All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Extended Analysis

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...


Johnny Griffin: Johnny Griffin: From Johnny Griffin With Love

Greg Thomas By

Sign in to view read count
Johnny Griffin
From Johnny Griffin With Love
Storyville Records

Chicago native Johnny Griffin was undoubtedly one of the greatest artists to ever play the tenor saxophone. His technical capacity at high velocity tempi was legendary, earning him the nicknames "fastest gun in the West" and "Little Giant." Not mere empty displays, Griffin's virtuosity served his expressive needs.

As Frank Foster has written: "His blazing speed in producing one dynamite phrase after another in rapid-fire succession seemed to be equaled only by the logic in his musical statements—not just a 'lot of notes' with most of them meaning nothing—they made lots of sense, told a story, were completely, harmonically relevant and yet uniquely constructed in his own style." Griffin was also a blues master and a balladeer of deep emotional resonance, especially in the latter decades of his career, which spanned 65+ years before his death in 2008.

This three-CD, one-DVD collection features live sessions from the '60s-80s. "I think that you need an audience to bring the personality out of yourself," Griffin said in an interview with Bob Bernotas. "That's why I hate to play in the studio, 'cause I don't have anyone to play to. When I play I like the vibrations of people, 'cause it helps me create. I want to see people, not microphones."

The first CD, recorded at the Montmartre Jazzhouse in Denmark in 1964, has him with drummer Art Taylor, pianist Kenny Drew and 18-year-old wunderkind bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, who displays the facility and agility that made him a favorite of Griffin, Dexter Gordon and Oscar Peterson. Taylor and Griffin perform "Wee Dot" at a furious pace and on "What Is This Thing Called Love," Drew's comping and solos sparkle. A gentle treatment of "Body and Soul" highlights the soft and furry side of Griffin's personality. Yet the most intriguing cut here may be Griffin's original "Doctor's Blues." He alternates singing mock mournful lyrics with melancholy riffs on tenor and brings laughter to bear on the blues.

The second CD fast-forwards 20 years to the last recording of Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, a fellow "tough tenor" with whom he partnered on nine records. Davis was an original stylist comfortable in any genre from swing to hard bop and a wonderful foil for Griffin, as on "Blues Up and Down" and "Lester Leaps In," where Davis' unorthodox, gruff phrasing contrasts with Griff's sinewy runs and high-note screams. Another Griff blues, "Call It What You Wanna," is notable for the tight accompaniment by drummer Kenny Washington - Drums, bassist Curtis Lundy and the pianist Harry Pickens. The song is also another example of Griffin's fine writing skills, an asset best demonstrated on The Cat, his 1991 masterpiece.

Kenny Drew, who like Griffin was an African-American expatriate in Europe, rejoins him for Disc Three, a joyous affair recorded in Copenhagen in 1989. On "Just Friends" Griffin still plays fast but not with as many notes; by this point he had nothing to prove. The mid-tempo "If I Should Lose You" finds him alternating between swift passages and allusions to the melody in a mid-song cadenza. Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan" is taken at such a slow tempo that Griffin luxuriates in a Ben Webster-like reverie of lush tones. Evidence of a mellower Griffin is apparent on this date, his intensity and fire tempered by maturity.

The Village Vanguard is the location of the set seen on DVD. This 1981 date is Griffin at the height of considerable powers of swagger. Hearing him play tenor on CD is one thing; seeing his prowess and command with a perfect supporting rhythm section—pianist Ronnie Mathews, bassist Ray Drummond and a young Kenny Washington - Drums—is another. (Lockjaw, in a separate date, is also featured in an equally revealing session.) Three Griffin originals are featured: a brisk blues and two compositions introduced originally on Return of the Griffin in 1977—a tribute to Thelonious ("A Monk's Dream") and "56," taken at an audacious tempo.

Good time music played passionately with precision while swingin' with virtuosity and soul; that was Johnny Griffin.

Tracks: DVD: Opening & Blues For Gonzi; A Monk'S Dream; 56 & Closing; S'Wonderful; Shiny Stockings. CD1: Body And Soul; Wee Dot; Doctor'S Blues; Exactly Like You; A Night In Tunisia. CD2: Blues Up And Down; Oh,Gee; Funky Fluke; Hey Lock; Lester Leaps In; Intermission Riff. CD3: Just Friends; If I Should Lose You; Hush-A-Bye; Slukefter Blues; Isfahan; Rhythm-A-Ning.

Personnel: CD1: Johnny Griffin: tenor sax; Art Taylor: drums; Kenny Drew: piano; Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen: bass. CD2: Johnny Griffin, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis: tenor sax; Harry Pickens: piano; Curtis Lundy: bass; Kenny Washington: drums. CD3: Johnny Griffin: tenor sax; Kenny Drew: piano; Jens Melgaard: bass; Ole Streenberg: drums. DVD: Johnny Griffin: tenor sax; Ronnie Mathews: piano; Ray Drummond: bass; Kenny Washington: drums.

Title: Johnny Griffin: From Johnny Griffin With Love | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Storyville Records


Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Trouble No More - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 Extended Analysis
Trouble No More - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981
by Doug Collette
Published: November 19, 2017
Read Love, Gloom, Cash, Love Extended Analysis
Love, Gloom, Cash, Love
by Patrick Burnette
Published: October 21, 2017
Read Motel Shot: Expanded Edition Extended Analysis
Motel Shot: Expanded Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: July 16, 2017
Read Long Strange Trip: The Untold Story of the Grateful Dead Motion Picture Soundtrack Extended Analysis
Long Strange Trip: The Untold Story of the Grateful Dead...
by Doug Collette
Published: July 14, 2017
Read Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe  Edition Extended Analysis
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th...
by Doug Collette
Published: May 27, 2017
Read Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Deluxe Edition Extended Analysis
Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Deluxe Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: May 20, 2017
Read "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe  Edition" Extended Analysis Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th...
by Doug Collette
Published: May 27, 2017
Read "Grateful Dead: Cornell '77" Extended Analysis Grateful Dead: Cornell '77
by Doug Collette
Published: May 6, 2017
Read "Chick Corea: The Musician" Extended Analysis Chick Corea: The Musician
by John Kelman
Published: May 2, 2017
Read "Ella Fitzgerald: 100 Songs For A Centennial" Extended Analysis Ella Fitzgerald: 100 Songs For A Centennial
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: April 29, 2017