Johnny Griffin, one of my all-time favorite saxophonists, passed away last Friday. Griff first capture my attention when I was 19 years old. I ran across his Little Giant record and was entranced by it. At that time I hadn't yet developed a taste for Trane, and was just moving toward Cannonball from Bird. Griff was so fluid, confident and his sound expressive. I couldn't imagine how he articulated as fast as he did, it seemed almost super-human.
I was fortunate to see Griff at his peak in the late 80's, when Griffin was making his return to the States after living happily in France for some years. It was a freezing night in the middle of winter and it was dumping snow. I was sitting in the second row of the old 1369 Jazz club in Cambridge. The house was packed. The bassist Charnette Moffet was late to the gig and Griff was pacing around angrily as he warmed up with a tube sock in his bell. The crowd was starting to rumble and Griff was becoming more pissed off as each minute ticked by.
Twenty minutes after the show was scheduled to start Charnette rushed in from the freezing cold and made his way through the packed house to the bandstand. As Charnette set up his bass Griff gave him a dirty look and made a snide comment. As soon as Charnette was ready to play, which must have been well before his fingers had thawed out, Griff counted off the fastest blues I had ever heard. It must have been approaching 400 beats per minute. It was BLAZING!
Griff had build up quite a bit of steam while waiting for Charnette and was going to make him think twice about ever being late again. Griff must have played over 50 punishing choruses on that first tune. The crowd went nuts.
We were experiencing a true giant.
Tim Price on Griff
NY Times obituary
S.O.S. solo transcription
Rhythm-a-ning solo transcription
YouTube video 1
YouTube video 2
YouTube- Blues for Gonz
YouTube- Griff & LockJaw
YouTube- Griff w/Art Taylor