Johnny Griffin: Night Lady (1964) Emarcy (updated, photos)

Johnny-Griffin-Night-Lady-cover-1920-LJCSelection: All The Things You Are

.  .  .

All The Things You Are – a jazz standard from the 1939 Broadway musical Very Warm for May, Jerome Kern, music, Oscar Hammerstein II, libretto, though the verse is rarely heard.  Recorded previously in 1957 by Griffin on Blue Note 1559  Volume 2 A  Blowin’ Session. Charlie Parker’s YouTube of All The Things You Are has over six million views. Clifford Brown recorded All The Things with Gigi Gryce on alto, around the same year 1956. Or you can have Monday Nights at Birdland, with Curtis Fuller and Hank Mobley, Roulette Records as I recall.

.  .  .


Johnny Griffin, tenor sax, arranger; Francy Boland, piano; Jimmy Woode, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums; Producer, Gigi Campi; recorded Cologne, West Germany, February 13, 1964.

” Johnny Griffin was a pioneering figure in hard bop. Dubbed ‘the little giant’  for his short stature and forceful playing, Griffin’s unique style, based on an astounding technique, included a vast canon of bebop language.” (Wiki).

Start the clock, Chicago 1956, Jazz or Blues? Jam session “until 7a.m.?” That’s a lot of jam.

Chicago Defender, November 3, 1956,

Hailing originally from Chicago,  Griffin arrived on the bebop scene at exactly the right moment, signing to Blue Note in 1956, issuing three titles (Ebay auction-max in brackets)  1553  ( $3,349), 1559 ($2,800) and 1580 ($3,049).

1559 Volume 2 boasts  what may be the best Blue Note cover ever – Pigeon Inferno, but also the best line up: Griffin, Mobley, Coltrane, Morgan, Kelly, Chambers, and Art Blakey. “ Coltrane, the only tenor saxophonist who could match Griffin’s  speed and complex phrasing” (Blumenthal).

Sad to say I have none as original.

Griffin joined Blakey’s Jazz Messengers briefly in 1957, a line of succession between Jackie McLean and Benny Golson.

In 1958 Griffin moved to Riverside, succeeding Coltrane as a member of Monk’s Five Spot Quartet – heard on Monk albums Thelonious in Action and Misterioso. Having grown accustomed  on Charlie Rouse as Monk’s later long-term tenor partner, it lead me to revisit these earlier Monk- Griffin sessions, to reassess the chemistry.

Griffin’s early trademark was speed: “the fastest tenor in the West“. I have rarely heard any player put the foot down on the accelerator like Griffin, giving a run for the money to Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins. In some genres, speed for its own sake is pointless –  Yngwie Malmsteen’s Flight of the Bumblebee a case in pointlessness. Griffin’s speed was just part of his improvisational armoury, which included an inventive vocabulary, and unlimited energy.

The early ’60s saw Griffin engaged in tenor duels with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis – many titles recorded live  at Minton’s Playhouse and issued by Prestige –  a taste of the prowess and energy of two competing horns. The real competition was between which of the two got first billing, Lock or Griff? Davis seemed to have the slight edge, in alphabetical order.

A few of the Riverside titles I acquired are a mixed bag, with some recordings like “Little Giant”  overloaded with reverb. Or maybe that is what it sounded like, live.

Griffin Moves to Europe

Griffin relocated to France in 1963, followed by 15 years of exclusively expatriate life in Europe, his legendary tenor attack is more moderate: a tenor battle no longer had the same currency, and he needed to work in a more integrated way with European musicians. From 1967-9  Griffin was a regular feature of the Francy Boland Big Band/ Cologne scene, recording and touring with that exceptional line up, as well as touring in France, Holland and Sweden, often with American artists .

He returned to the US in 1978, joining Tad Dameron’s Dameronia. Over the following  three decades remained an active player moving between the US and Europe, until his final departure in 2008.


Griffin in Europe is a different player to his earlier “Battle-Stations” persona but still an authoritative tenor voice – his own man. His solo lines are a delight: signature tune, quotations slid neatly into the evolving narrative, rapid-fire flourishes and connecting lines, references back to the melody, all with an overall  sense of  direction.

