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playing NORMAN SIMMONS arrangements

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Clark Terry (tp) Bob Bryant (tp) Julian Priester (tb) Matthew Gee (tb) Pat Patrick (as A-1,2 B-3) 

Frank Strozier (as: other five selections) Johnny Griffin (ts) Edwin Williams (ts) Charles Davis (brs) 

Bobby Timmons (p, A-4, celeste A-3) Harold Mabern (p: other six selections) 

Bob Cranshaw (b A-1,2 B-3) Vic Sproles (b: other five selections)

Charlie Persip (drs)   

 NYC; May 24 & 31, June 3, 1960


  1. Wade In the Water (3:44) (traditiona/arr. Simmons)

  2. Panic Room Blues (4:33) (Norman Simmons)

  3. Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen (2:40) (trad./arr. Simmons)

  4. Meditation (8:14) (Norman Simmons)


  1. Holla (3:35) (Norman Simmons)

  2. So Tired (6:34) (Bobby Timmons)

  3. Deep River (5:24) (arad./arr. Simmons)

  4. Jubilation (3:53) (Junior Mance)

   If Johnny Griffin’s playing on this album gives the impression of a deep sense of fulfillment, it is not at all accidental. For this recording brings to fruition an idea the Chicago-born tenor star has kept firmly in mind for more than two years, ever since Griffin first discussed with us his thoughts on going back to spirituals and to other material with a similar feeling as the basis for a really big-sounding and earthy LP.

   More than anything else, what kept this plan from becoming reality for so long was the lack of an arranger to whom Johnny’s brain-child could be entrusted with complete confidence: one who could grasp the concept fully and carry it out properly. Then Johnny brought to the recording studio, for his album immediately preceding this one (“The Little Giant”), three impressive, earthy tunes by a young Chicago pianist and arranger named Norman Simmons. On comparing notes after the session we found that – although these were sextet sketches and I had never before heard anything by Simmons, while Johnny knew very little about the nature of his work for larger groups – both Griffin and I felt sure that this was the man.

   Simmons began working on the material in whatever time he could find in a half-dozen cities (he was on the road as Dakota Stanton’s accompanist at the time) and gradually it all took firm shape. A couple of points intrigued us all: what Griffin had had in mind from the start was precisely what was by now becoming most prevalent and popular in jazz circles (and quite notably on Riverside) as “soul music”; and, although to us it seemed a natural combination, apparently no one else had yet thought of welding “soul” with a full big-band sound. If you believe in Fate, you might figure that somehow the first step into this area of big-soul had been reserved for Johnny . . .

   The properly soulful repertoire here consists of three spirituals called for by Griffin (an exuberantly shouting version of Wade in the Water, and richly emotional treatments of Deep River and Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen); three newly-written Simmons compositions that further underline his command of this idiom (the infectious Holla, and unmeditatively swinging Meditation, and Panic Room Blues); plus scorings of two of the better numbers in the gospel-soul vein – Bobby Timmons’ So Tired and Junior Mance’s Jubilation. In these last two and Meditation Norman makes effective contrasting use of full band against a three, or four-horn combo (Griffin, Terry, Gee and sometimes Davis).

   The personnel selected by Griffin to do justice to his concept and to Simmons’ king-sized funky voicings includes Chicagoans who opportunely were in town (as, for example, lead trumpet Bob Bryant and bassist Vic Sproles), Chicagoans now transplanted to New York (like lead trombone Julian Priester), and just plain top New York talent (like Clark Terry and the swinging Charlie Persip). But quite clearly the instrumental star of the proceedings is Griffin, playing at his remarkable very best, displaying wonderful fluency, depth and fullness of sound and feeling at all tempos.  Johnny has had high spots before this in a career that includes featured riles with groups led by such as Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey. But this album (about which I feel much too strongly even to pretend to objectivity) seems to me without doubt to include more than a few of his finest moments.

   (In addition to choruses by Griffin on all numbers, there is a Clark Terry trumpet solo and a Matthew Gee trombone solo on Panic Room Blues; while Meditation has a Bobby Timmons piano solo, choruses by Gee and Terry, and a Charlie Persip drum solo uniquely integrated with band background. There is a Harold Mabern piano solo on So Tired, plus another Terry chorus and one by trombonist Julian Priester. Bassist Vic Sproles solos on Jubiration.)

RLP-309 back.jpg
RLP-309 back.jpg
RLP-309 back.jpg

RLP-309 back.jpg


NOTE:  RM(S9)-479 reissue of RLP-331 (RSLP-1179) “Johnny Griffin: The Big-Soul Band Playing Norman Simmons Arrangements”

produced by Orpheum Productions, Inc. Album design and cover photo by Werner Pfeiffer. Back-liner photos by Lawrence N. Shustak.

Orpheum Productions, Inc.

235 West 46th Street, N. Y., N. Y. 10036

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