Johnny Griffin: April 24, 1928 - July 25, 2008
July 25, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
WBGO bids farewell to Johnny Griffin, a master jazz musician. Many jazz people referred to Griffin as "The Little Giant," no doubt because of his dimunitive stature (he was a shade below 5 and a half feet tall). The consensus, however, was that Griffin's true stature loomed large in the music. Johnny Griffin could easily fall under the category of "hard bop saxophonist," but to do so would be an injustice. When you listen to the raw muscular sound of early Johnny Griffin records, you can hear a combination of saxophone legend Coleman Hawkins, the rough-and-tumble rhythm and blues of Griffin's Chicago hometown, and some definitive gospel wails. It was a big, combustible sound. One that will be missed.
If you're looking for good music from Griffin, you have plenty of options.
Some suggestions after the jump.
Blue Note's A Blowin' Session is probably the most popular Griffin recording, due to the appearance of John Coltrane. I'm partial to The Congregation, the second of his three recordings for Blue Note. Check out the cover drawing from a then-unknown Andy Warhol, and then hear some fantastic music from Griffin with pianist Sonny Clark.
Thelonious Monk was another of Griffin's collaborators. I'm fond of the Art Blakey Jazz Messengers Atlantic recording with both Monk and Griffin.
Monk also helped Johnny Griffin land a record deal with Riverside Records. That's where the saxophonist made big band recordings like the Billie Holiday themed White Gardenia, featuring string arrangements from Melba Liston. The Big Soul Band is loaded with fire, and Griffin lays the brimstone over Norman Simmons' arranging. A small band sleeper from Riverside is The Kerry Dancers, if for no other reason than to listen to "Hush-a-Bye."
Pick any of the "tough tenor" sax dates with Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. They fail to disappoint.
One last record to dig - Johnny Griffin's sideman role on Clark Terry's Serenade to a Bus Seat, a really swinging quintet date.
Feel free to comment with your favorites. I know I'm omitting some good ones.
© 2008 WBGO
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