Johnny Griffin, a tenor saxophonist whose technical command set standards for his instrument and who refused to compromise his art, died today at his home in the village of Mauprevoir in France. From Ben Ratliff’s obituary of Griffin in today’s New York Times:
His height — around five feet five — earned him the nickname “The Little Giant”; his speed in bebop improvising marked him as “The Fastest Gun in the West”; a group he led with Eddie Lockjaw Davis was informally called the “tough tenor” band, a designation that was eventually applied to a whole school of hard bop tenor players.
And in general, Mr. Griffin suffered from categorization. In the early 1960s, he became embittered by the acceptance of free jazz; he stayed true to his identity as a bebopper. When he felt the American jazz marketplace had no use for him (at a time he was also having marital and tax troubles), he left for Holland.
At that point America lost one of its best musicians, even if his style fell out of sync with the times.
When the man admired as the Little Giant celebrated his eightieth birthday in May, Rifftides posted this retrospective. It includes a CD recommendation and a link to video of Griffin in action.