During the Fifties and early Sixties, Griffin was known as a brilliant technician, a fiery player who had an endless supply of chops. In 1960 he formed a ‘tough tenor’ band with Eddie “ Lockjaw” Davis, with an in your face approach. Though small in stature, Griffin has always been a musical mercenary willing to back up his reputation at any time, anyplace, anywhere. But there has always been underlying warmth, a blues-based sense of everyday humanity, in his music. He is an amazingly consistent soloist, a man who is never off form by all accounts; undeniably he likes fast tempos but is a complete, rounded jazz musician, capable of tackling any material with the aid (or something otherwise!) of any rhythm section.
Griffin has an immense output of recordings available going back to his ’56 dates on Blue Note. He recorded for many labels as Riverside, Prestige, Black Lion, Galaxy, and Inner City. He did a memorable tribute to Billie Holiday in 1961 “White Gardenia,” which shows his warm side. On his return to America in 1978 he did two fine sessions for Galaxy “Return of the Griffin,” and “Bush Dance.” These reestablished his credentials and career. He has many full on blowing sessions, and as leader alone he has over sixty five records out, quite an impressive statistic.
Johnny Griffin continued to live in Europe; though slowing down a bit, he played America two weeks of every year, including a birthday party in Chicago. For a while he played in the Francy Boland -Kenny Clarke band, but normally touring as a single, playing with local musicians of his choice. He regularly played with Kenny Drew until Drew’s death in 1993. He maintained an active touring and recording schedule, and was writing large-scale works, including pieces for string orchestra. He is still the model for tough tenors everywhere.
“I like to play fast. I get excited, and I have to sort of control myself, restrain myself. But when the rhythm section gets cooking, I want to explode.” —Johnny Griffin