Pioneer of hard bop, the one who was nicknamed "the little giant" or "the fastest tenor in the world" played until his last breath with breathtaking verve and inventiveness.
John Arnold Griffin was born in 1928 in Chicago. His mother was a singer, his father a cornetist, and he began playing the piano and Hawaiian guitar at a very early age. As a teenager, he studied at DuSable High School where he learned oboe, English horn and finally alto saxophone (his teachers thought he was too small for tenor). After graduation, he switched to the tenor saxophone, and it was with this instrument that he began his professional career.
From 1945 to 1947, he played in Lionel Hampton's ensemble, and from 1947 to 1950, in trumpet player Joe Morris' ensemble.
In the 1950s, he joined several other orchestras, including the Jazz Messengers, the precursor of Hard Bop, and already collaborated with prestigious artists such as Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane (in A Blowin'Session, 1957 album Blue Note). In the early 1960s, he recorded several albums with tenor saxophonist Eddie Davis.
He moved to France in the 1960s and continued to make fruitful collaborations (Dizzie Gillepsie, Wes Montgomeryn, Dexter Gordon...), successful recordings and triumphant public appearances, until his death in 2008.
Nicknamed Little Giant for his small size and formidable talent, Johnny Griffin played with a striking ardour, inventiveness and lyricism. His assertive technique allowed him to excel in solos with wild rhythms as well as in more meditative ballads.
Photo credit: Marc Rouvé pour Henri SELMER Paris (for the firt two pictures)
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