The Kerry Dancers and other swinging folk
JOHNNY GRIFFIN Quarte
Johnny Griffin (ts) Barry Harris (p) Ron Carter (b) Ben Riley (drs)
NYC; December 21, 1961 (1-#2, 2-#2 and 3), January 5, 1962 (1-#3, 2-#1 and 4), January 29, 1962 (1-#1 and 4)
The Kerry Dancers (4:38) (traditional/ arr. Griffin)
Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair (6:11) (trad./ arr. Griffin)
Green Grow the Rushes (4:34) (trad./ arr. Griffin)
The Londonderry Air (4:52) (trad./ arr. Griffin)
25 1/2 Daza (4:39) (Sara Cassey)
Oh, Now I See (5:08) (Johnny Griffin)
Hus-a-Bye (4:38) (Fain – Selen – Thomas)
Ballad for Monsieur (3:42) (Sara Cassey)
When Riverside issued a pervious Johnny Griffin LP under the title, “Change of Pace,” it was an accurate-enough name for the particular recital involved, but also one that will inevitably cause album-titling problems in the future. For almost every Griffin album released,(except possibly for the ones he records with his regular working partner, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis) could just as easily be called a change of pace, and now that title can never be used again. The present album is no exception.
The apparent reason for this is Griffin’s resolute insistence on being much more than the world’s fastest tenor player, a designation that was attached to him early in his career. Of course, many musicians would be more than satisfied to accept that kind of reputation, and let what they considered well enough alone. That Griffin has not speaks well for him, as does resistance to type-casting of any kind. But in this case, there is a more basic principle involved. In such a highly competitive era of jazz as we are now in, virtuosity (and sheer speed of fingering is virtuoso effect) is not something that one strives for. It is, rather, the place where one begins. The level of technical excellence is so high among the best-known players (for examples: Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Philly Joe Jones) that a young musician must have considerable command of his instrument even to attempt playing n their league. So, virtuosity is the beginning, and deeper personal expression, if it comes, arrives later, with maturity.
We have seen, in recent years, certain cases in which brilliant young musicians burst into notoriety largely on the basis of virtuosity. When, as sometimes happened, it became apparent that technical skill was all they had to offer, they faded from sight in the brutally competitive world of beg-time jazz, and were afterwards heard from only sporadically. Obviously, then, virtuosity is not enough, and yet another change-of-pace album such as this one is ample evidence that Johnny Griffin appreciates that fact.
But even when these points are taken into consideration, this is still not necessarily the sort of album that one would expect from Griffin. One side is made up of folk songs; the other is not. Thereby, Griffin proves an interesting point. For this album, traditional on one side and – with one exception – contemporary on the other, reveals a remarkable unity of feeling throughout. Thus, that same quality of “soul” with which Griffin has in the past notably infused derivations of blues and spirituals – the folk music of his own people – has here been transmuted to other folk music; has been given a completely contemporary jazz feeling; and displays a thoroughgoing breath and depth of feeling.
Griffin has, as he would need to have, the assistance of a highly sympathetic rhythm section. Pianist Barry Harris, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Ben Riley have appeared on so many recordings that it seems unnecessary to go into their histories again. It does seem worthwhile to mention, however, that Riley, who was once a member of the griffin-Davis Quintet, seems, as of this writing, to be the permanent drummer that Sonny Rollins spent so much time searching for, which is no small compliment to Mr. Riley.
About the music itself: The Kerry Dancers is an Irish folk song whose choice might have been indicated by the fact that Charlie Parker employed it as one of his favorite quotations: its opening phrase appears countless times on Parker records. Griffin has modernized it somewhat by altering the bridge’s tag phrase slightly and playing it twice. Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair is sung in the Southern mountains, and was, prior to that, of English origin. Again, Johnny has modernized the piece, this time by resolving its suspended ending with a recurrent vamp figure. While preparing this set, Griffin availed himself of Riverside’s extensive collection of folk recordings. Green Crow The Rushes is a Scotch song that appealed to him on a Ewan McColl album (where its title was, in Scots dialect, Green Grow the Rushes, O).
In its guise as Danny Boy, The Londonderry Air has long been the traditional vehicle for just about every rhythm-and-blues tenor player in the business, giving them a generally overheated opportunity to be moving. (For the benefit of purists, Danny Boy is a 20th century version, with lyrics, of this ancient melody.) In this treatment, both Griffin and Harris manage to be truly moving by eschewing the more obvious devices by which emotion can be simulated, and contribute some of their finest work.
On the reverse side of the LP, the material shifts in emphasis, but not in mood – which is very much to the point. The opener is Sara Cassey’s 25 1/2 Daze, a minor blues of the sort John Coltrane loves to play. (Even Griffin’s solo takes on a light Cotrane cast that is unusual for him.) Oh, Now I See is Griffin’s one written contribution to the set, aside from his recasting of traditional material. A pensive ballad whose opening phrase suggests a possible lyric, it is further evidence that there are more facets to Griffin’s talent than may be generally publicized.
Hush-A-Bye, probably best-known in its Stan Kenton version, is based on a classical composition which in turn sounds as though its theme were derived from a folk song. Griffin regards both derivations equally lightly in this up-tempo version, nor does he pay much attention to the implications of lullaby in the title. This track offers the best example of Ron Carter’s considerable talents to be found on the set.
Ballad Fro Monsieur, the second Sara Cassey piece to be included, is a seemingly meandering line with its own inner logic. It has as strong a feeling of the time in which it was written as the traditional works do of their own eras. That Johnny Griffin has done equal justice to both old and new, folk and modern, is only one of the things he has accomplished with this highly unusual collection.
JOHNNY GRIFFIN’s varied Riverside LPs include –
White Gardenia – a tribute to Billie Holiday (RLP 387; Stereo 9387)
Change of Pace (RLP 368; Stereo 9368)
The Big Soul Band (RLP 331 – stereo RLP 1179)
The Little Giant (RLP 304)
He can be heard with the Johnny Griffin-Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis Quintet on several albums on the companion Jazzland label.
(This recording is available in both stereophonic (RLP 9420) and Monaural (RLP 420) form.)
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER (recorded and mastered at Plaza Sound Studios.)
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos by STEVE SCHAPIRO
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York City 36, New York