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Jimmy Gourley

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  • Years Active: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

A bebopping guitarist with a solid enough rhythmic edge for R&B, Jimmy Gourley came from a family background that more than just leaned toward conservatory training. Gourley's father actually founded the Monarch Conservatory of Music itself, located in Hammond, IN. Gourley was still popping pimples when he began bumping up against would-be boppers: one of the guitarist's high-school mates was none other than Lee Konitz, a wizard on the alto saxophone but at that point toting a tenor to high-school band class.

Heading south, Gourley went on his first tours in commercial outfits combing the territory of Louisiana and Arkansas. From 1944 through 1946 he shipped out with the Navy. When he returned he picked up a job in Chicago replacing the equally fine guitarist Jimmy Raney in a combo led by the somewhat obscure Jay Burkhart. In the late '40s Gourley was still keeping Windy City company but the names became more prominent, including singers Anita O'Day and the duo of Jackie Cain and Roy Kral.

The '50s would be best described as the guitarist's French period. Basing himself out of Paris, Gourley was associated mostly with Henri Renaud as well as his own house band stints at various clubs. Excellent recording sessions during this period present the guitarist in the company of tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce, trumpeter Clifford Brown, drummer Roy Haynes, and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, not to mention homeboy Konitz. There was a dash back to Chicago during this decade but Gourley primarily spent his time in Paris, a long run as one of the local accompanists at the Blue Note allowing him the opportunity to continue associating with the cream of the jazz crop.

Gourley shows up on in one classic film on jazz, the noted 'Round Midnight, his featured number perhaps asking a question directly about his career, "How Long Has This Been Goin' On?" About a decade later, his own liner notes described him as "still searching, still stumbling" in a session involving his regular trio with drummer Philippe Combelle and bassist Dominique Lemerle. The guitarist is considered one of the most accomplished members of the jazz expatriate community.