What's New?
The PoD Roundtable
moderated by Bill Shoemaker

What’s New? is an email roundtable that draws together persons of diverse backgrounds to discuss the issues shaping jazz and constituent experimental musics in the early 21st Century.

The panelists for this roundtable include:

Francois Houle François Houle, a Vancouver-based clarinetist and composer. An alumnus of McGill University and Yale University, Houle has been an artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbria, Italy, and is currently Artistic Director of the Vancouver Creative Music Institute. Houle’s recordings span electro-acoustic works, acoustic contemporary chamber music and compositions by jazz clarinet icon John Carter. In addition to working with improvisers like Benoit Delbecq, Joelle Leandre and Evan Parker, Houle has worked extensively in contemporary music, performing in ensembles under the direction of Mauricio Kagel, Toru Takemitsu and Iannis Xenakis. Houle's Website is located at: http://www.francoishoule.ca

Franz Koglmann Franz Koglmann, a Vienna-based brass instrumentalist and composer. Koglmann's music is largely documented on hat ART and between the lines; Koglmann also served as the latter's Artistic Director from 1998 to 2004. Koglmann's Pipe Trio and Pipetet projects have included luminaries like Paul Bley , Lee Konitz and others. Koglmann has received awards, including the Music Award of the City of Vienna (2001), the Music Award of Lower Austria (2003) and the Ernst-Krenek Award (2008).

Michael MooreMichael Moore, an Amsterdam-based woodwind player and composer. A graduate of the New England Conservatory, Moore received Holland’s Boy Edgar Prize in 1986 and the NorthSeas Festival’s Bird Award in 2000. Moore leads several ensembles, documenting his music mainly on his Ramboy imprint, while continuing to perform with ICB Orchestra and other ensembles. Though jazz and improvised music are the major foci of his work, Moore has also collaborated with leading exponents of the musical traditions of Brazil, Turkey and other countries. Additionally, Moore has programmed several festivals and concert series throughout Europe. For more on Moore, consult: http://www.ramboyrecordings.com


Bill Shoemaker:Andrew White makes a critical distinction between influence and usage that I think is especially applicable to assessing Jimmy Giuffre's legacy. Within the context of explaining the legacy of John Coltrane, Andrew posits that the usage of Coltrane's vocabulary was widespread, but that his influence -- the reflection of a deeper, persuasive sensibility -- is surprisingly narrow. The consensus upon Giuffre's passing was that his trio with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow -- with a good-sized minority mentioning the trio with Jim Hall and Ralph Pena in the same breath -- was the case in chief for his legacy. With this distinction in mind, what is the influence of the Giuffre trios currently, and how have you responded to it in your own work?

Franz Koglmann:  I am still angry that I missed a 1961 Vienna concert of the trio with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow. I remember the posters but I was too young for this kind of music. 30 years later I had the possibilty  to catch up. The Trio played in upper Austria at a festival where I performed with my Pipe Trio. A year ago, Wiener Musik Galerie had  arranged a one week workshop with Jimmy Giuffre and students including a finishing concert.  Now as a connaisseur of Jimmy's music (in opposite to 1961) I had the chance to play with him and the guitar player Burkhard Stangl in a free improvised performance in Christine Koenigs' art gallery. It was a private concert without audience; 3 persons listened to it.  But at least I had a trio with Giuffre too!

I often think my own music couldn't exist without Jimmy's. Not only his trios, but also the Tangents in Jazz quartet with Jack Sheldon. I particularly appreciate his arranging work,  for instance, on Lee Konitz's You and Lee with a muted brass section and Konitz as the only reed player. On the other hand, I grew up with European music from Bach to Alban Berg and when I started my own music, I knew Jimmy's music very imperfectly. So the circumstance is not so simple. Jimmy Giuffre's work  left marks in my music but in a mysterious way after I had written my first Pipetet compositions. So maybe it's more a kind of affinty, similar to my affinty to Bob Zieff.

