I don’t believe that jazz will ever really die. It’s a nice way to express yourself.

Chet Baker

As summer moves into fall and the weather starts to cool off, we are doing some California dreaming and learning about some of the artists who helped bring the West Coast Jazz (calmer than bebop, with more of a focus on composition and arrangement vs. individual improvisation) sounds to life. 

Jimmy Giuffre (1921 – 2008)

Jimmy Giuffre was a clarinetist, saxophonist, composer, and arranger. His first acclaim came in the Woody Herman Orchestra as a player and writer. The 1947 tune “Four Brothers” was written for the Herman saxophone section at that time, which included: Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, and Serge Chaloff. It was originally titled “Four Mothers” but was cleaned up for easier public consumption. His early big band work also included tours of duty with the big bands of Boyd Raeburn, Jimmy Dorsey, and Buddy Rich.

In the early 1950’s, Giuffre moved to the West Coast, and became an important figure in the cool jazz movement that was just getting started there, specifically due to his sessions with Shorty Rogers and the Lighthouse Cafe All-Star band. In 1954, Giuffre founded his own trio with Jim Hall and several bassists that explored third stream and bluesy folk-jazz notions. In 1956, Giuffre replaced the bass player chair with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, and this unusual grouping of instruments created new textures and dialogues unseen in jazz before.

In the early 1960’s, Giuffre’s trio took new members and a new direction. Bassist Steve Swallow and pianist Paul Bley began creating a new approach to free jazz–instead of the angry force of many of the early free jazz artists, this trio approached open musical dialogue in a headier, softer and more chamber-like manner.

All told, Giuffre fronted groups that released 36 albums, and he was featured on many others with largely West Coast musicians, including Chet Baker, Ray Brown, Anita O’Day, Stan Kenton, Lee Konitz, Lennie Niehaus, and Sonny Stitt.

While restless reedman Jimmy Giuffre was best known for his early big band work and his composition “Four Brothers,” Giuffre created a great deal of forward thinking music in a variety of styles.

 

Gerry Mulligan (1927 – 1996)

It is impossible to think of the music from the 1950’s-60’s without a nod to Gerry Mulligan’s cool baritone sax work and his landmark compositions. In addition to his sax playing, he also played the clarinet, composed and arranged music.

As a high schooler, Mulligan performed in an all-star band that backed up Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sarah Vaughan. Parker, intrigued by Mulligan’s promise, invited him to an after-concert jam session. Mulligan believed that he was invited to listen but was quickly horrified to discover that Bird expected him to sit in with the band.

In the immediate years after high school, Mulligan wrote for the orchestras of Claude Thornhill and Gene Krupa; however, his biggest early moment occurred in 1948 as part of Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool nonet, with arrangements by Gil Evans. Mulligan himself contributed three tunes to this seismic shifting album–“Rocker”, “Venus de Milo”, and “Jeru”, the last named after Davis’ nickname of Mulligan.

Following a move to the West Coast in 1952, Mulligan began to write for the Stan Kenton Orchestra, contributing “Young Blood,” “Walking Shoes,” and a number of dance charts to that library. The early 1950’s also saw the formation of Mulligan’s famous piano-less quartet with Chet Baker. The synchronicity between these two horn players was something to behold, even when they were spinning Bach-like contrapuntal lines. Baker parlayed his movie star looks and light singing chops into stardom while Mulligan languished in jail on a narcotics charge. After Mulligan’s return from jail, Baker left the quartet and was replaced by Bob Brookmeyer.

The late 50’s and 60’s saw Mulligan perform with a who’s who in jazz–everyone from Thelonious Monk to Dave Brubeck to Charles Mingus to Billie Holiday to Louis Armstrong. His baritone sax was rather omnipresent.

His later years brought an interest and success in writing for symphonic forces in addition to constant touring and recording, expanding his musical reach beyond jazz, which he never gave up.

 

Chet Baker (1929 – 1988)

Trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker was nicknamed the “prince of cool”. Blessed with movie star looks (he was sometimes called the “James Dean of jazz”), the definitive West Coast trumpet sound, and a beautiful, light singing voice, Baker was extremely popular in the 1950’s.

As a member of the piano-less Gerry Mulligan Quartet, some of his most notable early gigs were with musicians of great regard (including Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, and Vido Musso), yet Baker really achieved a lasting status. Soon branching out on his own, he won DownBeat Magazine awards as both best trumpeter (beating out Miles Davis and Clifford Brown) and best vocalist at the same time.

While Baker played beautifully, he suffered from a heroin addiction that took his looks, his front teeth (beaten out of him while attempting to buy drugs), his ability to play (he was both deported and incarcerated), and, in the end, his life (filled with drugs, he either fell or was pushed from a 2nd story hotel). An ugly story from a man capable of great beauty.

Thanks for taking a trip out west with us this week!

Hope you enjoyed the ride!