arts music

Johnny Griffin: April 24, 1928 - July 25, 2008

Saxophonist Johnny Griffin
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.

Read the New York Times obit.

If you're looking for good music from Griffin, you have plenty of options.
Some suggestions after the jump.
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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.
-Josh

Jimmy Giuffre Dies at 86/An Update on Jim Hall

Jimmy Giuffre died on Thursday, a few days shy of his 87th birthday. Fans of jazz know Giuffre as the composer of the Woody Herman hit, "Four Brothers." Beyond that, Giuffre had a unique mind for music. As I listened to Sonny Rollins' "A Night at the Village Vanguard" yesterday, a record without piano or chordal instrumentation, I thought about how demanding it is to make music like that. Jimmy Giuffre was among one of the first to try, on his record Tangents in Jazz.

I've always liked "The Train and The River," another Giuffre work that people describe as folk-chamber-jazz. When you listen to this, you might suspect that some musicians today like Bill Frisell owe a lot to Jimmy Giuffre. Yes, they do. Anyway, here are two versions of Giuffre's trio playing "The Train and The River," one from the television program The Sound of Jazz:

 

Then, the great trio of Giuffre, trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, and guitarist Jim Hall, from the Newport Jazz Festival documentary, Jazz on a Summer's Day.

One of the Jimmy Giuffre Three members, Jim Hall, has undergone back surgery for the last couple of months. He has been rehabilitating, and is expected to be released on Tuesday. WBGO wishes the distinguished guitarist and NEA Jazz Master a speedy recovery. Check out Jim Hall's Great Live Moment while you're here.
-Josh

Herbie Hancock Keeps the Spotlight

I don't really care so much about why Herbie Hancock won a Grammy. All of the bloggers from the indie rock camp should get over it, which, I'm sure, they have by now (it's just the Grammys, folks...). I'm just happy that jazz gets any attention from television. On that note, check out CBS Sunday Morning this weekend. Correspondent Rita Braver visits Herbie Hancock at home. What she discovers about Herbie is as interesting as you can imagine from someone as interesting as Herbie Hancock. Jazz people already know this. Now, folks who watch TV before church service can get an insider portrait of the recent GRAMMY Album of The Year winner. And how many of us have ever been inside Herbie's pad, anyway?
And tomorrow, The Harvard Foundation (for Intercultural and Race Relations) of Harvard University will name Herbie Hancock 2008 Artist of the Year at their annual Cultural Rhythms ceremony. Cool.
-Josh