Paul Bley, Jimmy Giuffre and Steve Swallow, 1961
Paul Bley, Jimmy Giuffre + Steve Swallow, 1961                                Herb Snitzer © 2008 (Courtesy of ECM)

Michael Moore: Many can play the notes that Coltrane played but no one has his personality. The same could be said for Giuffre. Comparisons between the two are apt. One might say that the arc of their careers differs to the extent that their respective record companies supported their vision. Is this dysfunctional separation between the vocabulary and the intent perhaps a factor in the declining relevance of jazz in our society?  In preparation for this response I listened once again to Giuffre's '92 interviews with Phillipe Carles. A few points that he brings up, although musical, say a lot about his personality: his discovery that playing softer music would make people listen more intensely; his feeling that steady, known rhythmic structures inhibit the development of a personal music; his preference for counterpoint over harmony, his need to continue studying. I had already been moving towards this intimate chamber music way of playing before I encountered Giuffre's music. When I first heard Fusion and Thesis I felt affirmation, but also 'oh … it's been done before'. At this point in my life it's a comfort zone - I can go there and enjoy myself in an uncomplicated way.  When playing with others I can usually tell if they've been touched by that trio.  

François Houle: The trios opened new vistas for compositional craftsmanship within the jazz vernacular. It preceded the era of experimentation with instrumentation, and the role/function of the instruments within the traditional jazz democratic system/constellation. On close listening, one notices the complete involvement of the instruments in the rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic aspects of trio playing. For example; in "Jesus Maria" (1961), the clarinet plays the theme, which is taken over by the bass, and then the piano. As the bass takes over the theme, the clarinet immediately engages in a rhythmic function, emphasized by Giuffre’s use of air blown through a key hole, imitating the sound of brushes on a hi-hat. Swallow’s bass playing uses similar devices on his bass to great percussive effect. While the drums are absent from the equation, the trio is constantly re-creating the propulsive elements of jazz in creative ways. This, and many other innovative approaches to ensemble playing, is what made Giuffre’s (and his sidemen’s) contribution to jazz so pivotal in the advancement of the form onto new directions.

White posits that usage is distinct from influence. I am not sure how you can separate the two, as they go hand in hand in such a case as an artist’s contribution to his/her art form. What we are witnessing now is a plurality of directions that stems from the embracing of the experimental spirit of the sixties into a practical, almost pragmatic at time, approach to creative music. We can cite Giuffre along with Coleman, Taylor, Coltrane and Braxton, as one of the pioneers of compositional processes that uses free improvisation as its core components. What is truly distinct between Coltrane and Giuffre is the construct of their work. While Coltrane was a melodicist who took the traditional chord/scale construct of jazz to new heights, Giuffre focused on the relationship between the voices and lines of the jazz form, letting the harmonic content be determined by the sum of the parts. His explanation of how he devised a creative writing method based on baroque contrapuntal techniques ("L’Art et la manière du contrepoint” from Jimmy Giuffre Talks & Plays, CELP cel41.42) fully illustrates his approach to composition.

While very distinct stylistically, Giuffre and Coltrane’s legacies tend to merge from a twenty-first Century vantage point. The idea of fusion is more present than ever in today’s music, thanks to their visions. One would be hard pressed to find the exceptions to the concept of chamber jazz that does not includes aesthetic elements borrowed from either of these masters.

As a clarinet player, I was very encouraged by what Giuffre, and soon after John Carter, did for the instrument in creative music. The role models were so scarce, or so entrenched in stylistic approaches that lack relevance to my reality in the early 90’s, that my discovery of their music opened up my eyes to the new ways of conceiving music with this instrument. Like Steve Lacy on the soprano sax, Giuffre redefined the role of the clarinet in jazz. Also like Lacy, Giuffre tailored his compositional techniques to shed the best light possible on his instrument of choice.

