The Little Giant: JOHNNY GRIFFIN Sextet
Blue Mitchell (tp) Julian Priester (tb) Johnny Griffin (ts) Wynton Kelly (p) Sam Jones (b) Albert Heath (drs)
NYC; August, 1959
Olive Refractions (4:30) (Norman Simmons)
The Message (7:15) (Norman Simmons)
Lonely One (4:08) (Babs Gonsalez)
63rd Street Theme (7:28) (Johnny Griffin)
Playmates (4:30) (Saxie Dowell)
Venus and the Moon (6:25) (Norman Simmons)
JOHNNY GRIFFIN doesn’t reach to more than five and a half feet, and there’s no extra poundage on his wiry frame. In that sense, he’s on the small side. But the way to get the real measure of Griffin’s size is not to look at him, but to listen to him. For Johnny’s music is big and powerful–full-toned, muscular and certainly one of the most exciting tenor sax sounds ever heard.
This album should make it clear that this “Little Giant” is getting bigger all the time. There was almost a year and a half separating the recordings of this LP form Griffin’s most recent precious effort as a leader. In that time, things have been happening to Johnny. Perhaps most importantly, he spent several moths with Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot Café in New York, and as more than one musician has discovered, working with Thelonious on a regular basis can prove to be both a challenging and an enriching experience. After that, Griffin has been doing a good bit of travelling – quite literally from coast to coast – on his own. And during all this intervening time, the evidence on this record would seem to tell us, there has been a deepening and maturing of what has always been a very considerable jazz talent.
Johnny has, has long been recognized as a strikingly effective ‘blowing’ musician, and as an incredibly dexterous and agile top-speed handler of his horn. On this occasion, his improvisational skills and his agility are every bit as apparent as ever, but there is also apparent a more thoughtful approach, a fuller use of the varied tools available to a jazzman. For one thing, Griffin, who has at times felt that working in combination with other horns tended to hamper him, has constructed for himself a sextet that plays with exceptional rapport. For another, he has come up with intriguingly off-trail group of tunes – particularly three by the young Chicago pianist Norman Simmons, who has scored them for three horns in a refreshing and intricate vein that leads to a full-bodied ensemble sound and to unusual frameworks to set off the solos by Griffin and his associates.
In addition to Simmons’ compositions, there is a surging blues (63rd Street Theme) that Johnny has of late been using as his theme; Griffin’s own happily raucous version of an old standard, Playmates; and a exotically moody treatment, for tenor, bass and drums, of a rich new tune by Griffin’s friend Babs Gansalez.
With such material to deal with, and in the company of some of the most talented young musicians in the East, Johnny is at his imaginative, blowing best, displaying all of the musical “muscle” that has always been his strong point, but combining with it also a well-developed sense of form and control that convinces the Griffin fans here at Riverside that his album represents an important stride in the career of one of the most formidable tenormen of our day.
GRIFFIN was born in April, 1928, in Chicago (where he and his wife and children still make their home). He joined Lionel Hampton’s band in 1945, three days after graduating from high school. After two years with Hampton, he co-led (with trumpeter Joe Morris) a group that also included drummer Philly Joe Jones. Johnny built a most solid reputation in Chicago during the early and middle50’s, then spent 1957 with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and a good part of ’58 with Monk.
Griffin’s colleagues on this LP have an extrermely impressive list of working credentials. The highly-regarded young trumpet star, BLUE MITCHELL (first brought to Riverside’s attention by fellow-Floridian Cannonball Adderley), has been featured, since late ’58, with Horace Sliver . . . JULIAN BRIESTER, a new face and sound among trombinists, first appeared on this label on Philly Joe’s “Blues for Dracula” album (RLP12-282); Max Roach heard him on that disc and promptly invited Julian to join the Roach quintet . . . . That lawlessly swinging and earthy pianist, WYNTON KELLY, has worked with Dinah Washington and Dizzy Gillespie, and since late ’58 has been a prominent part of Miles Davis’ group . . . . Testimony that SAM JONES is one of the most dependably forceful of bassists is readily available from such leaders as Dizzy, Monk and Cannonball . . . . ALBERT HEATH, younger brother of the M.J.Q.’s Percy and among the most impressive of the newer drummers, is with J. J. Johnson’s group.
Griffin’s previous Riverside albums are –
JOHNNY GRIFFIN Sextet; with Donald Byrd, Pepper Adams (RLP 12-264)
Way Out: JOHNNY GRIFFIN Quartet; with Kenny Drew, Philly Joe Jones, Wilbur Ware (RLP 12-274)
Johnny has also been featured on a wide variety of other LPs on this label, including –
Thelonious in Action (RLP 12-262) and Misterioso (RLP 12-279);
THELONIOUS MONK Quartet, Branching Out: NAT ADDERLEY Quintet (RLP 12-285)
CHET BAKER in New York (RLP 12-281)
Jazz Sahara: AHMED ABDUL-MALIK’s Middle Eastern Music (RLP 12-287)
Blues for Dracula: PHILLY JOE JOENS Sextet (RLP 12-282)
Mitchell and Kelly, who can also be heard on several other Riverside LPs, lead groups of their own on –
Out of the Blue: BLUE MITCHELL Quintet; with Benny Golson, Art Blakey, Wynton Kelly (RLP 12-293)
Big Six: BLUE MITCHELL Sextet; with Johnny Griffin, Curtis Fuller, Wynton Kelly (RLP 12-273)
Kelly Blue: WYNTON KELLY Trio and Sextet; with Nat Adderley, Benny Golson (RLP 12-298)
WYNTON KELLY, with Kenny Burrell (RLP 12-254)
A HIGH FIDELITY Recording – Riverside-Reeve
SPECTROSONIC High Fidelity Engineering
(Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve)
Produced and notes written by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Cover produced by PAUL BACON – KEN BRAREN – HARRIS LEWINE
Back-liner photographs by LAWRENCE N. SHUSTAK
Engineer: JACK HIGGINS (Reeves Sound Studios)
Mastered by JACK MATTHEWS (COMPONENTS Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAURER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.