Yesterday, I featured interviews with jazz legends Danny Bank, Bud Shank, Hal McKusick and Teddy Charles fondly recalling the late saxophonist and arranger Jimmy Giuffre. I also included comments and rare photos from Von Babasin, the documentary filmmaker and son of bassist Harry "the Bear" Babasin.
Today, I merely want to share with you my Top 10 Jimmy Giuffre recordings, on which he played or arranged—or both. Nearly all are available as downloads for 99 cents each:
1. How High the Moon—Boyd Raeburn (1947). Before Claude Thornhill there was Boyd Raeburn, whose orchestra was one of the most exciting band laboratories of the early and mid-1940s. His musicians were so exceptional that they could take on anything an arranger could score. This track was arranged by Johnny Richards and featured the sultry voice of Ginny Powell, Raeburn's wife. Recorded in August 1947, Powell's "slick chick" rendition of How High the Moon was recorded four months before June Christy's with Stan Kenton. Giuffre is playing alto and tenor in the reed section here on one of his earliest recordings. The band featured Conte Candoli, Bernie Glow, Milt Bernhart, Bart Varsalona and Buddy DeFranco. This track is available for 99 cents at iTunes on Boyd Raeburn: Jewells.
2. Four Rich Brothers—Buddy Rich (1948). Four Brothers is easily Giuffre's best-known arrangement. Written for Woody Herman's band in late 1947, the song's sax soli and hair-raising harmonies finally allowed big band sax sections to have an ego. Originally titled Four Mothers by Giuffre, Woody changed it to Four Brothers for fear of crossing the taste line. Despite the power of the Herman recording, Giuffre's little-known arrangement here of the same song for the Buddy Rich band of 1948 is superior. For one, this version has more punch with Buddy at the helm. For another, all sections of the band get a chance to wail. Plus, Giuffre plays on this one (he isn't on Woody's version). And Buddy's reed section is fabulous—Hal McKusick on alto; Giuffre, Ben Lary and Warne Marsh on tenors; and Harvey Lavine on baritone. Why no second alto? Hal McKusick told me last night that he brought tenor saxophonist Marsh into the band because he played on the high-end of his horn, providing an alto sound and feel. Still don't believe this version tops Woody's? Compare for yourself. The track is available as an Amazon download here for 99 cents.
3. So Long Broadway—Lighthouse All-Stars (1952). A Teddy Charles original, this tune captures the raw heat and energy of the West Coast in the very early 1950s. You literally can hear cool jazz emerging from bop on this track. Teddy told me over the weekend that these recordings were made secretly, without the band's knowledge. So the exciting music you hear is the sound you would have heard on Hermosa Beach back in '52. Giuffre plays baritone sax on this track and is joined by Stan Getz, Bob Cooper, Teddy Charles, Russ Freeman, Howard Rumsey and Shelly Manne. You'll find this track on Stan Getz and the Lighthouse All-Stars, a terrific double CD that captured the dawn of West Coast jazz. Go here.
4. Short Stop—Shorty Rogers and His Giants (1953). This punchy arrangement by Shorty Rogers is really a love letter to Four Brothers, with a bouncier West Coast feel. The harmonies are sensational, and Giuffre takes a swinging, all-out tenor solo that follows fabulous blowing by alto saxophonist Art Pepper. Shorty Rogers' contribution to the West Coast jazz scene is vastly underrated, and his 1953 band was staggeringly great. In addition to Shorty and Giuffre, the band included Maynard Ferguson, Milt Bernhart, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Marty Paich, Curtis Counce and an explosive Shelly Manne. Every track sizzles with West Coast smarts—Coop de Graas, Infinity Promenade, Boar-Jibu and all the rest. The RCA CD pictured is going for $67. But you can find this track and all the rest on a brilliant download at iTunes called Shorty Rogers Volume 1: Ferguson, Shank, Manne & More.
5. Margo—Teddy Charles Quintet (1953). This Teddy Charles original is one of the first Third Stream ballads. Recorded for Prestige Records when Teddy Charles was playing and producing sessions for the label on the West Coast, the track features Teddy on piano (rather than vibes), Giuffre on a velvety tenor sax, and trumpeter Shorty Rogers, who's in a rare pensive mode. Teddy's sensitive melody line is reminiscent of In a Mist, and it's laced with dramatic turns. You can find the track on the CD Teddy Charles and the Westcoasters here.
6. Four Others—Woody Herman (1954). Giuffre's arrangement for this Woody Herman Capitol session swings. His arrangement, which in the 1954 version showcases the band's trumpet section,
is brisk and bouncy, and only hints at Four Brothers. For some strange reason, the track was never commercially released at the time. Sadly, it's available only on Mosaic's Complete Capitol Recordings of Woody Herman box, which is now out of print. The good news is that a version featuring the trombone section from a year earlier is available at iTunes as a 99-cent download on Woody Herman's Finest Hour.
7. Blue Bluebird—Maynard Ferguson (1956). This medium-tempo blues shows off Giuffre's swinging writing style for Maynard Ferguson's Birdland Dream Band. The sax section says it all—Herb Geller on alto, Al Cohn and Budd Johnson on tenors, and Ernie Wilkins on baritone. There's even a high-flying solo by trumpeter Ernie Royal. You can find this CD here. Or you can download a version of Blue Bluebird at iTunes from The Essential Maynard Ferguson.
8. The Blues Train—Hal McKusick (1956). Giuffre wrote and arranged this tune and two others for Hal McKusick's Jazz Workshop album. The playing here is as soft as cat's paws, and Giuffre's writing is perfect. Hal is on alto, Art Farmer is on trumpet, Barry Galbraith is on guitar, Teddy Kotick is on bass and Osie Johnson is on drums. Hal's sound is sublime, and the stealthy blues and hushed feel are remarkable. Listen as the group emulates the swinging clickity-clack of a train and sound of a midnight locomotive whistle off in the distance. You can buy The Jazz Workshop here.
9. Hooray for Hollywood—Anita O'Day (1959). Unlike Anita O'Day Swings Cole Porter with Billy May, recorded four days earlier, Cool Heat: Anita O'Day Sings Jimmy Giuffre Arrangements was more relaxed and jaunty. It's well known that May and O'Day didn't get along, resulting in rough studio exchanges and jagged executions. By contrast, Anita felt completely at ease with Giuffre and his cool charts, as Hooray for Hollywood demonstrates. Dig the fanfare configurations written for trumpets and trombones at the opening. Anita's scatting to Giuffre's chart is very hip. Cool Heat can be found as a download at iTunes.
10. Moonlight in Vermont—Lee Konitz/Jimmy Giuffre (1959). This recording was made a month after the Anita O'Day-Jimmy Giuffre session. Despite adventures in Third Stream jazz at the time, Giuffre's arrangement here is straightforward, harmonically teasing out the luster of this nostalgic standard. The album features only reeds backed by a superb rhythm section. The reeds were Hal McKusick and Lee Konitz on altos, Warne Marsh and Ted Brown on tenors, and Giuffre on baritone. This album also gives you a chance to match up the playing of Hal and Lee (Hal takes the first alto solo on Moonlight in Vermont). By the way, that's Bill Evans on piano (with Buddy Clark on bass and Ronnie Free on drums). Rather than spend $40 on the double CD import, simply buy Bill Evans & Lee Konitz Play the Arrangements of Jimmy Giuffre, which combines the albums You and Lee and Lee Konitz Meets Jimmy Giuffre. It's only $14 here.