The physical nature of the clarinet, as opposed to Coltrane's tenor saxophone, pushed Giuffre to explore jazz from a chamber music side, echoing his earlier activities with tightly arranged combos West Coast combos like Lighthouse All-Stars. This brought the aesthetic elements of his music a step closer to the type of music being conceived by European composers such as Boulez, Nono, Scelsi, etc. The fact that his trio activities quickly gravitated to a “free” approach indicates a willingness to let intuition take over process. Again, this is very similar to what Coltrane did with his late quartet.
Shoemaker: Franz cites two fine examples of pre-trio Giuffre that signaled he was an innovator. Certainly, the trios were quantum leaps by comparison. But, therein is the rub. We tend to look at quantum leaps in an improviser or composer's development as a priori events, lightning bolts of pure inspiration that are not grounded in a musician's history to date. Even in extreme cases like Coltrane's, however, there are threads of materials and practice that provide continuity and context throughout his quantum leaps. What do you hear in Giuffre's trios that can be traced back to his earlier work? And, do you think that the aura-like quantum leap stereotype that surrounds Giuffre's trios distorts their legacies?

Koglmann: I think Giuffre is underrated concerning the quantum leap. From my point of view he is an innovator like Tristano, Coleman or Coltrane. What we hear in his earlier works as well as in his trios is an incredible lightness and elegance and this makes the difference to Coltrane and others. This could also be valued as a handicap; powerful exhibitionism was not Giuffre’s cup of tea. Otherwise, a lot of his tunes sounds bluesy, my impression is he lived in an artificial paradise but he didn’t loose the contact to the street. In his work, you can find very different aspects. Maybe we can say he connected the sophistication of Mulligan with the refinement of Claude Debussy and the freedom of Coltrane but finally he landed beyond from all them and created his own style. He was really a stylist. Coltrane was the more expressive player but Giuffre was that kind of stylist  whose work never will become aged. During my composing sometimes I am asking myself: How would Jimmy have done this right now?

Jimmy Giuffre was both: a (sometimes) European oriented composer/arranger (like Francois noted as well) and a very spontaneous improviser. Some of his trio work (Free Fall!) evoke to me a bon mot by the filmmaker Robert Altman: “Jazz has outlasted, because it neither has a beginning nor an ending. It is a moment“. (Quoted from memory).

I am amazed that Michael had almost similar experiences with Giuffre’s music as I. More affirmation than original influence. A later discovery. First the name, then the music.

Moore: Giuffre was a seeker - looking for new avenues of expression. He had public and media support and ample performance possibilities for exploration. It always amazes me that those guys had such long engagements in clubs - even months at a time. It's inevitable that many of them would experiment.

The trio with Peña/Atlas and Hall, although divergent in instrumentation, seems like a logical extension of the southern California aesthetic at that time as evidenced by the work of Shelly Manne and others.
In August 1960 he spoke about changing his clarinet sound and was playing more aggressively on the tenor sax. Between August 1960 and March 1961 was a more radical change but not one entirely unexpected. He met Paul Bley - Jim Hall was not going to lead him in that direction.  With Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman active I expect that it's natural that the seekers would be investigating more open forms, although basically it was the traditional theme/development/recapitulation - even with the Giuffre/Friedman/Phillips group. 

The 'quantum leap' construct does not make sense to me in either Giuffre's or Coltrane's case. I don’t think that Giuffre was breaking new ground as much as he was playing with like-minded musicians. I expect that the most radical change in his life at the time was his sudden lack of label support and the drying up of performance opportunities as soon as he began to play freer.

Houle: I had the good fortune to find a book of Giuffre’s work for small combos from the 50’s (published by Criterion Music Corp, 1957) back in 1993. The way Giuffre laid out and scored his music at the time, the counterpoint expertise and a care for instrumental coloration, already presaged what were to be the core aesthetic elements of his music for the rest of his composing life. In almost all of his earlier compositions there is a highly detailed and original counter melody. Giuffre employs slightly contrasting rhythmic figures that support the lead part in more than one way. In trying out these arrangements I quickly realized that the second horn part is just as interesting melodically as the lead part. Fast forward to the late trio music and you’ll find the same care for details in the interaction between the bass, piano, and clarinet. This attitude for active, equally interesting parts is the basis of the trio music, especially as it carries through aesthetically in the completely improvised music of Free Fall. The quantum leap idea certainly distorts the image of the artist honing his craft over a life time of dedicated study, experimentation, and interaction with like-minded musicians, visual artists, writers, etc. The published output (CDs, manuscripts) only gives minute snapshots of the sustained effort for the artist to create a body of work that is constantly evolving and being refined; from piece to piece, from carefully placed notes on a piece of manuscript. I don’t think that Bach re-invented the wheel every time he sat down to compose (seemingly every day!), but rather spent extraordinary amounts of energy forging ahead with new ideas within the musical environment of the time. Same can be said of Messiaen, Coltrane, Xenakis, Braxton and others.

