vanguard as one of the landmark saxophone recitals of that era, was more admired than heard.” – Gary Giddins

“One of the great modern jazz records. Its unique chemistry is due in part to the unlikely pairing of the ‘cool’ Konitz with the hyperactive Jones, who was working with Coltrane at the time… The trio starts off with ‘Foolin’ Myself’, and Konitz’s fleet, agile alto sound immediately gels with the surprisingly soft playing of Jones… ‘I Remember You’ … is quite brilliant, flowing, seamless and harmonically subtle.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Foolin’ Myself. Lee Konitz Trio
(Lee Konitz-as, Sonny Dallas-b, Elvin Jones-d). From Motion. 8/24/1961

I Remember You. Lee Konitz Trio
(Lee Konitz-as, Sonny Dallas-b, Elvin Jones-d). From Motion. 8/24/1961

Warne Marsh.
“[On the 1969 LP Ne Plus Ultra, apart] from [altoist Gary] Foster, who makes a convincing stand-in for Lee Konitz, the group isn’t at all well-known, but Parlato and Tirabasso seem to know what they’re about and when the music goes free … they’re right there. Marsh’s tenor has little of the machine-tooled quality one tends to listen for. It’s as human and expressive a voice as almost any other major practitioner of comparable background and here and there a resemblance to Rollins is detectable. [For] the most part the set is devoted to Tristano themes, ‘Lennie’s Pennies’ and ‘317 E. 22nd’, with a nice reading of Konitz’s ‘Subconscious-Lee’ to round it out. Marsh plays with warmth and fire.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Lennie’s Pennies. Warne Marsh Quartet
(Gary Foster-as, Warne Marsh-ts, Dave Parlato-b, John Tirabasso-d). From Ne Plus Ultra. 10/25/1969

Subconscious-Lee. Warne Marsh Quartet
(Gary Foster-as, Warne Marsh-ts, Dave Parlato-b, John Tirabasso-d). From Ne Plus Ultra. 10/25/1969

Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz collaborated regularly throughout the 1950s, with and without Lennie Tristano, but a live date in 1959 is the last record of that association. While Marsh died in 1987, Konitz is still active at 90 years old. Jimmy Giuffre reunited with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow for a series of recordings in the 1980s and 1990s. He passed away in 2008. Paul Bley and Steve Swallow are, as of this writing, still creating innovative music.

John Coltrane is undoubtedly one of the most influential players in the history of jazz, yet his important work fits within a brief twelve-year period (1955 – 1967). Previously in this series we have covered his work in the 1950s with Miles Davis for Prestige and Columbia, his blowing sessions on Prestige, his solo work with Blue Note (Blue Train), his breakout recordings for Atlantic (Giant Steps) and his collaborations with Duke Ellington and Johnny Hartman. In the next hour, we will summarize the Impulse years, the last chapter in the works of John Coltrane.

Jimmy Giuffre Trio. Fusion. Verve MGV 8397
Jimmy Giuffre Trio. Thesis. Verve V/V6 8402
Jimmy Giuffre Trio. Free Fall. Columbia CS 8764
Paul Bley. Closer. ESP-Disk’ ESP 1021
Lee Konitz. Motion. Verve V/V6 8399
Warne Marsh. Ne Plus Ultra. Hat Hut HatOLOGY 603

Giddins, Gary. 2004. Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of Its Second Century. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 12. Grand-Lee (Lee Konitz)
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Jimmy Guiffre Trio. Free Fall
Paul Bley. Closer
Lee Koniz. Motion
Warne Marsh. Ne Plus Ultra
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 58. Jimmy Giuffre 3, 1961

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