The quartet gives a stronger voice to Francy Boland, whose complex piano sorties, clustering 1/16ths, mirror Griffin’s rapid-fire excursions. Boland was sometimes obscured in the large scale of the Big Band. On the smaller scale quartet we hear the Belgian pianist with his own story to tell.

Vinyl: Emarcy SRE001-  white label radio promo, stereo

First US edition – the European edition having been released the previous year by Philips.

Johnny-Griffin-Night-Lady-labels-2000-LJCEuropean Original Issue, Philips 1964:

Johnny-Griffin-Night-Lady-back-1920-LJCCollector’s Corner

Also issued in US with mono promo and commercial release mono, both deep groove, surprising for 1965.

The European Philips is the1st edition, many times more expensive.

Oddities in record collecting: “the kangaroo split-pack”

Johnny Griffin’s first jazz recordings were made in Chicago for the Parrot label, which was subsequently sold to Chess/Argo, and issued at the end of the ’50s  in a jacket which, unusually, opens in the middle. These are known as a “split-pack cover”, and  Kangaroo-Split-Pack, when housing an additional bonus EP. The jacket consists of a  left and right half.

Ingenious, but impractical as regards most LP cover art.  Reid Miles would never approve of cover art in two halves.

Readers Contributions

Eagle-eyed readers send me interesting finds, thank you all, so I decided to post some up occasionally in Collector’s Corner.

First up (thanks to Charles W), a Test Pressing from Columbia Terre Haute, dating from 1976. What we know of Columbia is they cut multiple lacquers simultaneously to distribute to their plants nationwide, for local manufacture of metal parts and final pressing, thus ensuring large-scale distribution of uniform quality.

The item here is test pressing of the 1976 release of Sam Rivers “Sizzle” for ABC Records/Impulse . A typed A4 sheet attached to a blank sleeve spells out the label copy to be typeset for label printing. So Columbia Terre Haute was at this point manufacturing Impulse.

By a strange coincidence, a little further research reveals another test pressing of the same title, but this time with some sort of comments or engineers sign off. (Unfortunately the auction photo-quality is of the worst amateur – auto-exposure, which is balanced for mid-tone grey, not a white sheet of paper).

Soon after, the title would be pressed as a white label promo to support the commercial release:

The commercial release followed on the black/neon Impulse label.

Any oddities you find, post me.

UPDATE July 15, Harry M has the photos, 1969: Johnny Griffin, Francy Boland, Jimmy Woode, Kenny Clarke,  Jazz Expo, Montreux, and Ronnie Scotts. What a wonderful time, to hear this and see it.




Photocredits: The Jazz Paparazzi – Harry M

What Harry’s photos remind me of, is that the act of performing music consumes the individual, takes over their being. It is an extraordinary act in itself, in which you lose yourself, and become a participant in something greater. It shines out of their eyes. Music can be a great force for good.

Not all music of course.


3 thoughts on “Johnny Griffin: Night Lady (1964) Emarcy (updated, photos)

  1. Thanks for the needledrop. I think Kerry Dancers remains my favourite album of his. Those blowing sessions don’t really do much for me. Your article made me realise I have more lp’s of him in the Clarke/Boland band than under his own name. The two most obvious (and to my ears annoying) speed merchants that didn’t get a mention are Hiromi and Oscar Peterson.

  2. re: the two tenors leadership; Lockjaw was 1st lead for Prestige, Johnny for Jazzland. My favorites are Griff & Lock (the 1st I ever got), and Tenor Scene (now available through Analogue Productions).

    • Oops. I am wrong. Two titles from Jazzland (Blues Up And Down & Griff And Lock) have Lockjaw as first leader. It would have been so much neater had it been Griff as first leader on all the Jazzland titles since he was a Riverside artist. There were five titles on each label. You show all five Prestige titles. You’re missing Tough Tenor Favorites and Blues Up And Down on Jazzland. So I guess the final total was Lockjaw 7 Griffin 3.

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