July 26, 2008

TOUGH STUFF:

Johnny Griffin, 80, Jazz Saxophonist, Dies (BEN RATLIFF, 7/26/08, NY Times)

Mr. Griffin’s modest height earned him the nickname the Little Giant; his speed in bebop improvising marked him as the Fastest Gun in the West; a group he led with his fellow saxophonist Eddie (Lockjaw) Davis was informally called the Tough Tenor band, a designation that was eventually applied to a whole school of hard-bop tenor players. And in general, Mr. Griffin suffered from categorization. [...]

Johnny Griffin was born in Chicago on April 24, 1928, and grew up on the South Side. He attended DuSable High School, where he was taught by the famed high school band instructor Capt. Walter Dyett, whose other students included the singers Nat (King) Cole and Dinah Washington and the saxophonists Gene Ammons and Von Freeman.

Mr. Griffin’s career started in a hurry: at age 12, attending his grammar school graduation dance at the Parkway Ballroom in Chicago, he saw Ammons play in King Kolax’s big band and decided what his instrument would be. By 14 he was playing alto saxophone in a variety of situations, including a group called the Baby Band with schoolmates, and occasionally with the blues guitarist and singer T-Bone Walker. At 18, three days after his high school graduation, Mr. Griffin left Chicago to join Lionel Hampton’s big band, where he switched from alto to tenor. From then until 1951 he was based in New York City but mostly on the road.

By 1947 he was touring with the rhythm-and-blues band of the trumpeter Joe Morris, a fellow Chicagoan, with whom he made the first recordings for the Atlantic label. He entered the United States Army in 1951; stationed in Hawaii, he played in an Army band.

Mr. Griffin was of an impressionable age when Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie became forces in jazz. He heard them both with Billy Eckstine’s band in 1945 and, having first internalized the more balladlike saxophone sound earlier popularized by Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster, became entranced by the lightning-fast phrasing of bebop, as the new music of Parker and Gillespie was known. In general his style remained brisk but relaxed, his bebop playing salted with blues tonality.

Beyond the 1960s his skill and his musical eccentricity continued to deepen, and in later years he could play odd, asymmetrical phrases, bulging with blues honking and then tapering off into state-of-the-art bebop, filled with passing chords.

In the late 1940s he befriended the pianists Elmo Hope, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk; he called these friendships his “postgraduate education.” After his Army service he went back to Chicago, where he worked with Monk for the first time, a job that altered his career. He became interested in Monk’s brightly melodic style of composition, and he ended up as a regular member of Monk’s quartet in New York in 1958. In 1967 he toured Europe with a Monk octet.


MORE:
from John Barrett Jr.

I was planning to play something off THE LITTLE GIANT on my show tomorrow, along with maybe one of his recordings with Monk and the Tough tenors band. I might also play Carla Bley's version of "Misterioso" off the THAT'S THE WAY I FEEL NOW Monk tribute, as both Griffin and guitarist Vernon Bullock (who died earlier this morning) appear on it. I'd like to do more, but it's also Hank Jones' 90th birthday on Thursday, so we're doing 90 minutes of his music. So much work preparing the stuff on this show, most of which comes from my collection ... and I wouldn't give it up for nothin'. Click the 'Listen Live' button at http://www.widr.org between 12 noon and 3PM EST and hear my nerdy self if you're so inclined.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 26, 2008 8:54 AM

"Little Giant", the one with Julian Preister on T-Bone & Blue Mitchell on trumpet, is also good; Griffin is also in good form on Blue Mitchell's LP "Big Six".

Posted by: Twn at July 26, 2008 1:25 PM

I was planning to play something off THE LITTLE GIANT on my show tomorrow, along with maybe one of his recordings with Monk and the Tough tenors band. I might also play Carla Bley's version of "Misterioso" off the THAT'S THE WAY I FEEL NOW Monk tribute, as both Griffin and guitarist Vernon Bullock (who died earlier this morning) appear on it. I'd like to do more, but it's also Hank Jones' 90th birthday on Thursday, so we're doing 90 minutes of his music. So much work preparing the stuff on this show, most of which comes from my collection ... and I wouldn't give it up for nothin'. Click the 'Listen Live' button at http://www.widr.org between 12 noon and 3PM EST and hear my nerdy self if you're so inclined.

Posted by: John Barrett Jr. at July 26, 2008 4:41 PM

2 other recommendations from different ends of Griffin's career: "A Blowing Session" from 1957, on Blue Note, with fellow tenors Mobley and Coltrane, Lee Morgan on trumpet and a rhythm section of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Art Blakey; and "Chicago, New York, Paris" on Verve from 1995, featuring some of the top guys on the current scene: Roy Hargrove (trumpet), the incomparable Kenny Barron (piano), Christian McBride (bass) and Victor Lewis (drums).

Posted by: Foos at July 27, 2008 7:05 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus
« AT LEAST WHEN JIMMY PADDED HIS RESUME...: | Main | IT'S JULY...: »