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In Passing: Giuffre, big-band musician, composer

Jimmy Giuffre, a jazz musician who composed a popular big-band anthem of the 1940s and became an innovator of a minimalist form of classically inspired jazz, died Thursday in Pittsfield, Mass.

He had Parkinson’s disease and would have turned 87 Saturday.

Giuffre (pronounced JOO-free) had his greatest early fame as the composer of “Four Brothers,” a popular instrumental hit for Woody Herman’s big band in 1947.

Later, after a stint in the saxophone section of Herman’s big band, Giuffre formed a series of trios that explored what he called “blues-based folk jazz.”

His groups blended advanced musical techniques with a homespun, back-porch feeling. Giuffre, who played clarinet, tenor saxophone and baritone saxophone in the 1950s, gained modest popularity in the late 1950s and was featured in the documentary “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” filmed at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.

“Jimmy followed his own angel,” trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, a former member of Giuffre’s trio, said Friday.

“He was one of the most courageous and dedicated men I ever met. He didn’t care about what was profitable. He did what he felt was necessary.”

Groebli, comic skating duo’s ‘Frick’

Werner Groebli, half of the comic ice-skating duo “Frick and Frack” adored by millions in the 1940s and 1950s, and who continued to entertain audiences as a solo artist for decades, died April 14 at a hospital in Zurich. He was 92.

No cause of death was reported.

Groebli – Frick – and his skating partner, Hans-Rudi “Frack” Mauch, were Swiss-born figure skaters who turned successfully to goofing around. Life magazine dubbed them the “Clown Kings of the Ice,” but they were praised for their grace as much as their comic timing and off-balance acrobatics.

The New York Times once described Groebli as “a master skater whose knack for comedy and instinct for effect make the technical know-how of brilliant skating a tool for greater artistry.” Olympic figure skating champion Debi Thomas was among his admirers.

When Groebli and Mauch began performing in the early 1930s, their motivation was to make fun of what they called the pomposity of professional skaters.

The donned lederhosen – traditional Alpine clothing – and incorporated spoofs of ballet and other traditional styles in their act. They became a mainstay of Shipstads and Johnson’s much-praised Ice Follies show from 1939 to 1954 and also appeared in films and on television.

Groebli became best-known for his “spread-eagle cantilever,” which he once described this way: “Put your knees over a bar, hook your feet behind a solid support, and lean over backward from the knee until you are parallel to the floor and your head is almost touching it.”

He added, “A lot of people can do it now, but some of them seem to suffer a lot. The whole idea is not to show any pain when you do it. After all, it’s supposed to be funny.”


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