My Favorites (Jazz): “The Way You Look Tonight” - Johnny Griffin

If you haven’t heard of Johnny Griffin, or if you have and never listened to his debut album, then you are missing something awesome.  My dad turned me on to Johnny Griffin back in my early high school days when he bought his new CD player (after CDs first came out).  After I listened to the album with my jaw open he proceeded to tell me he went to high school with Johnny and played in the band with him at the famed DuSable High School in Chicago, under the tutelage of the renowned Captain Walter Dyett.

Griffin was the fastest tenor man during the hard bop era until John Coltrane came along and even still Griffin’s speed, fire and energy are a match to Coltrane until Trane reached his zenith on the “Love Supreme” album.

I listened to this Johnny Griffin CD for months after being introduced to it and I still pull it out to inspire me to keep reaching for greatness in my playing.  One of my favorites is the tune “The Way You Look Tonight.”  He puts some gut bucket blues right in the middle of his solo after firing off machine gun rounds of bebop phrases somewhere around the third chorus.  Then the rhythm section breaks and Wynton Kelly lays out while Griffin plays with the time over Curly Russell’s and Max Roach’s crisp playing.  He plays a descending cascade to end his solo that is picked right up by Kelly as the entrance to his solo.

I have to also credit the amazing rhythm section for setting up many of Griffin’s phrases because it takes a team to make music sound great and with this all-star team you can’t go wrong.  That said, as the leader of this session and as his debut album, Griffin is like the Michael Jordan or Dr. J of jazz, making slam dunks from the free throw line with his flawless technique and emphatic phrasing.  He is truly one of the great saxophone players in the lineage of jazz and one of my all-time favorites.

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