Johnny Griffin / April 24, 1928 - July 25, 2008

The speed metalist of the hard bop saxophone players, the tenor runs of Johnny Griffin could waste most competitors and his stretch in the '50s/early '60s with Blue Note, Riverside and Jazzland is hard to beat. He co-led a band with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and was a memorable feature with some of Thelonious Monk's best line-ups.

He came out of that jazz factory of Chicago's DuSable High and got early gigs with T-Bone Walker, Lionel Hampton and Arnett Cobb. He was old enough to have been part of the bop generation, despite not making a record 'til '53. He joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in '57 and then filled John Coltrane's tenor seat in the Monk band, as well as participating in the incredible bop-meets-Middle Eastern experiments of Ahmed Abdul-Malik .

Like Charlie Parker, he would throw quotes into his runs from a wide variety of influences and participated in saxophone battles. In '63 "the Fastest Tenor in the West" moved to Europe for good and was a major jazz attraction there. He worked with top European bands Clarke-Boland Big Band and with Peter Herbolzheimer, Klaus Doldinger, Passport, Martial Solal and others while also cutting some dates with Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Wes Montgomery and Nat Adderley. He stayed in Europe until his death at 80.

From his first Blue Note album as a leader, 1956. Max Roach on drums ("duh!"):

Griffin works in a triple-tenor setting with Coltrane and Hank Mobley on this '57 session, also featuring Lee Morgan and Blakey. Griffin takes the first solo:

An underrated record from Riverside ('58), with Kenny Drew on piano:

And he was a fine partner in this late '50s Eastern jazz fusion experiment led by the great Ahmed Abdul-Malik:

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