b. John Arnold Griffin III, 24 April 1928, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Griffin studied tenor saxophone at Du Sable High School where his tutor was Walter Dyatt, who also taught Gene Ammons and Von Freeman. In his mid-teens, Griffin joined the Lionel Hampton R&B-based big band and followed this with a spell in a similarly-orientated band led by Joe Morris. During the late 40s and early 50s he worked with numerous mainstream and bebop musicians, including Philly Joe Jones, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Arnett Cobb. After military service, Griffin joined Art BlakeyGÇÖs Jazz Messengers in 1957, worked again with Monk, and co-led a band with Eddie GÇÿLockjawGÇÖ Davis - they dubbed themselves GÇÿtough tenorsGÇÖ, a sobriquet which has since been applied to an entire sub-genre of tenor playing. In the early 60s Griffin lived in Europe, where he often accompanied visiting American jazzmen and in 1967-68 was a member of the multi-national Clarke-Boland Big Band. In the 70s Griffin toured extensively, usually as a solo but sometimes in harness with Davis and Cobb; in the 80s he occasionally appeared with the Paris Reunion Band.
A gifted and fiercely combative player, Griffin displays a seemingly endless stream of ideas, often at rapid-fire speeds. His style owes much to his bebop associates and predecessors and he was one of the best hard bop musicians of the 70s and 80s. His 90s recorded work on the Antilles label with Kenny Washington (drums) is of particular note, both fresh and rewarding.
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