Johnny Griffin

Johnny Griffin

Tenor Sax icon Tenor Sax

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July 25, 2008 (Age 80) died

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April 24, 1928 Birthday

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Chicago, Illinois, U.S. Birthplace

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Johnny Griffin was a jazz saxophonist and one of the greatest bop players of his generation. He was particularly known for the speed and control of his playing. Griffin worked constantly throughout the 1950s. His large body of work includes solo albums, recordings with Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, collaborations with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, and the legendary "A Blowin' Session" with John Coltrane and Hank Mobley. In 1963 he grew disillusioned with the jazz scene in the US and moved to Europe. He continued to record and perform with a variety artists, most notably the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band. Griffin passed away at his home in France in 2008 at the age of 80.


Johnny Griffin was known as "The Little Giant" due to his short stature. For many years Johnny Griffin returned to Chicago every April to play during his birthday week at the Jazz Showcase. Johnny Griffin joined the Army in 1951; he was stationed in Hawaii and played in the Army Band.

Early Life

Johnny Griffin was born in 1928 and grew up on the South Side of Chicago. His mother was a singer and his father played coronet. After seeing Gene Ammons perform Griffin was inspired to take up the saxophone. He studied music at DuSable High School, where Ammons as well as Nat King Cole and Dinah Washington were alumni. By age 14 Griffin was playing alto sax with T-Bone Walker. Immediately after graduating, at age 17, Griffin left Chicago to join Lionel Hampton's big band where he began playing the tenor saxophone.