Rhythm-A-Thing - 5.37
Old Folks - 11.57
Wee - 5.44
You Leave Me Breathless - 8.44
Leave Me Alone Blues - 11.58
Kenny Drew Piano
Johnny Griffin, known as the “Little Giant,” was a formidable tenor saxophonist regardless of the setting. The Chicago native was known for his big tone and rapid-fire runs on his instrument, while remaining at a creative peak throughout his improvisations rather than resorting to mere honking and showboating. He worked with Lionel Hampton’s big band early in his career and also briefly spent time with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Thelonious Monk’s quartet. <I>Blowin’ Sessions</I>, Griffin’s recording debut as a leader, included both John Coltrane and Hank Mobley, showing that he was unafraid of competition on his horn. His series of record dates with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis proved to be one of the great pairings of tenor saxophonists in the history of jazz. But Griffin is best remembered for his records as a leader. Moving to Europe for good in 1962, Griffin worked and recorded often. He died in France in 2008, not long after his eightieth birthday.
These sessions come from two nights at the Montmartre Jazzhuis in Copenhagen, where Griffin frequently played. Accompanying him are fellow American expatriates Kenny Drew on piano and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath, in addition to the young Danish virtuoso bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. The music includes a pair of up tempo romps, including Monk’s “Rhythm-a-Ning” and Denzil Best’s “Wee.”
Griffin’s ballad mastery is never in doubt, contributing a loping, humorous setting of the chestnut “Old Folks” and a breathy interpretation of “You Leave Me Breathless” (introduced by Fred MacMurray in the 1938 film <I>Cocoanut Grove</I>). But the tour de force is Griffin’s improvised “Leave Me Alone Blues,” which features the leader playing unaccompanied for several choruses before the rhythm section rejoins him to wrap the set in blazing style, leaving the audience wanting more.
1. Rhythm-A-Ning (Thelonious Monk)