Robo sent me word yesterday that the Fastest Tenor Player in the West, Johnny Griffin, has died at age 80. Right now my jazz record collection is out of control, but when I was about 20, it consisted of fewer than 35 records. One of those was Mr. Griffin's You Leave Me Breathless, recorded at Copenhagen's Cafe Montmarte in 1967. Then and now, it wasn't Griffin's speed of execution that impressed me, it was his wild imagination. His technique allowed him to play whatever came into his head, and what came into his head was often gasp-inducing. Within a pretty straight-ahead framework, JG played some pretty crazy stuff - and I mean that in a good way.
Listening to this old favorite record again last night, I was struck by how similar Griffin and Von Freeman sound. The basic sound is similar - round and full, but fuzzy around the edges, and with lots of tonal distortion for expressive effect. They both had/have complete command of the tenor, they both like to play long unaccompanied passages which still imply the chord changes, and both overlay a straight bebop context with some pretty outrageous ideas. I checked, and sure enough, both gentlemen went to the same high school and had the same teacher, the famous Walter Dyett. Freeman was born six years before Griffin. Who influenced who? Most likely, they were both dipping out of the same well.
RIP, Johnny Griffin.