The Tenor sax of Johnny Griffin this weekend, aided and abetted by his compatriots, Ronnie Matthews on piano, Ray Drummond and bass and Kenny Washington on drums. Recorded live in Bremen on March 6, 1980 by Nordwestdeutches Rundfunk in Germany.
Johnny Griffin (April 24, 1928 – July 25, 2008) was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. Nicknamed “the Little Giant” for his short stature and forceful playing, Griffin’s career began in the early 1940s and continued until the month of his death. A pioneering figure in hard bop, Griffin recorded prolifically as a bandleader in addition to stints with pianist Thelonious Monk, drummer Art Blakey, in partnership with fellow tenor Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and as a member of the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band after he moved to Europe in the 1960s. In 1995, Griffin was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music.
Griffin was leader on his first Blue Note album Introducing Johnny Griffin in 1956. Also featuring Wynton Kelly on piano, Curly Russell on bass and Max Roach on drums, the recording brought Griffin critical acclaim.
The album A Blowin’ Session (1957) featured John Coltrane and Hank Mobley. He played with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers for a few months in 1957, and in the Thelonious Monk Sextet and Quartet (1958). During this period, he recorded a set with Clark Terry on Serenade to a Bus Seat featuring the rhythm trio of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones.
At that stage in his career, Griffin was known as the “fastest tenor in the west” for the ease with which he could execute fast note runs with excellent articulation. After three albums for Blue Note, Griffin, who did not get along with the label’s house engineer Rudy Van Gelder, recorded for Riverside Records. From 1960 to 1962 he and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis led their own quintet, recording several albums together.
Griffin moved to France in 1963 and to the Netherlands in 1978. His relocation was the result of several factors, including income tax problems, a failing marriage and feeling “embittered by the critical acceptance of free jazz” in the United States, as journalist Ben Ratliff would write. Apart from appearing regularly under his own name at jazz clubs such as London’s Ronnie Scott’s, Griffin became the “first choice” sax player for visiting US musicians touring the continent during the 1960s and ’70s. He briefly rejoined Monk’s groups (an Octet and Nonet) in 1967.
Griffin and Davis met up again in 1970 and recorded Tough Tenors Again ‘n’ Again, and again with the Dizzy Gillespie Big 7 at the Montreux Jazz Festival. In 1965 he recorded albums with Wes Montgomery. From 1967 to 1969, he was part of the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band and in the late ’70s recorded with Peter Herbolzheimer and His Big Band, which also included, among others, Nat Adderley, Derek Watkins, Art Farmer, Slide Hampton, Jiggs Whigham, Herb Geller, Wilton Gaynair, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Rita Reys, Jean “Toots” Thielemans, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Grady Tate, and Quincy Jones as arranger. He also recorded with the Nat Adderley Quintet in 1978, having previously recorded with Adderley in 1958.
On July 25, 2008, Johnny Griffin died of a heart attack at the age of 80 in Mauprévoir, near Availles-Limouzine, France, His last concert was in Hyères, France on July 21, 2008.
If you aren’t already familiar, by all means, dive in and get acquainted.