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Way Out!: JOHNNY GRIFFIN Quartet

RLP-117 118 A
RLP-117 118 front
RLP-117 118 back.jpg
RLP-117 118 A.jpg
RLP-117 118 B.jpg

Johnny Griffin (ts) Kenny Drew (p) Wilbur Ware (b) Philly Joe Jones (drs) 

February, 1958


1. Where's Your Overcoat, Boy? (6:13) (Richard Evans)

2. Hot Sausage (4:01) (Jody Christian)

3. Sunny Monday (9:52) (John Hines)


1. Cherokee (6:38) (Ray Noble)

2. Terry's Tune (8:00) (Terry Thornton)

3. Little John (7:30) (John Hines)

   JOHNNY GRIFFIN, whose exciting and vibrant command of the tenor sax is spotlighted on this album, has come a very long way since he accidentally became a tenor player some thirteen years ago. The fortunate accident (which undoubtedly made him the only musician to be given a job before ever having played, or even owned, the instrument for which he was hired) came about when young Griffin, three days after graduating from a Chicago high school, was asked to join Lionel Hampton’s big band for a road tour. Johnny had studied several reeds in school, primarily alto sax (which he played as leader of his own schoolboy sextet), and had no doubt that he was Hamp’s new alto man – until the first night, in Toledo, Ohio. He was on his way to the bandstand when they asked him: “Where’s your tenor?”  Johnny never was able to figure out the source of the confusion; what he did at that moment was to mumble some excuses, dash back to Chicago where he was able to lay hands on the required horn, and then rejoin the band. In this unlikely fashion was one of today’s most formidable tenor stars born.

   From this odd but verifiable story may be drawn such conclusions as that Griffin was ten (as he is today) a highly resourceful man and musician, inventive and exceedingly hard to throw off stride. Johnny himself tends to minimize the story, saying; “I was playing alto then as if it was a tenor anyway.” But in any event he kept on with his newly chosen instrument, on, for which we should all be thankful. For no matter what he might have accomplished if he had stayed with the alto (or clarinet, English horn or oboe – all of which he had studied), the fact is that he is probably today’s most exciting jazz tenor man. And on tenor he has achieved a flowing, intricate, compelling sound and distinctive line – contributions without which the current jazz scene would unmistakably be the poorer.

   The unusual cover photo for this album was selected in a deliberate effort to depict the ‘feel’ of Griffin’s music. It shows a contemporary Netherlands sculptor’s depiction of a tulip; and the way in which its lines surge and unfold in long, richly sweeping, convoluted curves and arcs – daring, yet always thoroughly in balance, seems to us a remarkably apt and meaningful paraphrase of a Griffin solo. As art, both are “way out” yet fully controlled . . .

   No matter how effectively he has worked in combination with other horns (as he does on RLP 12-264 and also as a sideman on several other Riverside LPs), Johnny feels that he can be most himself, most expressive of his own jazz concepts, in the quartet format used here. Many horn men feel this way, but standing up and really stretching out at length, alone and unaided in front of a rhythm section, is very definitely a means of separating the men from the boys. If you are at all lacking in self-confidence, if you don’t really have something to say quicker and more damming way of saying it, there is no public. This album should make it obvious that Johnny Griffin need have no fears along that line.

   Johnny has definitely helped his own cause here by two wise and tasteful sets of decisions. One was to feature on this date new tunes written by four talented Chicago colleagues. Jazzmen Richard Evans, Jody Christian and John Hines, and singer Terry Thornton have served Griffin well here (in addition to indicating that more should be heard from them), with the two blues – Terry’s Tune and Sunny Monday – particularly notable as vehicles for demonstrating that this comparatively little tenor man has not only a big sound but a big ‘soul.’ All five originals stay within the boundaries of a medium-tempo range that – despite a somewhat over-stressed, although accurate, reputation as a frighteningly fast tenorman – is actually where Johnny likes best to be. It is noteworthy that he puts across the full impact of his intricacy and dexterity of ideas and of fingering here without having to resort to blazing tempos. (But just to show what he can do way up there, he takes on that durable old warhorse, Cherokee, for a fresh and dazzling display of fireworks.)

   Griffin’s second valuable decision was his choice of a superior rhythm section. WILBUR WARE, a long-time Chicago sidekick, is one of today’s most creative bassists, and fits in flawlessly with the leader’s style. The swinging PHILLY JOE JONES, best known for his long association with Miles Davis, first worked with Johnny back in the late ‘40s, and both men have long been outspoken enthusiasts of each other’s playing. KENNY DREW is certainly one of the most talented, tasteful and deep-down of today’s Eastern pianists. Before recording, Griffin knew him primarily by reputation only; shortly thereafter, in a Down Beat interview, he named Kenny the pianist he’d most like to work with regularly. All three men have recorded frequently for Riverside.

   Griffin was born in Chicago in April, 1928. After the already-noted beginning of his career, in June of 1945, he worked on and off with Hampton for two years, co-led a small group with trumpeter Joe Morris for three years, spent two years in Hawaii with the Army (1951-53), and during the next three years developed into a notable figure on the Chicago jazz front. It was during this period that he worked briefly but significantly with Thelonious Monk in Chicago. For it was Monk who first brought Johnny to Riverside’s attention. And, when Griffin had returned to his home town after spending most of 1957 on the road with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, it was Monk who was responsible for bringing him forcefully and successfully to the attention of the New York jazz public by sending for Johnny to join his quartet at the Five Spot Café in the Summer of 1958.

   Johnny’s previous Riverside album was –

JOHNNY GRIFFIN Sextet; with Donald Byrd, Pepper Adams, Kenny Drew, Wilbur Ware, Philly Joe Jones

(RLP 12-264)

   He can also be heard in featured roles on –

Thelonious in Action: THELONIOUS MONK Quartet with Johnny Griffin; recorded at the Five Spot Café (RLP 12-262)

The Chicago Sound: WILBUR WARE Quintet featuring Johnny Griffin (RLP 12-252)

Big Six: BLUE MITCHELL, with Griffin, Curtis Fuller, Wynton Kelly, Jones, Ware (RLP 12-273)

Serenade to a Bus Seat: CLARK TERRY Quintet; with Griffin, Kelly, Jones, Paul Chambers (RLP 12-237)

CHET BAKER in New York; with Griffin, Al Haig, Chambers, Jones (RLP 12-281)

   Other outstanding Riverside LPs include –

Mulligan Meets Monk: THELONIOUS MONK and GERRY MULLIGAN (RLP 12-247)

Monk’s Music: THELONIOUS MONK Septet; with Coleman Hawkins, Art Blakey (RLP 12-242)

Portrait of Cannonball: JULIAN ADDERLEY QUITNET (RLP 12-269)

MAX ROACH New Quintet (RLP 12-280)

Freedom Suite: SONNY ROLLINS (RLP 12-258)

It’s Magic: ABBEY LINCOLN; with Benny Golson, Kenny Dorham, Art Farmer (RLP 12-277)

The Modern Touch: BENNY GOLSON Sextet; with j. J. J. Johnson, KennyDorham (RLP 12-256)

A HIGH FIDELITY Recording – Riverside-Reeves SPECTROSONIC High Fidelity Engineering

   (Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve)

Produced, and notes written by ORRIN KEEPNEWS

Cover photograph of “The Tulip” – sculpture by NAUM GABO, courtesy of Peter Adelberg,

   European Art Color Slide Co., N.Y.

Cover designed by PAUL BACON

Engineer; JACK HIGGINS (Reeves Sound Studios)


553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.

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