Griffin, Johnny [John Arnold, III; Little Giant] (Chicago, 24 April 1928)


Tenor saxophonist


He began his career touring in Lionel Hampton's band (1945-7), then worked on the East Coast with the rhythm-and-blues trumpeter Joe Morris (1947-50) as well as with Philly Joe Jones, Percy Heath, Jo Jones, Gene Ramey, and Arnett Cobb. During the same period he also practiced regularly with Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. After serving in an army band in Hawaii (1951-3) he played in Chicago for several years before beginning important engagements in New York with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (1957) and Monk's quartet (1958). From 1960 to 1962 he was the leader of a bop quintet with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, with whom he engaged in energetic improvisatory battles. Owing to tax and family problems Griffin emigrated to Europe in 1963 and settled in Paris. He played for several years at the Blue Note with such leading bop musicians as Powell, Kenny Clarke, Kenny Drew, and Art Taylor, and from 1967 to 1969 was the principal soloist in the Clarke-Boland Big Band; he also played regularly in groups led by Taylor. Around 1973 he moved to Bergambacht in the Netherlands. Griffin's greatest popularity stemmed from appearances that sparked renewed interest in the bop style, notably at Montreux (1975), in Tokyo (1976), and on tours of the USA (1978-9). He has continued to tour internationally, and appears annually in the USA, where his quartet includes Kenny Washington; the film The Jazz Life Featuring Johnny Griffin (c. 1985) documents one of their finest performances, at the Village Vanguard in New York.


  Barry Kernfeld


The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Macmillan Reference Ltd 1988