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If big things often come in small packages, then Johnny Griffin's case as one of the music's top "tough tenors" really need not be plead. Affectionately nicknamed "Lil' Giant" for his diminutive stature, the late saxophonist was all but diminutive came time to rip through changes and defend his titleas would a proud, prized championas the fastest saxophonist roaming the nightclub circuit.
An explosive soloist indeed reputed for his incendiary chops and hearty tone, many often overlook the fact that the Chicago, Illinois expatriate earned the latter part of his sobriquet from those same toughened tenorists with whom he locked horns in his younger years. Needless to say one does not earn such accolade from being a mere flash in the pan.
To commemorate his passing on July 25, 2008, Concord Records has released The Best Of Johnny Griffin, a collection of 12 remastered tracks compiled by expert Nick Phillips that comes augmented by author Ashley Khan's informative, 4-page liner notes.
Covering 20 years from his stellar Riverside quartet recordings with pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer Philly Joe Jones to his 1978 return to the West Coast caught on tape by Saul Zaentz's Galaxy labelby way of his noted stint with pianist Thelonious Monk's Quartet, guitarist Wes Montgomery's Full House (Riverside, 1962) and hard-swinging duels with fellow toughie Eddie "Lockjaw" Davisthe important road marks of Griffin's American career are all duly represented. As a bonus, there's some rather head-spinning soloing during Griffin and Davis' fierce blowing matches on "Tickle Toe" and "Straight, No Chaser," the latter featuring heated, head-cutting-contest tirades and trades between the two giants.
A welcome addition in both Concord and Griffin's respective discographies, The Best Of Johnny Griffin shall certainly not disappoint those who relish the thought of being blown away by some winged, fire-breathing dragon flexing his chops and loving every minute of the Sirocco-like storm it wreaks.
Track Listing: Cherokee; Woody 'n You; Rhythm-a-ning; 63rd Street Theme; Tickle Toe; Wade In The Water; Straight, No Chaser; Full House; Autumn Leaves.
Personnel: Johnny Griffin: tenor sax; Wilbur Ware: bass (1, 2); Roy Haynes: drums (3); Philly Joe Jones: drums (1, 2); Wes Montgomery: guitar (8); Thelonious Monk: piano (3); Clark Terry: trumpet (6); Bob Bryant: trumpet (6); Kenny Drew: piano (1, 2); Ahmed Abdul Malik: bass (3); Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis: tenor sax (5, 7); Harold Mabern: piano (6); Bob Cranshaw: bass (6); Charlie Persip: drums (6); Blue Mitchell: trumpet (4); Julian Priester: trombone (4, 6); Albert Heath: drums (4); Sam Jones: bass (4); Junior Mance: piano (5, 7); Larry Gales: bass (5, 7); Ben Riley: drums (5, 7); Wynton Kelly: piano (4, 8); Paul Chambers: bass (8); Jimmy Cobb: drums (8); Ronnie Mathews: piano (9); Ray Drummond: bass (9); Keith Copeland: drums (9); Matthew Gee: trombone (6); Pat Patrick: alto sax (6); Edwin Williams: tenor sax (6); Charlie Davis: baritone sax (6).
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.