Shoemaker: The emphasis placed on the instrumentation of Giuffre's trios is certainly warranted because it placed jazz in a chamber music context, and the implications of this are still being played out by many musicians around the world. But, I think this has been somewhat at the expense of the materials. Giuffre wrapped his late ‘50s trio music in a very innocuous term: “blues-based folk jazz."  Pieces like “The Train and the River” were as American as anything by Aaron Copland and Pete Seeger. The early Carla Bley compositions that were included on the Verve albums have a wonderful naivety. Even the improvisations on Free Fall, while not having many tangible connections with contemporary jazz, nevertheless reflect a sensibility drawn as much to the rustic as to the abstract. Just as he sought to convey intensity with a soft attack, Giuffre also seemed to be concerned with rewiring our associations with materials, even those as banal as tunes from The Music Man and as frequently trivialized as "Mack the Knife." It is a quiet, even quaint form of subversion. Do you think this subversive aspect of Giuffre's art has been sufficiently recognized and celebrated?
Koglmann: I know a lot of connaisseurs who prefer this quiet subtle subversion much more than a noisy power music or hard driving jazz. This is probably a minority, though.

In Vienna, Giuffre said the best synonym for the term "Cool" is "Nonchalance." It meant to him a relaxed, distant way of playing, the opposite of agressive expression. "Letting things develop without pushing. You drop behind the beat and come back to a point where you are synchron with the beat“. Giuffre explained that people have learned it from Charlie Parker but the Cool musicians have elevated it to a dominant principle.

Giuffre also spoke about his "schizoid disposition to variety."  He said "I have not only one identity, I have more of them simultaneously." (Which reminds of Arthur Rimbaud’s "Me is another one.“)

As we know, one of his identities was a composer. A real composer. He had studied contrapuntal methods included quadrupal counterpoint with Wesley La Violette and he became a major composer of the Third Stream movement. From the block chords of  "Four Brothers“ to "Four Parameters“ (melody, harmony, counterpoint, rhythm). Listen to the complex interlockings and bitonal chords in "Pharaoh“! Maybe typical for him: In opposition to these advanced elements, the rhythmical characteristics were rather simple. 

Originally, Giuffre wanted to be a composer in the European sense of the word. He appreciated Bartok, Hindemith, Schostakovitch and the Second Viennese School with Schönberg, Berg and Webern. He went for being an Avant-Garde composer who produces "Crazy sounds,“ etc. But then he recognized that this had not so much to do with his  character and discovered "Coolness“ was an appropriate medium for him.

Houle: I just got back from the International Clarinet Association’s annual ClarinetFest conference, held in Kansas City. You would think that such an event would salute one of the great contributors and innovators to the clarinet world. Not a special mention or any discussion on the subject of Jimmy Giuffre. I bring this up to give a bit of perspective on how the subversive elements in art music do not get recognized nor celebrated until much after the fact. If at all. Giuffre was a member of this "academia“ at NEC, yet his work falls into a grey area in that context. His contribution being marginalized or ignored by the cognocenti. To further illustrate the point, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw have recently been the subject of research papers and articles in "The Clarinetist,“ the official magazine of the ICA. A significant time lapsed between these artists’ artistic apogee and the scholarly attention given to them. In the best of worlds, Giuffre’s passing would have made the cover story of that magazine, with a retrospective underlining significant career milestones.

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