JOHNNY GRIFFIN’s Studio Jazz Party
Dave Burns (tp) Johnny Griffin (ts) Norman Simmons (p) Vic Sproles (b) Ben Riley (drs)
commentary by Babs Ganzales
NYC; September 27, 1960
Party time (1:14)
Good Bait (12:24) (Dameron – Basie)
There Will Never Be Another You (8:20) (Gordon – Warren)
Toe-Tappin’ (7:53) (David Burns)
You’ve Changed (7:37) (Carey – Fisher)
Low Gravy (8:06) (Babs Gonzales)
Since jazz is a highly communicative form of art, a jazz performer is very often heard at his best when caught in the act of playing to a “live” audience. In this era of the LP and of tape, the recording of jazz during actual club or concert performance has become a quire frequent occurrence. But while this can often result in a musically better and more exciting record, it can also often mean that quality of sound has to be sacrificed, at least to a degree, because of the difficulties of setting up microphones on location, the questionable acoustics of many clubs, and similar technical pitfalls. Riverside has for some time wanted to try out a combination of the advantageous presence of a “live” audience with the superior technical facilities and quality control of studio recording. JOHNNY GRIFFIN, who has long been known as an outstanding free-blowing musician capable of establishing an almost electric rapport with his audience, seemed an ideal choice as leader for such an experiment.
So invitations were sent out to friends, fellow-musicians, and a scattering of assorted others. Johnny’s good friend Babs Gonzales, the noted bop singer, songwriter, man-about-town, conversationalist, and general all-round (to use one of his own favorite words) “ebullient” personality, was installed as host. Such necessary elements of the proper party mood as food and drink were provided. Thus the stage was set for this “studio party,” with even more informality, relaxation, and closeness of feeling between performers and audience than could be expected on a more conventional “live” club session. The results were the extremely alive and happily swinging sounds to be heard on this record.
In keeping with the “party” mood, this was designed as a small-band ‘blowing’ date, created just about entirely on-the-spot. (It should be noted, though, that this rhythm section had for some time been working with Griffin as a unit in clubs, as part of the quintet co-led by Johnny and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis.) This absence of pre-arrangement is in keeping with Griffin’s musical preferences. “I actually prefer to play with a small group where everybody just blows,” he notes. ”The charts are not jazz to me – the solos are jazz, because they are the expression of an individual.”
Such an approach should not be considered as lacking in thoughtfulness. As the French critic, Andre Hodier, has put it: “Any kind of music in which the act of creation plays a role is, for this very reason, music in which thought is a determining ingredient.” A jazz solo may not be planned far in advance, but nevertheless an improvising musician must determine the idea he is going to express and the specific note he is going to play at least a split-second before he reaches it – and this requires fast thinking, plus a good ear. With this in mind, it is also not surprising that Griffin is a highly conscientious musician: “I and never satisfied with what I have done. I always feel I can do it better the next time.” This is a mark of the true artist, and is a good clue to why a Johnny Griffin remains a consistently moving performer, and is never likely to stagnate or become routine.
Griffin was born in Chicago in 1928. He first studied clarinet and alto sax, but switched to tenor in 1945 for his first professional job, with Lionel Hampton’s band. Since then, his virile and driving style has been featured with such leaders as Thelonious Monk, Arnett Cobb and Art Blakey, and in various groups of his own. Most recently, as noted above, he has teamed up with another notable free-blowing tenorman, “Lockjaw” Davis.
His companions here include trumpeter Dave Burns, a long-time friend of Johnny’s (although they had never before played together) and a veteran of bands led by Dizzy Gillespie and James Moody; pianist Norman Simmons, whose compositions and arrangements contributed so much to Grififn’s remarkable and unusual “Big Soul-Band” album on Riverside; and two driving young rhythm men; bassist Vic Sproles from Chicago and drummer Ben Riley.
The record gets under way with some introductory and scene-setting remarks by Babs Ganzales, after which the party gets under way with Tadd Dameron’s bop classic, Good Bait. Griffin’s tenor kicks things off – slow at first and then with a dramatic rise in tempo. There Will Never Be Another You and Tor-Tappin’ are hard-changing swingers, the latter being an appropriately-named Dave Burns original that opens with a notably fiery trumpet chorus by the composer. You’ve Changed is a ballad closely associated with the late Billie Holiday, a fact noted in Babs’ introduction of the number, in which he interjects a bit of personalized French. The party is brought to a close by a suitably funky blues of the “sown-home” variety, Low Gravy, written for the occasion by Gonzales.
Griffin has been featured on a wide variety of Riverside LPs by artists ranging all the way from Monk to Chet Baker.
His own previous albums for the label are –
The Big Soul-Band: JOHNNY GRIFFIN Orchestra (RLP 331; and Stereo RLP 1179)
The Little Giant: JOHNNY GRIFFIN; with Blue Mitchell, Wynton Kelly (RLP 12-304; and Stereo RLP 1149)
Way Out: JOHNNY GRIFFIN Quartet; with Philly Joe Jones (RLP 12-274)
JOHNNY GRIFFIN Sextet; with Donald Byrd, Pepper Adams (RLP 12-264)
(The present recoding is also available in Stereophonic form on RLP 9338)
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Notes written by CHRIS ALBERTSON
Cover designed by KEN DEARDOFF
Cover and back-liner photos by LAWRENCE N. SHUSTAK
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios
Mastered by JACK MATTHEWS (Components Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GARUER PRODUCITIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, N.Y.