The Best of Johnny Griffin

Johnny Griffin

The Best of Johnny Griffin
  • CAT # RIV-31332-25

    1. Cherokee 6:47
    2. Woody'n You 6:12
    3. Rhythm-A-Ning 9:28
    4. 63rd Street Theme 7:34
    5. Tickle Toe 5:30
    6. Wade In The Water 3:48
    7. Straight, No Chaser 10:10
    8. Full House 9:13
    9. Autumn Leaves 5:37

In the realm of jazz-a realm filled with colorful sobriquets and honorifics-Johnny Griffin's nickname
was one of the most accurate: The Little Giant.

Yes, Griffin was modest in height; in his hands the tenor saxophone seemed extra large. But when he put it to his lips, he blew with a tone that dwarfed many of his contemporaries, and with such agility and exuberance that he spent his career tagged with a “fastest gun” reputation. But none of that would have mattered, nor earned him the undying respect of peers like John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Roy Haynes, if his music did not also carry a rare balance of exuberance and ease. It was a sound also brimming with a distinct, dominant flavor: the blues.

Griffin had little choice. He was born in 1928 immersed in the blues of South Side Chicago, growing up in a day when no black music—sophisticated big bands or solo street musicians—grew far from the roots. As a teen, he benefited from instruction at DuSable High, starting on clarinet and moving to alto, and then tenor saxophone. At 17, he was on the road with the Lionel Hampton band. At 19, he was deep under the spell of bebop even as his star began to rise in the world of rhythm and blues. He formed a jump band with fellow Hamptonite, trumpeter Joe Morris and recorded for Atlantic Records. By 1951, he was playing baritone sax in a band led by the great tenorman Arnett Cobb.

A two-year stint in the Army preceded his arrival on New York’s fertile jazz scene. His blend of bebop ferocity and downhome feel caught the ear of many, including Thelonious Monk who recommended him to his producer at Riverside Records, Orrin Keepnews. But Blue Note jumped first, recording three albums with Griffin as leader in 1956 and ’57, bringing him critical attention and secure footing in the jazz world.

The next year Keepnews got his chance to record Griffin. The tracks on this disc cover a twenty-year period from 1958 to ’78, mostly before Griffin’s 1963 move to Europe. Together, they represent many facets of his musical persona: the tough blower of the blues and the big band soloist. The master of texture and mood and the speed demon.

Find out more about Johnny Griffin


Since Johnny Griffin's precocious professional debut with Lionel Hampton in 1945, his best work has been guided by spontaneity. One of the fastest… More
The year 1978 was highly significant in the musical chronology of Johnny Griffin (b. 1928). On October 17, the native Chicagoan, who'd been living… More
Johnny Griffin's glorious memorial to Billie Holiday was completed two years to the day after her death on July 17, 1959. Deeply affected and… More
Johnny Griffin met the three Montgomery Brothers at Berkeley, California's Tsubo nightclub in 1962–but he didn't meet them all at once. One… More
Tenor saxophone, French horn, drums, two string basses; a change of pace, indeed, brought off with adventurousness and aplomb by Johnny Griffin… More