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.
A powerful and intesnse set from alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon's Quartet last night at the Salle de Gesu.
Meet the quartet:
Miguel Zenon - saxophone
Luis Perdomo - piano
Hans Glawischnig - bass
Eric Doob, drums (a newcomer who fit in nicely with the group)
Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting Ornette Coleman at his midtown loft and studio, the latter of which he affectionately calls "The Doghouse." When I left, I had an earworm moment. I could not shake "Midnight Sunrise" from my head. On that recording, from Dancing in Your Head, Ornette plays his saxophone with the Master Musicians of Joujouka during a religious ceremony of Sufi trance music.
That's a pretty good indication of how my time with him sounded - sometimes mystic, sometimes swirling with idea and sound, always emphasizing humanity, freedom, and eternity. See, Ornette Coleman is not without his own musical language and his own sound grammar. The best way to understand what Ornette Coleman is saying is to listen to what he has to say. Because at 78, he still has a lot on his mind.
Jazz legend Ornette Coleman is the recipient of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He will be performing at Town Hall this Friday, March 28th.
I had a blast interviewing trumpeter Jon Faddis for SportsJam, WBGO's new sports podcast/on-demand feature. Jon is a real sports fan who loves the old-timers from several different sports. I asked him to put together his all-time jazz band made up of sports stars. He selected Tiger Woods to be the saxophone of John Coltrane. Find out who else he picked, his thoughts on why he thinks jazz and sports are related and hear about his special sports relationship with his dad. Listen now.